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The best budget laptops

By Matthew S. Smith

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A cheap laptop isn’t the same as a poorly made laptop. They aren’t hand-me-downs, knockoffs, or used computers from thrift stores. The best budget laptops are affordable, brand-new computers that get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.

While high-end models tend to get the glitz and marketing pictures, and gaming laptops may draw ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from your friends, many brands also release another set of laptops with lesser specs that sell at affordable prices. These are the best laptops you can buy on a budget.

At a glance

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UAThe best4 of 5 stars
Acer Aspire E 15The best entry level option4 of 5 stars
Acer Chromebook Spin 15The best budget Chromebook4 of 5 stars
Dell G3 Gaming LaptopThe best budget gaming laptop3.5 of 5 stars
Microsoft Surface GoThe best budget 2-in-13.5 of 5 stars

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA

The best

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s fast, portable, affordable — and it even has a 256GB solid-state drive.

The best overall budget laptop

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA

The surprisingly affordable UX331UA is competitive with laptops that cost twice the price.

Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.

How much it will cost: $800

Why we picked the Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA:

Asus has long been a top competitor in the budget space, but over the last five years, the company has upped its quality, resulting in fantastic systems across a range of prices. The ZenBook line has become the flagship, and the brand new UX331UA — available for $800 — is the best value yet.

You might not expect quality from a laptop that costs less than a new flagship iPhone, but this ZenBook is a pleasant surprise. The newest ZenBook 13 enjoys the same all-metal unibody chassis, and now it is barely more than half an inch thick and has shed half a pound to weigh in at two and a half pounds. The latest version packs in the same surprising amount of horsepower into its small and inexpensive package. Featuring an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the ZenBook easily outperforms its nearest competitors running last year’s hardware.

Better still, the laptop is a real pleasure to use. It has an excellent keyboard — one of the best on a 13-inch laptop at this price. It also offers a spacious touchpad and a 1080p non-touch display with a matte coating that nearly eliminates glare. The display has been improved to offer extraordinary contrast no matter the price, along with an impressive increase in its color gamut. This isn’t a 2-in-1, so you won’t be swinging the ZenBook 13 UX331UA’s display around for use as a tablet, but its focus on conventional use helps Asus offer this system at a budget price.

The Asus ZenBook UX331UA is good or great in all important metrics, which is why we gave it our Editors’ Choice award. It’s not just one of the best budget laptops, it’s among the best laptops at any price.

Our full Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA review

Acer Aspire E 15

The best entry level option

best budget laptops buget acer aspire e 15
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Great performance for the price, with plenty of hardware options.

The best entry level

Our Score

Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-576G-5762)

Discounting its dull chassis, the Aspire E 15 is all the computer most will need.

Who’s it for: Those who want a full Windows laptop, without the hefty price tag.

How much it will cost: $360-$800

Why we picked the Acer Aspire E 15:

Typically, the lower down the pricing scale you go with laptops, the more sacrifices you have to make. With the Acer Aspire E 15 though, those sacrifices are surprisingly minor. Sure, it might have a pretty heavy chassis compared to many of its lightweight contemporaries, but for the kind of performance you get for this price, it’s an excellent budget laptop.

In our testing, we found it remarkably productive for its price point thanks to its 8th-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics chip, then it even works well for entry-level gaming too.

Yes, its bezels are thick, but they wrap around a full HD display with surprisingly great contrast. It also has decent battery life, a comfortable keyboard, and easy upgrade paths through more and faster RAM and expanded storage, so you don’t even need to buy the top configuration right from the start.

All in all, the Acer Aspire E 15 is a great, full Windows laptop that costs as little as some Chromebooks. You can’t ask for much more in a budget laptop.

Our full Acer Aspire E 15 review

Acer Chromebook Spin 15

The best budget Chromebook

Acer Chromebook 15 Spin Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s extremely affordable, yet can handle your everyday PC needs.

The best budget Chromebook

Acer Chromebook Spin 15

Big and bold, the Chromebook Spin 15 is the cheapest laptop that can fulfill your everyday PC needs.

Who’s it for: Those who want a very basic, but still enjoyable, PC.

How much it will cost: $450

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook Spin 15:

Chromebooks — laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS — have become popular budget choices over the last few years, and many have won us over as well. The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is a great example of their strengths. It has a 1080p display, a fast enough Intel processor, and plenty of memory, all starting at $200. No Windows notebook comes close to touching its value, and toss in the fact that it’s a 2-in-1 with a useful touch display just increases its value.

