It’s really difficult to make it in today’s world without a computer of some kind. Nobody wants to do their school or work projects on their smartphone or even on a slightly larger tablet screen. My typing skills are bad enough on a standard keyboard (sorry, Mavis Beacon); can you imagine how long it would take to hunt-and-peck 2,000 words on a touchscreen keyboard? Preposterous, I tell you!
My point is, you’ve got to get yourself a real laptop.
Yes, I know, laptops cost money — a luxury that not all of us care to throw away on a hunk of precariously constructed metal and plastic. If you’re not careful, you can end up spending well over $1,000 for a laptop with impressive specs, and that’s just the mid-range models. But we’re not here to talk about those laptops. There’s a whole world of laptops that cost $600 or less, and many of them are perfect companions for students returning to school or folks who just need something that’s a little more capable than an iPhone.
What are the most important things to look for in a laptop?
Let’s set expectations right away: The laptops on this list will not come with the latest and greatest processors, graphics cards, or displays. You do indeed have to spend upwards of $1,000 for those things. But for students or workers who just need something to get them through the day, or folks who just want to be able to do some light web browsing and check their emails at home or on the go, the budget-friendly laptops on this list will be right up your alley.
For any cheap laptop, things like ports and memory are more important than fancy displays and processing power. If you want to record audio with a microphone or use a mouse, you’ll need USB ports; casual photographers or videographers should emphasize microSD card readers; and an HDMI port goes a long way if you like streaming your favorite content on a TV.
Above all else, you want as much RAM and storage as you can get. More RAM means the computer can handle more applications at once and more storage means less hard drive management.
What am I losing by getting a cheap laptop?
Laptops in the $600-or-below price range are not going to be good for PC gaming. You won’t get a 4K resolution display or a refresh rate higher than 60Hz. RAM is going to max out around 8GB, which isn’t bad but also isn’t spectacular. In this price range, laptops are going to be best for web browsing, word processing, Zoom calls, checking emails, and streaming. As long as you don’t expect more than that, you’ll be fine.
You’re also unlikely to get more than 500GB of storage space at this price point. In fact, you’ll find that most cheap laptops probably won’t give you more than 128GB of storage these days, opting to offer you cloud storage instead. This is especially true if you’re looking to get a Chromebook; these laptops run Google’s Chrome OS so they have a strong tie-in with Google Drive, the personal cloud storage and file-sharing platform.
What’s the difference between a Chromebook and a Windows laptop?
When it comes to cheap laptops, you’re bound to find yourself at the crossroads of Chromebook vs. Windows. Here’s the difference between the two operating systems (or OS) and how can you decide which one is best for you:
- Chromebooks run on the Google Chrome OS, a simplified, web-based operating system that’s great for light web browsing and low-demand streaming. You won’t find a ton of RAM on these little machines and the storage space will likely be quite small as well as Google wants you to opt for Google Drive cloud storage instead. Many different laptop brands make Chromebooks and, overall, they tend to be a great entry-level machine for students and a nice, cheap secondary device for frequent travelers.
- Windows-based laptops are the more traditional choice, especially if you’re looking for something that runs more like a desktop computer or a more premium laptop model. They tend to have more onboard storage space and more RAM to handle more demanding tasks, and they typically offer more options to scale up these specs to fit your needs. (With a Chromebook, on the other hand, you often just get what you get and don’t get upset.) This means that they also tend to be more expensive than Chromebooks, though there are plenty of budget-friendly Windows laptops out there from the same wide range of laptop brands.
But are cheap laptops worth it?
You know the old saying: You get what you pay for. But thanks to the technology boom of the last few decades, a cheap laptop can actually take you pretty far and won’t break down immediately. It’s all about knowing which one to select.
Rather than just making a few purchase suggestions and sending you on your way, we’re going to equip you with some knowledge that’ll help you be a more informed laptop shopper. Forget all that mind-boggling computer jargon of processor-this and gigahertz-that — we’ve broken down our picks of the best cheap laptops in terms that anyone can understand.
What is the best cheap laptop?
The best cheap laptop is pretty subjective and wholly dependent on your individual wants and needs. That’s why we’ve rounded up this list of some of the best budget laptops that are proven to be dependable for a variety of users and use cases. Check ‘em out and we’re sure you’ll find the right laptop to fit your budget. (But if you’re considering expanding that budget a bit, check out our roundup of the overall best laptops, too.)