You can get a good laptop or you can get a cheap laptop. That is common wisdom, at least when it comes to something powerful enough to run Windows. Any budget under about $ 800 is a machine with a minimum of plastic and bargain containers.
But the laptop market is changing. Given the competition from cheaper, low-power Chromebooks and more flexible options thanks to low-cost Ryzen chips from AMD, there are more choices in the lower price ranges than you might think.
What Makes a Laptop Not Suck?
That is, you cannot perform miracles. We have selected the best options across multiple categories at the lowest price for laptops we would consider for our own work or leisure. While there were many choices at lower prices, we have beaten any models that have received particularly bad marks from users or professional reviewers and made other distinctions based on less obvious differences.
We also started with just a minimum specification. While a low-power processor, low-resolution screen, or plastic case might not necessarily be deal-breakers, we believe that trying to run Windows 1
You can find some older models for less than the ones we picked, and some currently-produced models with 4GB or (shudderingly) 2GB of storage. But we think these are the best Windows laptops out there that don’t shit.
The best standard laptop: Acer Swift 3
If all you need is a regular laptop to surf the web, check emails, and occasionally watch movies, Acer’s Swift 3 is hard to beat. It is available in the AMD and Intel variants, but we recommend the SF314-42-R6YC variant with a Ryzen 4500U for price-conscious customers. It uses a 14-inch Full HD IPS screen, a generous 256 GB of SSD storage, and some surprising extras like an illuminated keyboard and an integrated fingerprint reader.
You don’t get a touchscreen in this price range, but the laptop has a full-size HDMI port for easy output to a monitor or TV, plus USB-C charging and two standard USB-A ports.
Best General Cheap Windows Laptop
The best affordable 2-in-1 laptop: HP Pavilion x360
It’s hard to find an inexpensive laptop with decent specs and a 2-in-1 fold-back touchscreen design. The best on the market is the Pavilion X360 from HP. We recommend the 14t dw000 variant with 128 GB SSD storage. A 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor is used – a luxury in this category – although the 14-inch touchscreen at 1366 × 768 is just “HD”.
The Pavilion X360 has some premium details like a metal lid, an integrated fingerprint reader, USB-C charging and – a rarity on almost all laptops – a full-size SD card reader. While it is compatible with an active pen, it is not included. Critics say the battery life is not great and the keyboard is nothing special, but the performance, fit and build quality are well above expectations in this price range.
The best affordable large-screen laptop: Dell Inspiron 17 3793
If you don’t move your laptop around often and prefer a big machine with a big screen, you’ve come to the right place. The latest generation of the Inspiron 17 (Model 3793) offers much more convenience than a desktop and is still travel-capable (although it is not offered on any domestic flight). The base model on the Dell website starts with a 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a huge (but slow) 1TB hard drive.
The real advantage here, however, is the 17.3-inch 1080p screen (contactless in the entry-level model) and the large number of connections on its large housing. You get a full-sized SD card reader, three USB-A ports, an HDMI out, and surprisingly, both a full Ethernet port and DVD drive. (Do you remember these?) The downside is that there are no USB-C ports and one of the USB-A ports uses the slower 2.0 standard. Also note that at over six pounds, this machine is more “towable” than portable.
The best affordable ultraportable laptop: ASUS Zenbook 14
For those looking for a slim laptop that will attract a few glances in an airport gate, the Asus Zenbook 14 is just the thing. This little aluminum alloy machine is more expensive than others on this list with comparable hardware, but weighs only 2.65 pounds and is only 0.7 inches thick. Bargain hunters should look for the Q407IQ version with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor – it’s considerably cheaper than the Intel version of this laptop.
The Zenbook 14 uses a discrete GeForce MX350 GPU for a little extra graphics performance that you’ll be thankful for on the 14-inch, 1080p thin-bezel display. It has 256 GB of SSD storage and a MicroSD card reader with HDMI and USB-C ports, but unfortunately it is not charged via the latter. Surprisingly, this is the only laptop with a Windows Hello compatible IR camera.
The best affordable gaming laptop: Acer Nitro 5
Trying to find an inexpensive laptop that can hold its own in 3D PC games is a Herculean task – the budget category for gaming laptops usually starts in the four-digit range. Acer’s Nitro 5 in its cheapest configuration is surprisingly cheap for a 15-inch machine with a 10th generation Core i5 processor and a mid-range GTX 1650 graphics card. That won’t be enough to play the latest games at full quality, but with a few compromises you should be able to get the laptop’s 1080p screen at 60fps.
Further attractions are a red illuminated keyboard with a Tenkey area, 512 GB SSD storage and dedicated HDMI and USB-C ports. And because this thing is bigger and more generous than most laptops, if you want a little extra performance later, you should be able to use just basic tools to upgrade memory and storage.