The best budget laptops in 2024 — March top picks

The best budget laptops allow you to complete simple computing tasks that extend to both work and your leisure hours without breaking the bank. Just because they’re going for a relative song doesn’t mean they have crummy screens or touchpads, either.

To extend upon that, not every budget laptop is boring from a design perspective. There are sub-$500 models out there that come with detachable keyboards, if you’re in the need for greater flexibility. 

We’ve reviewed a ton of budget laptops to find you the best deals possible. The list below includes the best affordable laptops available right now, with verdicts coming via extensive hands-on testing. 

Written by
Alex Wawro
Written by
Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong journalist who's spent over a decade covering tech, games and entertainment. He oversees the computing department at Tom's Guide, which includes managing laptop coverage and reviewing many himself every year.

The quick list

In a hurry? Here's a brief overview of the laptops on this list, along with quick links that let you jump down the page directly to a review of whichever laptop catches your eye.

The best budget laptops you can buy

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The best budget laptop overall

Acer Aspire 5 (2022) open on desk showing anime playing

(Image credit: Future)
The best Windows 11 budget laptop

Specifications

Display: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080)
CPU: Intel Core i3-1115G4
GPU: Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB RAM
Storage: 256GB SSD
Weight: 3.2 pounds
Tested battery life: 8:02

Reasons to buy

+
Decent performance
+
Responsive keyboard

Reasons to avoid

-
Bad speaker placement
-
Can run very warm
-
Poor webcam quality

The Acer Aspire 5 is a full Windows 11 laptop for under $500, and it's exactly what you'd expect for a budget laptop: Nothing outstanding, but good enough to get you through a day browsing the web, doing basic work tasks or watching videos.

It’s not the sleekest or most stylish laptop on the market, nor will the entry-level model’s Intel Core i3 processor blow anyone away with power. And the 8-hour battery life (in our testing, at least) is just barely enough to get you through an average workday. But you'd have a hard time finding a better Windows laptop for this price.

Read our full Acer Aspire 5 review.

The best budget Chromebook

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 on a table

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best budget Chromebook for most

Specifications

CPU: Intel Celeron | Core i3 processors
RAM: 4GB, 8GB
Storage: 64GB, 128GB
Display: 13.3-inch QLED (1080p)
Dimensions: 12 x 8 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.7 pounds
Tested battery life: 7:50

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful design
+
Gorgeous QLED display
+
Improved battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Key travel could be better
-
Touchscreen input can be inconsistent

The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is a budget laptop that doesn't feel like one, with a slick ultraportable design, a sharp-looking QLED touchscreen, and solid 8-hour battery life. It's also going to sound great, plus its aging 10th Gen Intel Core i3 configuration still provides a ton of speed for Chrome OS.

We weren't as happy with the vertical travel in its keyboard, which is a bit shallow. This creates a slight learning curve you'll adapt to over time. But to get a Chromebook that looks this good (the Fiesta Red color option stands out in a sea of silver and black laptops) and feels this premium for under $500 is a great deal.

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 review.

The best budget OLED laptop

Asus Zenbook 14X OLED

(Image credit: Future)
The best budget OLED laptop available

Specifications

Display: 14.5-inch 2.8K OLED
CPU: 13th gen Intel Core i9-13900H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 4GB
RAM: 16-32GB
Storage: 512-1TB GB
Weight: 3.44 pounds
Tested battery life: 08:24

Reasons to buy

+
A good looking unit
+
Its 2.8K screen is simply stunning
+
Speakers outperform expectations

Reasons to avoid

-
Gets hot while gaming
-
Noisy under load
-
Battery life disappoints

The Asus Zenbook 14X OLED is currently the best budget OLED laptop you can find. It's hard to fully stress just how good its screen is. "Sensational" does the job, though. This 16:10, 2.8K (2800 x 1800), 120Hz refresh rate panel essentially has no flaws, aside from the fact OLED isn't the brightest display tech. Other than that, screen uniformity and color reproduction are jaw-dropping. 

If you want an OLED laptop to consume media, browse the web or do some 1080p gaming, you won't be disappointed in the Asus Zenbook 14X OLED. The DCI-P3 rating of 109.4 and Delta-E score of 0.23 are both competitive, but neither tell the full story of how impressive the 14X OLED and its screen are in the flesh. We love this laptop. 

