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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 or knockoffs, or a used computer from a thrift store. The best budget laptops are affordable computers that get the job done without digging too deep 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. Asus, in particular, is known for this — and the Asus ZenBook UX330UA may be the best cheap laptopever made.

Our pick

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

Asus Zenbook UX330UA

Why you should buy this: It’s fast, portable, affordable — and it even has a256GB solid state drive.

Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.

How much it will cost: $750

Why we picked the Asus ZenBook UX330UA:

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 Asus UX330UA — available for $750 (and often a bit less than that, on sale) — is the best value yet.

You might not expect quality from a laptop that barely costs more than a new iPhone, but this ZenBook is a pleasant surprise. Its metal, unibody chassis is barely more than six-tenths of an inch thick, and its overall weight is around three pounds. The latest version even packs a surprising amount of horsepower into such a 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. This isn’t a 2-in-1, so you won’t be swinging the ZenBook UX330UA’s display around for use as a tablet, but its focus on conventional use helps Asus offer this system at a budget price.

The ZenBook UX330UA won’t leave you stranded when you’re on the move, either. It has a large, 54-watt-hour battery, which in our testing delivered more thanfive and a half hours of battery life when browsing. An extra few hours can be squeezed out with more conservative use.

The Asus ZenBook UX330UA 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 UX330UA review

The best entry level option

Acer Aspire E 15

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.

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

How much it will cost: $380-$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 surprisingly productive for its price point thanks to its eighth-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics chip, it even works well for entry-level gaming too.

Yes, its bezels are thick, but they wrap around a full HD display with 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

Best Chromebook option

Acer Chromebook 15

best budget laptops buget acer aspire e 15 3
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

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

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

How much it will cost: $200to$400

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook 15:

Chromebooks —laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS —have become a popular budget laptop over the last few years and many have won us over too. The Acer Chromebook 15is a great example of their strengths. It has a 1080p display, fast Intel processor, and plenty of memory, all starting at $200. No Windows notebook comes close to touching its value.

If you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks are a good choice. These systems rarely sell for north of $500, with the obvious exception of Google’s Pixelbook, which is a bit too expensive for this category. The Acer Chromebook 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 some users.

Still, the Chromebook 15 is well equipped for the category. The base model has a 1,366 768-pixel resolution, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash memory. That’s good for $200, but the newer $400 model is a real treat. It features a higher-end aluminum finish, a quad-core Pentium N4200 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash memory.

The downside is that it’s not the most portable system, 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 works best when you have an active internet connection.

Our full Acer Chromebook 15 review

The best for gaming

Dell G3 Gaming Laptop

dell g3 gaming laptop review 3 fortnite 3060 1

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

Who’s it for:Gamers, and only gamers.

How much it will cost: Starts at $750.

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 $750, 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

The best for work

Dell XPS 13 (2017)

best cheap laptop dell xps 13

Why you should buy this:It’s slick, stylish, and robust.

Who’s it for:Business travelers, anyone who needs a reliable performer for less than $1,000.

How much it will cost: Starts at $800

Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:

Business laptops and budget laptops are often mutually exclusive categories. People who buy work systems tend to expect a fast processor, good battery life, and amazing build quality — which quickly inflates the price. The Dell XPS 13 is an exception to therule.

As much as we adore the new 2018 version of the Dell XPS 13though, the 2017 version is still a better budget choice, because it offers an Intel Core i3 iteration that starts at the much lower price point of $800, compared with the new version’s entry-level $1,000.

Despite being a little outdated though, the 2017 version of the XPS 13 is still an excellent all-around performer. It’s lightweight, quick, and features excellent battery life. It’ll keep up with you no matter where you are — in the office or on the road. It’s one of our favorite laptops for a reason, it’s well-built, durable, and gets the job done.

The XPS 13 also has a number of configuration options available, offering the latest 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processors on the top-end options, and quick, reliable Core i3 and i5 options on the entry-level models. If you just need a laptop for Microsoft Office and emails, the Core i3 option is the least expensive and still provides everything you’ll need to get some work done on the go and if you have a larger budget and want newer hardware, the 2018 version is always available.

We also expect a new, eighth-generation Core i3 model to debut at some point before the end of 2018. While we can’t say for certain it will be as budget-concious as the seventh-generation iteration, it’s likely to offer the best bang for buck when it does debut, not least because eighth-generation Core i3 CPUs can have four cores.

Our full Dell XPS 13 review

The best budget 2-in-1

Samsung Chromebook Pro

Samsung Chromebook Pro review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

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

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a little more than a typical laptop but doesn’t mind being tied to Chrome OS.

How much it will cost: Starts at $550

Why we picked the Samsung Chromebook Pro

The Samsung Chromebook Pro may be limited to Chrome OS, but with a super low price of entry and solid performance as a tablet, there’s more to this little 2-in-1 than meets the eye.

Not only does the Samsung Chromebook Pro save you money, it offers a degree of flexibility you don’t really get out of the other options on this list. Sometimes you don’t need a bunch of extra horsepower. If you need a tablet for light creative use and a laptop for checking your email and browsing the web, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a compelling choice.

It’s a bit limited, in that you’ll only be able to run web apps and the occasional Android app, but you won’t find a better 2-in-1 at this price.

Not to mention, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is the thinnest, lightest laptop on this list, and it has enough battery life to see you through most of a workday.

Our full Samsung Chromebook Pro review

Should you buy now, or wait?

Intel’s 8th-generation Core processors are showing up in more and more laptops 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.

The only reason you might want to wait to upgrade, is to see whether some of AMD’s new Ryzen mobile-equipped laptops offer better graphical performance. Those Vega-equipped APUshave proven quite effective at the low-end of the desktop chip range.

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 outour full guide to how we test laptops.

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