When the words “budget PC” or “cheap laptop” come to mind, most people think of terms like “useless,” “flimsy,” or “brick.” Indeed, many PCs on the market fall into this category, but a budget laptop does not have to be those things. We decided to take a look at some of the budget laptops available at stores near you. For our purposes, a budget notebook is priced at $599 or less.
A budget machine may not perform as well or in as many capacities as a traditional notebook PC, meaning it’s likely that they won’t fill every computing need one may have if they need to run heavier applications involving 3D graphics or complex video editing. However, there are definitely some diamonds in the rough in the budget market, and one can usually find them right at your local brick-and-mortar electronics or department store to try out in person.
There were some common shortcomings for the budget market when compared to higher priced models. There’s really no way to get a Core i7 in a laptop below $599, and very few of the notebooks we looked at featured the most recent generation of i5’s or i3’s (which use the Haswell architecture). Most of the machines lacked optical drives, so you will need to spend some additional money on an external drive if you want to use or burn CDs or DVDs. Also, no screen we looked at had a better resolution than 1366×768, so the larger-screen models didn’t render visuals as crisp or detailed as a laptop with a 1080p HD display.
Here are some of the top budget notebooks that we looked at in a couple major nationwide retailers (arranged by price):
The most inexpensive option we looked at, the ACER C720 11.6-inch Chromebook is a snappy little machine running Google’s ChromeOS. With its 16GB SSD, the computer boots from sleep or hibernation in well under 10 seconds, and it comes with 1 year of 100GB cloud storage on Google Drive for more storage of files and documents. Though it only features an Intel Celeron 2955U processor and 2GB of RAM, that’s all the computer needs to run ChromeOS and Google apps well. The notebook’s integration with the Chrome browser includes back, forward, reload, and full-screen mode function keys, and the Search function searches both apps on the computer and the web for the input keywords. The keyboard is a tad noisy, but the case is very sturdy and light, and resistant to fingerprints or other smudges.
The only major downsides to this computer may be its screen size and its operating system. ChromeOS is definitely not Windows, and thus it is a lot more limited in terms of applications that can run on it. Though Google offers many interesting apps and Google Drive is an amazing asset for users who want to do collaborative document editing, the limitations on applications may prove to be confounding to users. On the other hand, the OS and price also make this an ideal computer for younger students or businesses who want to provide simple and cost-effective ways for their workers to collaborate and conduct business. Thus, ChromeOS could also be viewed as one of the ACER C720’s best assets.
With an Intel Celeron 2955U processor, 16GB SSD (and 1 year of 100GB Google Drive space), and 2GB of RAM, this machine is virtually silent as it runs your Google apps. As well, it charges via a MicroUSB port, so it can be charged using the same cable as an Android tablet or smartphone. The screen is bright and spacious, though it shared the poor resolution common to all reviewed notebooks in this list (which is far more noticeable on this larger Chromebook compared to the ACER C720).
Compared to the sturdiness of the ACER C720, the HP is a little flimsy-feeling, and the keys are a bit lighter. The glossy cover was also prone to smudges and fingerprints, though it does also come in several colors. If you’re seeking a good ChromeOS experience but don’t want to settle for a tiny screen, look into this 14-inch model.
With a similar build to its C720 Chromebook cousin, ACER continues bringing high-quality, compact-yet-comfortable computers to the budget market. The ACER Aspire V5-122P-0408 11.6-inch has an AMD A4-1250 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB HD packed into its slight frame, and runs Windows 8.
While the AMD processor is more energy-efficient than a comparable i5, it is fairly underpowered next to Intel’s model. As well, the touchscreen was a bit dim, and its small size may make utilizing the multitouch capabilities tough. The keys are a bit light, but otherwise the body is sturdy and the keyboard is comfortably laid out even for a user with large hands.
Featuring one of the larger screens on our budget laptop list as well as a slew of other hardware features, the Dell Inspiron 15.6-inch is a solid computer for everyday use. With an Intel Core i3-3227U processor and a relatively large 6GB of RAM, this computer will certainly cover browsing and media well. The Inspiron has an optical drive for CDs and DVDs, webcam, Bluetooth connectivity, and an 8-in-1 memory card reader, as well as two USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports for added accessories.
While it does have a lot of nice hardware features, there is one major piece missing from this Windows 8 machine: a touchscreen. Windows 8’s interface greatly benefits from touch capability, and while the resolution is not HD (1366×768 again), it would still make the user experience a bit more rounded. However, if you can get past that and the strangely textured plastic of the body (especially around the keyboard, where it will leave little diamond imprints in your wrists if you’re not careful), the Inspiron 15.6” is a good machine for the budget user.
Lenovo’s sole appearance on this list takes the form of a 14-inch touchscreen laptop powered by an AMD accelerated processing unit (APU). An APU combines both the central and graphics processing units into one chip. AMD’s Quad-Core A6 APU is a cheaper option than the comparable Intel Core i3 processor, and while the i3 benefits from hyperthreading, AMD’s chip has better integrated graphics (though neither is quite good enough for modern high-end gaming).
This IdeaPad features an HDMI output, which means it can support multiple screens, but otherwise lacks many specialized ports beyond a single USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports (no optical drive either). The body is only 0.9-inch thick, and the computer weighs only 4.6 lbs, but the material is slightly flimsy around the corners of the keyboard. Sporting 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HD, this computer will be able to handle basic applications and browsing, though perhaps not in quite as snappy a manner as some other budget laptops might.
Asus’s 13.3-inch Vivobook model, while on the pricier end of the budget laptop spectrum, was also one of the best machines we looked at in terms of specs. It is one of the few budget laptops we looked at that had a 4th generation Intel processor, and even better, it’s an i5.
Sporting an Intel Core i5-4200U on the Haswell architecture, 4GB of RAM, Intel HD 4400 graphics, and a 500GB HD, this is a very capable computer for the everyday or business user. With a solid-feeling, fairly smudge-resistant chassis, this computer seems like it will hold up well over time and continued use. The 1 megapixel webcam makes it a good choice for video chatting, as well (at least when compared to other laptops we looked at in this price range with even lower resolution webcams).
The downside to all this value is that it only features a 13.3-inch screen with a 1366×768 resolution, and running Windows 8.1 on smaller touchscreens may not be appealing to all users. As well, the VivoBook does not feature an optical disk drive, so users will need to purchase an external drive to read or write CDs and DVDs. Overall though, this is a stellar computer for the price, as the 4th gen i5 will offer great processing value, and it boasts plenty of power for most casual or enterprise users.