Read our full Asus Zenbook 14X OLED review

The best budget gaming laptop

MSI Cyborg 15

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best budget gaming laptop

Specifications

Display: 15.6-inch 144Hz FHD (1920 x 1080)
CPU: Intel Core i7-13620H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB
Weight: 4.37 pounds
Tested battery life: 5:05

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable price
+
Cyberpunk-inspired design
+
Great keyboard
+
Solid gaming performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Grainy 720p webcam
-
Middling display
-
Runs hot while gaming

The MSI Cyborg 15 ($999) is a cyberpunk-inspired gaming laptop that won’t destroy your wallet. Packing a 13th Gen Intel Core CPU and an Nvidia RTX 4050 GPU, this laptop delivers solid gaming performance for $1,000. Toss in a 144Hz 15.6-inch display and you have a machine that’s a great entry into the world of PC gaming.

The laptop has a cool design, great performance and costs less than $1,000. The display could be brighter and a bit more colorful, but the 144Hz refresh rate is welcome. And while its battery life isn’t great, the Cyborg 15 also doubles as a good productivity device, so long as you keep it plugged in.

Read our full MSI Cyborg 15 review.

The best budget Windows 2-in-1

Microsoft Surface Go 2 on a desk

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
The best budget Windows 2-in-1

Specifications

Display: 10.5-inches, 1920 x 1280
CPU: Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y
GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB eMMC
Weight: 1.22 pounds (1.75 pounds with type cover)
Tested battery life: 11:39

Reasons to buy

+
Much improved battery life
+
Bright, colorful (and bigger) screen
+
Excellent webcam

Reasons to avoid

-
Performance doesn't impress
-
Type Cover has a learning curve

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a remarkably capable Windows 10 tablet that does double duty as a budget laptop replacement. On its own its a solid Windows tablet, with enough power for basic browsing and battery life that won't leave you always hunting for a charger. 

But the tablet really comes into its own when the optional Type-Cover accessory is added into the mix. That takes the entry-level $299 Surface Go 2 up to $359, but in the process turns it into a dinky laptop that’s surprisingly capable. But to keep things below $500, you have to put up with an Intel Pentium Gold processor, only 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. That’s hardly a mighty set of specs, but it should be enough for people who want a 2-in-1 device for reasonably lightweight productivity tasks — think web browsing, word processing, and firing out a healthy batch of emails.

Read our full Microsoft Surface Go 2 review.

The best budget Chrome 2-in-1

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook open on desk showing home screen

(Image credit: Future)
The best budget Chrome tablet

Specifications

CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2
RAM: 4-8GB
Storage: 64-128GB eMMC
Display: 11 inches, 2,000 x 1,200 pixels
Dimensions: 10.16 x 6.48 x 0.31 inches
Weight: 1.2/2.1 lbs (tablet only/tablet + cover)
Tested battery life: 10:30

Reasons to buy

+
Bright, sharp display
+
10+ hours of battery life
+
Packed-in keyboard cover is decent
+
Surprisingly loud for a Chrome tablet

Reasons to avoid

-
Still no headphone jack
-
Lackluster cameras
-
Keyboard cover uncomfortable for sustained typing

The list of great budget laptops is dominated by Chrome devices, and the Lenovo Duet 3 (or Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3, depending on where you buy it) is the best Chrome tablet that can be yours for as low as $359. This is effectively a bigger, more expensive follow-up to the Chromebook Duet Lenovo released in 2020, a surprisingly capable and inexpensive Chrome tablet that's still on this list. 

We loved the original Duet for its great battery life, solid performance and decent packed-in keyboard cover, all of which could be had for roughly $250. Lenovo's new 11-inch Duet 3 costs a bit more, but it also delivers a bigger, brighter display, more ports, and the added power of a beefier Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 chip. It's one of the best Chrome tablets you can buy, and the fact that Lenovo includes the keyboard cover at no extra cost helps it double as a surprisingly effective 2-in-1 Chromebook.

While you can also consider the original Lenovo Chromebook Duet a good buy if you're short on cash, those who can afford it will be well-served by this excellent Chromebook.

Read our full Lenovo Duet 3 Chromebook review.

