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Article updated on February 20, 2024 at 12:17 PM PST

Best Budget Laptop for 2024

Find a great laptop for less: We've tested the best budget laptops on the market to find the options worth your time and money.

Our Experts

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Written by 
Joshua Goldman
Lori Grunin
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg
Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
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Our Picks

$456 at Amazon
An Acer Aspire 5 laptop on an orange countertop with a green background.
Best budget laptop overall
Acer Aspire 5
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$750 at Amazon
M1 MacBook Air on a table
Best budget MacBook
Apple MacBook Air M1
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$880 at HP
The 2023 HP Pavilion Aero 13 laptop open and facing to the right and sitting on a dark blue couch.
Best budget laptop for students
HP Pavilion Aero 13
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$1,200 at Best Buy
Acer Predator Helios Neo 16 at an angle against a gray wall
Best budget gaming laptop
Acer Predator Helios Neo 16
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$610 at Lenovo
An open Lenovo Chromebook on a yellow tabletop against a blue background.
Best budget 2-in-1 laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5/5i 14
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$290 at HP
hp-laptop-17-08
Best budget 17.3-inch laptop
HP Laptop 17
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What's the best budget laptop overall?

The Acer Aspire 5 is our pick for the best budget laptop. Acer knows how to make affordable laptops that don't make you feel like you're missing out. We love the Aspire 5 line for its performance, battery life and wonderful array of features -- all with a base price of under $500. Available in 14-, 15.6- and 16-inch sizes, the line can be configured to fit your budget and match performance requirements, from everyday basics to gaming and content creation. That said, prices can go up to about $1,000, but the quality of the product always surpasses the laptop brand's price tag.

While you can feasibly find a decent laptop for under $500, you may need to do some comparison shopping and exercise some patience as you wait for a holiday sale or discount. Apart from a sale, though, you may need to shell out closer to $700 to find a durable laptop that'll handle more than simple email correspondence and web browsing. You won't find any current MacBook models at these prices: A current entry-level MacBook Air is $1,000, and you'll have to pick up a refurbished one or have to hit a good sale to get a MacBook at a lower price. So, what should you be looking for in a good, budget laptop? Using CNET editors' decades of experience testing and reviewing laptops, we've compiled a roundup of the best budget laptops below.

Best budget laptops of 2024

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$456 at Amazon

Best budget laptop overall

Acer Aspire 5

The Acer Aspire 5 continues to be one of the best Windows laptop deals around. Available in 14-, 15.6- and 17.3-inch sizes, I am partial to the 15.6-inch size because it's relatively compact and lightweight but still full-featured. Acer has a wide range of configurations to choose from, starting at less than $400. This budget laptop also features a USB-C Thunderbolt 4 port, two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, Ethernet and an HDMI port. Aside from internal components, the Acer Aspire 5 has changed little since we reviewed it last in 2020. However, we tested a 2023 model, currently $750, and it still has excellent performance and features for its price.

$750 at Amazon

Best budget MacBook

Apple MacBook Air M1

Apple technically doesn't have a MacBook in its lineup that's less expensive than the $999 13-inch M1 MacBook Air. This base model's regularly price drops by as much as $250. At a reasonable $750, it's an excellent laptop for the price, even more than three years after it first arrived. 

$880 at HP

Best budget laptop for students

HP Pavilion Aero 13

HP packed a lot of value into the Aero 13: Eye-pleasing magnesium-aluminum chassis, strong processing performance, long battery life, a bright, colorful display and a weight of just 2 pounds (0.94-kilogram). The Aero starts at around $900 but is frequently available on sale for less than $600. The overall design and features have not changed from the original we reviewed in 2021, but now the Aero 13 offers AMD Ryzen 5 7000 series CPUs.

$1,200 at Best Buy

Best budget gaming laptop

Acer Predator Helios Neo 16

Like other gaming laptop makers, Acer has two lines: a budget-friendly Nitro series and midrange and premium models that carry the Predator label. Oddly enough, it's under the latter you'll find our budget gaming pick: the Helios Neo 16. It's strikingly similar to the Acer Nitro 16 but with slightly better build quality and graphics performance. The only place it really faltered was its speakers, which put out disappointingly flat audio with nonexistent bass.

The Predator Helios Neo 16 we reviewed with RTX 4050 costs $1,200. That is high for a budget gaming laptop. The trick is to be patient and wait for a sale, which happen regularly, and the price drops to $830.

$610 at Lenovo

Best budget 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5/5i 14

Lenovo released its first convertible two-in-one laptop more than a decade ago, so it's no surprise the PC maker has the best budget-friendly option. The 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5/5i is an excellent value. Along with the latest 13th-gen Intel or AMD Ryzen 7000-series processors, Lenovo includes higher-end features like a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C port (Intel only), an SD card reader, a 1080p webcam with a privacy shutter and a fingerprint reader. Plus, it reached nearly 11 hours of battery life in our tests.

