The 10 Best Budget Laptops
We spent 44 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Most office workers and students do not need much more from their laptops than a reliable way to browse the web, watch videos, and open and edit documents. The good news is that models that do just that very well are relatively cheap -- and abundant -- these days. But finding the best budget options can be exhausting, so check out our selection to help take the guesswork out of the process. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best budget laptop on Amazon.
January 10, 2019:
Recognizing that "budget" can mean different things to different people -- a college student's budget is not going to be the same as a working professional's, for example -- we avoided imposing a strict price ceiling when putting together this list. While most of our selections hover around the $500 mark (a price point that, in today's market of super high-end -- and super expensive -- laptops, is actually on the lower end of the spectrum), many cost less, and some cost more. The Apple MacBook Air, for example, is by no means a cheap investment, but as far as that tech giant's products go is one of its more affordable offerings. Our top choice, by contrast, is a truly budget-friendly model that should be suitable for a wide range of users.
Budget By What Year's Standard?
Will they run the latest and most CPU-taxing, RAM-eating MMORPGs?
Will they allow you to edit 4K footage into a cinematic masterpiece?
Back in the early 90s, that golden era of colorful, oversized suit vests, white boy break-dancing, and quality blockbuster cinema, V-Tech, a toys company with a heavy focus on bringing contemporary technologies into the hands of children, came up with a laptop computer for kids. It was called the Super Color Whiz, and it featured a dedicated slot for educational cartridge games, a full qwerty keyboard, and color LED screen.
Of course, that color screen was about two, maybe three inches across. At the time, screen technology was one of the most, if not the most expensive aspect of laptop computer manufacture, so it makes sense that V-Tech would make their biggest cuts to the screen. They were smart enough to keep it in color, though, as most kids' patience for black and white LED screens was already running thin back then.
When it debuted in 1994, it cost a whopping $149.99, and an additional $24.99 per cartridge. For the laptop and two cartridges, you'd pay just south of $200, which, in 1994, was worth about $320, according to the US government's own Consumer Price Index.
I point this out mainly to quell any and all fears that you aren't getting your money's worth when looking into "budget" laptops. The same amount of money that you would have spent for your child to play some colorful spelling games in 1994 can now buy you a machine like the ones on our list, all of which are capable of playing games, streaming video, communicating online via video chat, and anything else you could ask the majority of laptops on the market to do.
Will they run the latest and most CPU-taxing, RAM-eating MMORPGs? Probably not. Will they allow you to edit 4K footage into a cinematic masterpiece? Not a chance. Is that why any of these laptops exist? No, it isn't.
These laptops make small sacrifices to their processing power, RAM, graphics cards, and internal speakers to bring you a product that's perfect for a student going off to college, for a quick internet fix on vacation, or for a high-schooler to get a leg up on his or her classmates who might not have any computer to speak of.
As you look up and down our list of the top ten budget laptops, you might notice that each and every one of them runs Microsoft Windows. In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I'm writing this on an Apple computer running Apple's operating system. Let's talk about why.
If you work or stream materials on the go, however, there is little of more importance.
There was a time when this was because of Apple's clear superiority to Windows when it came to security and performance. In the past few years, however, Windows has caught up to Apple in almost every category of either, and Windows-platform machines are still the preferred tools of most colleges, hospitals, institutions, and gamers. I'm still an Apple man mainly because I'm used to it now.
To help you choose from among the computers on our list, it's important for you to know the reasons behind your purchase. For what will you use this laptop? If you spend a lot of time talking to relatives through Skype, or Facetime, or some similar video conference app, you'll want to make sure you get the most RAM (Random Access Memory) available among these laptops. They can all handle the video processing for such a service, but when the RAM gets too low, your picture will start skipping and freezing.
If you're more into surfing the web for adorable cat videos, streaming Netflix, etc., then not only is that RAM important, but a quality video card as well. These help render things like HD video fast enough for your computer to display it without any lag.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for a laptop computer, you want to look at battery life. If you're getting a laptop for only short bursts of occasional travel, and you mostly want to be free to use it around the house, a killer battery life might not be the most important feature. If you work or stream materials on the go, however, there is little of more importance.
To Those Who Wait
If you want a very loose, very entertaining history lesson in early laptop computing, you could take a look at AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, which is a few seasons deep at this point. While the series takes plenty of liberties with the timeline and players in the development of portable personal computing, the actual history of the laptop isn't much clearer.
Sure, you've got release dates and spec sheets that we can all look back on now, comparing 1981's Osborne1 with its hilariously small screen to the more impressive Grid Compass that came out the following year, but as the 80s wore on, corporate espionage and subterfuge ran rampant.
The field has largely leveled out these days, with a few major players building hardware around the Windows platform, with Apple continuing to dominate its high-end market with a closed system, and with hobbyists continuing to build their own boxes.
With each year that passes, last year's technology, speed, and capabilities, which were considered cutting edge just 400 days prior, make their way into the laptops with a big "budget" sticker slapped on the box, and savvy consumers benefit from the tide.
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