Even the cheapest laptops are expensive. Shop smart with this money saving guide.
PC brands often promote expensive, high-end laptops, history has demonstrated that the majority of people opt for budget laptops. This is understandable, as a $400 laptop can provide reliable service for several years. However, there is one issue: these brands have caught on to this trend. They have inundated the market with numerous slightly altered configurations, all intended to maximize profits. If you don’t know what to look for, selecting the best budget laptop can be challenging. It can be particularly difficult with sale models because retailers frequently attempt to sell less desirable, older, or poorly configured models alongside all of the bargains.
If you want to purchase a budget laptop without falling prey to unsatisfactory specifications, our guide can assist you. Additionally, if you’re searching for specific purchasing suggestions across various budgets, our list of the finest laptop deals can also be beneficial.
Which operating system do you prefer: Windows or ChromeOS?
The primary decision you must make is which operating system to choose, as budget laptops typically run either Microsoft Windows or Google ChromeOS. ChromeOS is frequently less expensive, and budget Chromebooks can be purchased for as little as $130. It is a fast, seamless, and user-friendly operating system that is ideal for those with a stable internet connection, a preference for Google services, and basic expectations. With ChromeOS, you can access most apps and services online, but your selection may be more limited. On the other hand, Windows is versatile, powerful, and functional, providing access to hundreds of thousands of applications to handle nearly any task. While most keyboards, mice, and displays are designed for Windows first, they may also work with ChromeOS. However, Windows is not as seamless as ChromeOS and requires a more powerful laptop to run efficiently. If you cannot decide, stick with Windows, as its vast app support ensures it is never a poor choice.
When it comes to processors, it is recommended to opt for either the Intel Core i3 or the AMD Ryzen 3 (or a better version of either).
Budget laptops come with a range of low-end processors that are not typically found in more expensive PCs. In addition to budget-tier Intel Celeron and AMD Athlon processors, you may also come across processors from MediaTek and Samsung. It is recommended that you avoid these options, as they are based on outdated designs and may have significantly lower performance compared to newer processors. For instance, Lenovo’s Chromebook C330, which is a popular laptop on Amazon, is equipped with a MediaTek MT8173 processor. According to the benchmark database of Geekbench 5, it can barely achieve a score of 750 in the benchmark’s multi-core test. In contrast, Intel’s Core series or AMD’s Ryzen series processors are recommended for better performance.
In contrast, the Intel Core i3-10110U can score above 1,900 in the same test, and AMD’s Ryzen 3 3350U is even better, with a score of up to 2,500, making it more than three times faster! In comparison, processors like Intel’s Celeron and AMD’s Athlon are not much better than MediaTek. Although laptops with these processors may cost less than $200, it is recommended to opt for faster machines that remain reasonably priced. You can find laptops equipped with Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processors that start at $300, offering better value for your money.
It is advisable to aim for a minimum of 8GB of RAM in a laptop, but you can still make do with less.
Memory or RAM is crucial for multitasking and running resource-intensive applications. In the case of budget laptops, 8GB is considered the sweet spot. However, this may push the upper limit of a $500 budget. It’s recommended to choose a laptop with 8GB of RAM if possible, but settling for less is also an option. Many budget laptops come with 4GB, and occasionally 6GB, of RAM which is still adequate for basic computing tasks such as web browsing, writing papers, online shopping, and personal accounting. However, it may not be sufficient for more demanding activities such as photography or video editing.
It’s recommended to aim for a minimum of a 128GB SSD or better when it comes to hard drive storage in a budget laptop.
budget laptop if you plan to use it mainly for basic tasks like web browsing, email, and word processing. But if you need to store a lot of files or run more demanding applications, you’ll need more storage space and better performance. Aim for a 128GB solid state drive or better if you want a good balance between performance and affordability.
When it comes to purchasing a Chromebook, a small 32GB or 64GB eMMC hard drive may suffice, but it’s best to aim for a larger solid-state drive. On the other hand, eMMC storage should be avoided in Windows laptops altogether.
DISPLAY: 1080P OR BUST
When it comes to budget laptops, the display is an important factor to consider. While the screens may not match the quality of high-end smartphones, they still look decent. However, there’s one aspect of the display that you need to be careful about – the resolution.
Most laptops come with a 1080p display, which offers a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. But some budget laptops cut corners by using a lower resolution of 1366×768 pixels. Some manufacturers may refer to this as an “HD” resolution without specifying the pixel count. Don’t fall for this! A laptop with a 1366×768 or “HD” resolution display will appear pixelated and grainy, with less content displayed on the screen. Moreover, HD displays are often less bright and less colorful than Full HD displays.
Therefore, I suggest avoiding laptops with 1366×768 resolution displays. Instead, go for a laptop with a 1080p display or higher. As for size, most people should go for a 14- or 15-inch laptop, which strikes a good balance between portability and screen size. If you plan on using the laptop while traveling, a 13-inch model may be a better option. However, I wouldn’t recommend anything smaller than 13 inches.
GRAPHICS: 3D GAMING IS
(MOSTLY) OUT OF REACH
If you’re looking to play games on a budget laptop, you’ll have to settle for older games and 2D titles. Most budget laptops lack separate graphics hardware, which significantly impacts gaming performance. While some 3D games like Counter-Strike or League of Legends are playable on a budget laptop, more graphically intensive games are generally not possible.
However, if you want the best gaming performance for under $500, consider an AMD Ryzen processor. Ryzen processors come with integrated Radeon graphics hardware, making them better suited for gaming. A laptop with an AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor can handle some modern games, such as Grand Theft Auto V, on low-detail settings.
About The Other Key Factors
The specifications I’ve outlined are the main factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a budget laptop. While battery life, Wi-Fi performance, Bluetooth, and weight may also play a role, they tend to be less variable across models. A budget laptop will typically provide about four to six hours of battery life, as well as decent Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, while weighing around 4-5 pounds.
While these specs may not match those of a $2,000 high-end laptop like an Apple MacBook, Dell XPS, or HP Envy, don’t underestimate what a good budget laptop can accomplish. With its ability to handle a wide range of tasks and remain useful for years, a well-chosen budget laptop can offer exceptional value, even if it can’t quite match the performance of its more expensive counterparts.