If you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks are a good choice in general. Although premium Chromebooks are starting to flood the market, there are still plenty of options for less than $500. The obvious exception is Google’s Pixelbook, which is a bit too expensive for this category. The Acer Chromebook Spin 15’s low price brings limitations — you won’t find a budget Chromebook in this price range with a fast solid-state drive or an optional discrete GPU — but they aren’t necessities for the typical Chrome OS user.

Still, the Chromebook Spin 15 is well-equipped for the category. It has a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution IPS display that’s more than good enough for web browsing and productivity work, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC flash storage. That’s pretty good for $450. It leverages the lightweight nature of Chrome OS to offer solid performance, and it enjoys outstanding battery life that will get you through a full day’s work and then some.

The downside is that it’s not the most portable system, especially for a 2-in-1, as the 15-inch display might suggest. You’ll also have to get used to Chrome OS. It’s not as functional as Windows, and it works best when you have an active internet connection.

Our full Acer Chromebook Spin 15 review

Dell G3 Gaming Laptop

The best budget gaming laptop

Dell G3 Gaming Laptop Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It offers solid gaming performance for less than $1,000.

The best budget gaming laptop

Our Score

Dell Inspiron 15 7577

The affordable Dell G3 Gaming Laptop proves you don't have to spend a fortune on a gaming rig.

Who’s it for: Gamers, and only gamers.

How much it will cost: Starts at $700.

Why we picked the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop:

Although gaming laptops are typically quite expensive, the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop is a great example of why they don’t need to be. Starting at just $700, you get an Intel Core i5-8300 CPU, a GTX 1050 graphics chip, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of hybrid-HDD storage, with options for faster CPUs, more powerful graphics, extra and faster storage, and memory if you don’t mind spending a little more. Every model comes with a 15.6-inch, 1080p IPS display.

With decent build quality and good performance in a relatively light chassis, the G3 offers an all-round solid gaming package at an impressively competitive price. It does have its weak points, most notably a less than stunning display — it’s dull, but still looks good enough if you crank up the settings. Similarly, the storage options aren’t the quickest, but those are sacrifices that are worth making to keep the price down on such a capable gaming machine.

There are far better gaming laptops out there, but we’d struggle to find one that’s as powerful as Dell’s G3 at this price point. It’s a fantastic, budget gaming machine.

Our full Dell G3 Gaming Laptop review

Microsoft Surface Go

The best budget 2-in-1

Microsoft Surface Go Review
Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s quick, lightweight, and versatile.

The best budget 2-in-1

Our Score

Microsoft Surface Go

The Surface Go offers a high degree of versatility at a price that’s tough to beat.

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs the on-the-go mobility of a small, 2-in-1.

How much it will cost: Starts at $400

Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Go:

The Surface Go may be limited by its small size and low-powered Intel processor, but it offers something never before seen in the Windows world: A truly budget-minded 2-in-1. It’s build is every bit as strong as its older brother, the Surface Pro, and it boasts a beautiful, bright display to boot. The best part? It’s actually thin and light enough to be held in one hand as a proper tablet.

While performance doesn’t feel as smooth as on something like an iPad or even a Chromebook, those devices can’t do quite as many things as the Surface Go, which runs a full version of Windows 10. On the battery front, it’s a bit lacking. That’s its most unfortunate compromise since this is a device made for portability. Also, we still wish the excellent keyboard and Surface Pen came bundled in.

But even with its fair share of faults, it’s absolutely the best budget 2-in-1 you can buy.

Our full Microsoft Surface Go review

Should you buy now, or wait?

Intel’s 8th-generation Core processors are commonplace today and make for a small, but noticeable improvement over their predecessors. Those gains were achieved by cramming more cores into the processors, which is why we now have quad-core Core i7 chips in much smaller laptops than we had in the past. That’s great news for anyone in the market for a mid-range laptop, and as we’ve seen with the Asus ZenBook UX330UA, those processors are already finding their way into low-priced models.

How do we test laptops?

We judge laptops on a wide variety of factors including processor, hard drive, and graphics performance, battery life, and display quality. We test these components with objective tools, rather than trying to rely on our subjective impressions. For more information on our test procedures, check out our full guide to how we test laptops.

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