How to choose the best laptop for you

It can be tricky to weigh up how much one can expect from a cheap laptop. You’re not going to get bleeding-edge performance or a super premium design. And you might have to make a few compromises on the display, such as how well it handles colors and how bright it gets. But that doesn’t mean you have to make do with a laptop that feels cheap; rather, you’re looking for one that's affordable. So here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a laptop.

Battery life: Know how long you generally need your laptop to last without being plugged in before you buy. If you plan to mostly leave it plugged in at a desk then get whatever you like, because you won't notice the limitations of even a laptop with bad battery life like the MSI Cyborg 15. 

But if you need your laptop to last at least 8-10 hours on a regular basis without carrying a charger, say because you want to carry it for work or school, then you'll want to pick something longer-lived. To ensure you don't have to lug the power cable around I recommend a laptop with upwards of 10 hours of tested battery life (something we test in every laptop we review), like the Asus Zenbook 13 OLED.

Chrome or Windows?  Unless you have a budget of $1,000 or more, even the cheapest MacBook Air will be way out of your price range. As such you’ll probably need to decide whether a Windows laptop or Chromebook better fits your needs. 

Chrome OS offers a lightweight operating system that will run on even the most basic hardware, yet still offers a comprehensive suite of abilities and web-based apps to get a lot of day-to-day computing tasks done. Furthermore, it now supports Android apps, so if you just need to browse the web and use an occasional app you're fine with a Chromebook like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet or Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2.

Windows 11, on the other hand, requires a little more power to ensure it runs smoothly. But it supports a huge range of software, far more than Chrome OS can currently dream of. And it's more capable, more customizable and more usable with touch than ever thanks to Microsoft's ongoing efforts to improve the operating system. And if you'd prefer to stick with Windows 10, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 can often still be found on sale with Windows 10 onboard.

Clamshell or convertible: Budget laptops generally come in two varieties — traditional clamshell laptops or dynamic 2-in-1 convertibles. Clamshells are usually the cheaper of the bunch, and provide a traditional laptop experience with a keyboard and often a non-touch screen. But if you want a touchscreen device that can also double as a tablet, convertibles (like the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2) or tablets with detachable keyboards (like the Surface Go 2), are worth considering.

Don't settle for less than 1080p: Unless you're truly strapped for cash, you shouldn't settle for most laptops with a 1366 x 768 display. That's not full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution, which is effectively the standard. These days plenty of affordable notebooks start with a display resolution of 1080p, which will make a difference when it comes to streaming Netflix shows or staring at webpages for hours on end.

How we tested these laptops

To find the best laptop, we run every machine through a rigorous suite of benchmarks and real-world tests to gauge how it will perform during everyday use. 

We measure the average brightness and color quality of each laptop's display using our in-house light meter and colorimeter. For general performance, we run our machines through tests that include Geekbench 5 (CPU performance), as well as various 3DMark tests to measure graphics capabilities. We also run a file transfer test to measure how fast a machine's hard drive is, and a custom battery test that has the machine browse the internet over Wi-Fi until it runs out of juice.

When testing Chromebooks, we run our machines through web-focused tests that include JetStream 2, a Web-based benchmarking suite that runs over five dozen tests designed to measure how well systems handle the kind of applications they’re most likely to encounter on the Internet. 

When testing dedicated gaming laptops, we run benchmarks for popular games such as Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Far Cry 6 and Red Dead Redemption 2. For more information on our testing process, check out our guide to how we test.

Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice. 

  • harpua greenberg
    Title is 100% misleading. How can you say laptop when most are actually lesser chromebooks or tablets. Nothing wrong with chrome books or those running the lessor/limited windows s, but they are not at all useful for the same things as actual laptops. If someone who didnt know better was told that they needed to get an actual laptop and they were to actually trust your advice, they would be buying something of limited or no use to them. Curious if the writer gets a kickback for linked offers, & if said offers got reversed if the customer were to return item to buy what they were actually shopping for & were led to believe they were buying (according to the title of this )
    Reply
  • Alex Wawro
    I'm sorry you feel that way. As the writer I get no kickback of any kind from this article, nor from any other article I've written. Chromebooks are laptops, and when you're on a budget of $500 - $1,000 I think it's a good idea to widen your horizon and at least consider a Windows or Chrome tablet with detachable keyboard as a cheaper alternative to a traditional clamshell computer.
    Reply