February 27, 2019
Gone are the days when a new laptop meant sacrificing a serious amount of cash! While you can certainly pay a lot for a premium laptop, the market has recognized that plenty of us want a laptop for everyday tasks, and don't want to spend too much.
While you won't be able to get your hands on a MacBook or gaming laptop on a budget, there's a surprising amount of choice out there – especially if you throw Chromebooks into the mix, too.
We take a look at the best laptops you can buy for under $600.
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What Are the Best Cheap Laptops?
There are plenty of laptops out there that will serve you well, without breaking the bank. They may not be the fastest, they may not be the prettiest, and they surely aren't packed with the latest tech, but are they the cheapest? You bet.
- Microsoft Surface Go – A compact and premium feeling Windows 10 machine
- Acer Aspire E15 – A 15-inch laptop at a startlingly cheap price
- Acer Aspire 1 – A tempting laptop with a 14-inch screen; costs less than $250
- HP N5000 – A huge 1TB hard drive means you can get plenty of storage on a budget
- Acer Chromebook Spin 11 – A versatile Chromebook that won't break the bank
- HP Stream 11.6 – One of our cheapest choices – a great entry-level laptop, with some caveats
- Dell Inspiron 11 – An excellent all-rounder for browsers and emailers
- Samsung Chromebook 3 – A small, highly portable Chromebook
- Lenovo Ideapad 330 – Another large screen laptop that offers lots of value
- Asus Vivobook E203 – The hero of cheap laptops; a great pick
Microsoft Surface Go
Technically a tablet rather than a laptop, it would be remiss of us to exclude the Surface Go, Microsoft's answer to the iPad. It offers the full Windows 10 experience and starts at around $500. The only fly in the ointment is that the keyboard doesn't come with the Surface Go, but costs a cool $100 extra. So you're getting close to $600 if you go for the complete package (and you should).
Thanks to its tablet design, this 10-inch device is a great travel companion, and will easily slot into any bag. The entry-level model comes with a Pentium processor, and while you can pay more and get an Intel processor in its place, the price soon starts to rack up. The entry-level model can do most things any casual user would want it to, and you won't miss the power if you're not stretching it too far.
- Small and compact, making for a great travel companion
- Stylus compatible
- The Pentium processor should be powerful enough for most
- Keyboard is essential… and costs extra
Acer Aspire E15
It can be a struggle to find a large screen laptop on a budget, but the Acer Aspire 15 manages to tick that box, thanks to its 15.6-inch display. You can't expect 4K at these prices, but the Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution should be good enough for most tasks.
It comes with an Intel Core i3 processor, which for the price is impressive. The 6GB of RAM means that it will happily whip through your apps with ease, and be able to handle multi-tasking without issue.
Big 15.6-inch screen
6GB of RAM makes for smooth multi-tasking
Quoted 13.5 hour battery life
Not too portable, due to its size
Acer Aspire 1
The Acer Aspire 1 offers up the full Windows 10 experience, with a 14-inch screen and an Intel Celeron processor – all for under $250.
It's an outstanding price for what you're getting, and as long as you're not expecting to be able to run the latest games or dive into heavy duty image editing, you'll be set. For everyday office work, web browsing and social media, you could certainly do a lot worse than the Aspire 1. Battery life could be better, admittedly, but if you're mainly using the laptop inside the house or office – and near a power outlet – then you won't mind.
- Exceptionally cheap for a 14-inch screen
- Quick to start
- Storage easy to expand
32GB storage space is very small
This HP should appeal to anyone on a budget who has high demands and wants a large screen laptop with plenty of storage. Your money will get you a 15.6-inch display, not to mention a massive 1TB drive, which should be able to hold as much media as you can throw at it.
The battery life on this laptop is poor– HP quotes 5 hours, and you can usually knock an hour or two off in the real world, meaning that this isn't one to take out with you for the day. However, for those who are looking for a laptop to mainly use indoors, there's a lot to consider here.
- Large 15.6-inch display
- Huge 1TB hard drive
- Reasonably light for its size
- Lacks any real battery stamina
Acer Chromebook Spin 11
The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 relies on cloud-based storage, so only comes with 32GB of storage built in. The idea is that you mainly work online, saving important files to programs such as Google Drive, rather than locally. Apps can be downloaded from the Google Play store – including Microsoft Office – for the traditional among us, although Google would rather you used its G Suite line up of applications.
While its specs may seem rather meek compared to a traditional laptop, the Chrome operating system is a lot more streamlined and demanding than Windows 10, meaning that Chromebooks are able to do more with less. The Spin 11 more than pulls its weight, will be able to run your favorite apps with ease, and is a snappy starter, too. The screen can be fully rotated, giving you more options as to how you want to use the laptop.
- Excellent battery life
- Fast to start
- Rotating screen
- Whole new operating system might confuse those used to Windows
HP Stream 11.6
The HP Stream 11.6 is an unassuming looking, diminutive laptop, but it's a popular workhorse for those looking for a small laptop that can handle daily tasks without taking up too much space. It's also priced incredibly competitively – it's cheaper than most tablets, and yet it's a fully formed laptop.
The specs won't impress, though. Under the hood sits an Intel N4000 which does just enough to keep things ticking over, and 4GB of RAM mean that you won't be able to undertake too many things at once without throwing the HP Stream into a state of stuttering confusion. However, for the money, if you have modest needs, this is a modest laptop that more than does the job.