$290 at HP

Best budget 17.3-inch laptop

HP Laptop 17

The HP Laptop 17 is a good pick if you want everyday performance and a bigger display. It's perfect for home office tasks, entertainment and just general computing. Battery life is also good at nearly 9 hours in our tests. Although the configuration we reviewed was $650, HP offers many configuration options so that you can balance price and performance to match your needs. It's also frequently on sale for much less. And if you'd rather have a smaller laptop, HP makes 14- and 15.6-inch models in this line, too.

Other laptops we've tested

MSI Cyborg 15 Review: It's one of the lowest-cost RTX 4050 laptops, but the Cyborg 15's GPU is restricted from running at full power, which puts a cap on 3D performance. And its display disappoints, too. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 Review: Standout profiling and calibration for its class makes Asus' first OLED in the line stand out from the crowd.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 Review: It breaks with the ThinkPad tradition in many ways without abandoning the things that make it a ThinkPad.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 8 Review: This 14-inch two-in-one for business users is compact for easy travel yet big enough to get work done, but Lenovo's display options for it miss the mark.

Acer Swift Go 14 (2024): Intel's new Core Ultra CPU gives this unassuming 14-inch laptop great battery life and a bit of a speed boost -- with potential AI acceleration down the road.

MSI Modern 14 C13M: Its audio-visual output won't wow you, but MSI's 14-inch budget offering boasts good build quality and competitive performance.

HP Dragonfly G4: HP's compact premium business laptop stands out with its unusual 3:2 display and unique dual-webcam capability.

Acer Swift Edge 16 (2023): It's the rare 16-inch laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds. And the OLED display is awesome.

Dell XPS 13 Plus (2023): An unconventional ultraportable gets a minor update.

Apple MacBook Pro 14 (Late 2023): The M3-based models don't seem especially good buys, but the M3 Pro choices should deliver.

Apple MacBook Pro 16 (M3, Late 2023): Apple's high-end MacBook Pro gets faster -- a lot in some respects -- and darker.

Acer Swift Go 16: It’s a good choice for those who want a big-screen laptop with productivity power, but it gets lost between Acer's own 16-inch Swift X and Swift Edge laptops.

Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630: Dell's more budget-friendly content-creation laptop offers powerful discrete graphics and a large, 16-inch panel with an improved 120Hz refresh rate, but I still want some display upgrade options.

Asus Zenbook S 13 OLED (UX5304): Want a quick little laptop for getting work done anywhere? We strongly recommend giving Asus' ultralight 13-inch OLED laptop a look

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11: The latest X1 Carbon gets 13th-gen Intel processors and greener construction but is otherwise unchanged and remains a top pick for business travelers.

HP Spectre Foldable PC: It's slick but quirky. And it costs.

HP Dragonfly Pro Chromebook: It’s the premium Chromebook to beat.

Lenovo Yoga 7i 16: The 14-inch Yoga 7i has long been a favorite for offering more for less. The "more" on this version includes a 16-inch display with a low resolution that makes text fuzzy and it's an awkward size for a two-in-one.

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How we test budget laptops

The review process for laptops consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our reviewers. This includes evaluating a device's aesthetics, ergonomics and features with respect to price. A final review verdict is a combination of both objective and subjective judgments. 

We test all laptops with a core set of benchmarks, including Primate Labs Geekbench 5 and 6Cinebench R23PCMark 10, a variety of 3DMark benchmarks (whichever can run on the laptop), UL Procyon Photo and Video (where supported), and our own battery life test. If a laptop is intended for gaming, we'll also run benchmarks from Guardians of the Galaxy, The Rift Breaker (CPU and GPU) and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Budget laptops tend to have components that don't lend themselves to more advanced content creation -- such as a discrete GPU with sufficient memory -- so we don't typically run graphics-intensive performance tests on this class of laptops.

For the hands-on, the reviewer uses it for their work during the review period, evaluating how well the design, features (such as the screen, camera and speakers) and manufacturer-supplied software operate as a cohesive whole. With budget laptops, especially, we concentrate on how well they work given their cost and where the manufacturer has made tradeoffs to reach the price.

The list of benchmarking software and comparison criteria we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. 

You can find a more detailed description of our test methodology on our How We Test Computers page. 

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How to choose a budget laptop

There are a ton of models under $1,000 on the market at any given moment, and a large fraction of those are under $500. And s long as you manage your expectations when it comes to options and specs, you can still get quite a bit from a budget laptop model, including good battery life and a reasonably lightweight laptop body. (And if you're replacing an old Windows laptop that's not up to running Windows anymore, consider turning it into a Chromebook.) 

Price

If the statistics Intel and PC manufacturers hurl at us are correct, you'll be holding onto this laptop for at least three years, so don't skimp if you can afford to stretch your budget a little to better specs. 

Even better, think about a laptop with a replaceable battery (if you can find one), upgradable memory (although memory is usually soldered to the motherboard), graphics card and storage, or all of the above. But if you do, trawl the user reviews and comments for people's experiences with upgrading a particular model; sometimes they require proprietary parts or require accessing hard-to-access locations in the system.

