As long as you manage your expectations when it comes to options and specs, you can still get quite a bit from a budget laptop model, including good battery life and a reasonably lightweight laptop body.
A bright spot is you don’t have to settle for a traditional clamshell laptop with a fixed display and keyboard. You can also get a convertible laptop (aka a two-in-one), which has a screen that flips around to turn the screen into a tablet, to position it for comfortable streaming or to do a presentation.
Keep in mind that all convertibles work as both laptops and tablets. A touchscreen is a prerequisite for tablet operation, and many support styluses (aka pens) for handwritten and sketched input. Don’t assume a stylus is included, though.
One thing you won’t find at these cheap laptop prices: a MacBook or any other Apple laptop. An iPad will run you more than $500 once you buy the optional keyboard (though it might work out to less if you look for sales on the tablet or keyboard), which is above our budget here. A base-model iPad with an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard and cheap stand for the iPad might suffice.
You’ll see a lot of cheap laptops listed as coming with Windows 10 S, a stripped-down and locked-down version of the operating system intended for use by schools — it only allows you to install applications from the Windows Store, forces you to use Microsoft’s Edge browser and includes a subset of the administrative tools in Windows 10 Pro. You can upgrade to the full version for free, though.
It’s easier to find inexpensive Chromebooks than Windows laptops, making them one of the most popular budget laptops on the market, though we’re also seeing a lot more Chromebooks in the $500-to-$1,000 range.
Google’s ChromeOS isn’t nearly as power-hungry as Windows (check the specs), so you can get by with a lower-end processor, slower storage and less screen resolution or RAM — just a few of the components that make a laptop expensive.
But the flip side is Chrome and Google apps are more of a memory hog than you’d expect, and if you go too low with the processor or skimp on memory, the system will still feel slow.
ChromeOS is also a much different experience than Windows; make sure the applications you need have a Chrome app, Android app or Linux app before making the leap. Since Chromebooks are cloud-first devices, however, you don’t need a lot of storage built-in.
That also means if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games, they’re a good fit. If you hope to play Android games, make sure you get a touchscreen Chromebook.
For a cheap gaming laptop, though, you’ll still have to break the $500 ceiling to support most games. The least expensive budget laptops suitable for a solid gaming performance experience — those with moderately powerful discrete graphics processors — will run you closer to $700. Here are our recommendations if you’re looking for the best gaming laptop under $1,000.
Although, if you like to live on the bleeding edge, cloud gaming services such as Nvidia GeForce Now and Microsoft Xbox Game Pass Ultimate’s Cloud Gaming will let you play games on laptops with specs that hit the under-$500 mark.