- Small laptop that's highly portable
- Includes 1-year Office 365 subscription
- Fast to boot
- 32GB storage doesn't leave you with much space
Dell Inspiron 11
Another 11.6-inch Windows laptop that is aimed at users who simply want to browse, check emails/social media, and compose the odd office document. The AMD processor that runs the show here is fine, but won't stand up to anything too strenuous.
The laptop ships with just 32GB onboard storage, but this can easily be expanded with the purchase of a cheap MicroSD card to give you up to 256GB of space – plenty of room for photos, movies, and other media.
- Small and light
- Easy to add extra storage
- 32GB of storage is stingy for the price
Samsung Chromebook 3
Eschewing Windows 10 for Chrome, the Samsung Chromebook 3 is speedy, and quick to flit between applications without a hitch. It weighs 2.54 pounds, making it highly portable, and it won't weigh you down as you commute.
The battery life is excellent, running to around 11 hours between charges, so you can comfortably take it out for the day with you and not worry about it running out of battery before you've finished your daily tasks.
- Lightweight and compact
- Excellent battery life
Just 16GB storage space
Asus VivoBook E203
The Asus VivoBook has long been hailed as the champion of the budget laptop scene, and not without reason. It's consistently offered the full Windows 10 experience for under $200, which isn't to be sniffed at. The processor might not be the fastest, and it could do with some more RAM, but for the price, it's impossible to complain.
The only issue is its 32GB storage space. Windows 10 is rather resource heavy, and some users experience issues keeping up with the updates. There is a 64GB version available for an extra $50, which is the better bet for those who don't want to juggle with their storage come every major Windows update. But even 64GB is very little storage to play with, for this laptop.
In effect, this is the Windows equivalent of a Chromebook – provided you don't mind storing files in the cloud, it's a great choice. If you just want to browse, stream and email, then this is a zippy, surprisingly good laptop.
- Incredible price for the tech
- Quick to start
- Weighs just 2.1 pounds
- You'll need to do some memory management with every major Windows 10 update
Lenovo Ideapad 330
The Lenovo Ideapad 330 manages to offer up a 15.6-inch screen laptop, with a large 1TB hard drive, at a budget price – making it one to consider for anyone who is looking for a larger laptop. Specs-wise, it's no slouch either, with an Intel Core i3 processor that more than pulls its weight.
It's not perfect – that large display isn't Full HD, so your spreadsheets or blockbuster movies won't look their best. It's also quite heavy, but with large screen laptops in limited supply for those working studiously to a small budget, it's a real contender.
- Large 15.6-inch display
- Intel i3 processor is decent for the money
- 1TB hard drive
On the heavy side
What to Look for in a Budget Laptop
When you're shopping for a new laptop, it's important to know what to look for, and realize the limitations of what you can get for your budget. Here are some key things you'll want to consider:
- Power – No budget laptop will be blisteringly fast. At best, you're looking at an Intel Core i3, but more likely, you'll end up with a Pentium, Celeron or low end AMD chip. These shouldn't be dismissed by those on a budget, with all perfectly capable of keeping up with most daily tasks.
- Gaming – If you want to run the latest games at face-melting speeds and with high visuals on a budget laptop, it simply won't happen. Keep saving.
- Storage – Many manufacturers can keep laptop prices down by offering limited storage. While you can and easily extend the space offered by a 32GB Windows 10 laptop with a microSD card, be aware that this can be problematic when handling large Windows 10 updates. You may have to store your files in the cloud.
- Display – At the budget end, you're likely to find most screens are 1366 x 768. While this isn't Full HD (1920 x 1080), you won't notice too much on smaller screens.
- RAM – Some manufacturers will skimp on RAM, but you should be looking at at least 4GB to keep things running smoothly, especially on a Windows laptop.
- Older models – Laptop line-ups are constantly being refreshed. Don't be afraid to opt for a slightly older model – you could save some serious cash.
- Graphics – You're unlikely to find a budget laptop with a dedicated graphics card, meaning they're not ideal for video and image editing.
- Stick with known brands – You might spot a bargain from a no-name brand, but be cautious. It's likely their after-sales support will be poor, and finding support online is likely to be difficult.
Chromebooks vs Windows Laptops
Chromebooks and laptops may look identical on the surface, but there are a lot of important differences to consider.
The first, crucially, is the operating system. Most laptops run Windows 10, while Chromebooks run ChromeOS, a streamlined operating system designed by Google with internet use in mind. Chromebooks expect you to be mainly browsing online, with most of your work saved in the cloud rather than locally. It's for this reason that most have very limited storage, with 32GB drives commonplace. But, thanks to the OS, they are also very fast to boot up, and when flicking between apps.
Unlike Windows laptops, which can download programs from practically anywhere, Chromebooks are restricted to the Google Play store. While it is possible to download apps outside the store, it's a risky business, and could infect your machine. The good news is that there is an app for almost every possible need on the Play store, but it still can't compete with the sheer wealth of Windows programs available. However, if your main concern about Chromebooks is ditching Microsoft Office for Google's G Suite, then good news – you can still download the Microsoft Office apps for Chromebooks.
Chromebooks tend to be relatively cheap, thanks to their lower-end processors. Typically, ChromeOS is a streamlined and efficient operating system, and most apps are able to run on modest hardware. It's for this reason that many Chromebooks are in the $200 – $300 range.
There's not much a Chromebook can't do these days for the casual user. However, if you work offline often, don't like the idea of a closed ecosystem, or need specialist software that might not be available on the Google Play store, then you should stick with a laptop.
Read more about Chromebooks vs Laptops
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