For a cheap gaming laptop, though, you'll still have to break the $500 ceiling to support most games. The least expensive budget laptops suitable for a solid gaming performance experience -- those with moderately powerful discrete graphics processors -- will run you closer to $700. Here are our recommendations if you're looking for the best gaming laptop under $1,000. Although, if you like to live on the bleeding edge, cloud gaming services such as Nvidia GeForce Now and Microsoft Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's Cloud Gaming will let you play games on laptops with specs that hit the under-$500 mark. 

A bright spot is you don't have to settle for a traditional clamshell laptop with a fixed display and keyboard. You can also get a convertible laptop (aka, a two-in-one), which has a screen that flips around to turn the screen into a tablet, to position it for comfortable streaming or to do a presentation. 

You can also try to make your current laptop last a little longer. If you need something to tide you over for a few months, dig into possible places to buy refurbished machines and explore nonprofit or educational discounts if you're eligible.

Windows, Mac or Chromebook

One thing you won't find at these cheap laptop prices: a MacBook or any other Apple laptop. At best you can get the current entry-level model of the MacBook Air for $999 -- on sale you may be able to get it for less than that, but it will never reach truly "budget" territory. Even an iPad will run you more than $500 once you buy the optional keyboard (though it might work out to less if you look for sales on the tablet or keyboard), which is above our budget here. A base-model iPad with an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard and cheap stand for the iPad might suffice. 

It's easier to find inexpensive Chromebooks than cheap Windows laptops, making them one of the most popular budget laptops on the market, though we're also seeing a lot more Chromebooks in the $500-to-$1,000 range and more Windows laptops in the $500 range. Those Windows systems are frequently repurposed Chromebook configurations that really aren't up to running Windows comfortably. 

Google's ChromeOS isn't nearly as power-hungry as Windows, so you can get by with a lower-end processor, slower storage and less screen resolution or RAM -- just a few of the components that make a laptop expensive. But the flip side is Chrome and Google apps are more of a memory hog than you'd expect, and if you go too low with the processor or skimp on memory, the system will still feel slow. 

While Chromebooks can run ChromeOS-specific and Android apps, some people need the full Windows OS to run heftier applications, such as video-editing suites. With that comes a need for a faster processor with more cores, more memory -- 8GB RAM is the bare minimum, though 16GB is preferable -- and more storage for applications and the operating system itself. 

ChromeOS is also a much different experience than Windows; make sure the applications you need have a Chrome app, Android app or Linux app before making the leap. Since Chromebooks are cloud-first devices, however, you don't need a lot of storage built-in. 

That also means if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games, they're a good fit. If you hope to play Android games, make sure you get a touchscreen Chromebook. 

Size

Remember to consider whether having a lighter, thinner laptop or a touchscreen laptop with a good battery life will be important to you in the future. Size is primarily determined by the screen -- hello, laws of physics -- which in turn factors into battery size, laptop thickness and weight. 

Ultraportable laptops, generally 13 inches or smaller, are a rarity below $700 -- making things smaller isn't cheap. Generally, you'll find budget laptops at 14-, 15.6- and 17.3-inch sizes. Also, because of their low prices, 11.6-inch Chromebooks are attractive. But we don't recommend that size for any but the youngest students.

In the budget price range, you have to watch out for screen terminology when it comes to specs: An "HD" screen may not always be a truly high-definition screen. HD, which has a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, is called "Full HD" so marketers can refer to lesser-resolution displays (1,280x720 pixels) as HD. In Chromebooks, HD usually refers to a screen with a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. On the upside, the boom in 14-inch laptops trickles down to this price range, which allows for more FHD options in that size. 

A frequent complaint we see is about "washed-out" looking displays with poor viewing angles. Unfortunately, that's one of the trade-offs: A lot of these use TN (twisted nematic) screen technology, which is cheap but meh. Look for IPS (in-plane switching) LCDs which are better for off-angle viewing, brightness and color. 

Processor, memory and storage 

A lot of Windows laptops in this range use AMD Athlon and lower-end A series or Intel Celeron and Pentium processors to hit the lower prices. We don't recommend going with an Athlon instead of a Ryzen or a Celeron/Pentium instead of a Core: Windows is too heavy for them, and in conjunction with the 4GB memory a lot of them have, you may find them abysmally slow at best. 

SSDs can make a big difference in how fast Windows performance feels compared with a spinning hard disk, though thankfully old hard disks have become a lot rarer. But not all SSDs are equally speedy and cheaper laptops typically have slower drives. If you need to go with a smaller drive -- they tend to max out at 256GB in this price range -- you can always add an external drive or two (or five, for some of us) at some point down the road or use cloud storage to bolster a small internal drive. 

For memory, we highly recommend 16GB of RAM (8GB absolute minimum). RAM is where the operating system stores all the data for currently running applications, and it can fill up fast (for example, right now Chrome is taking up 7GB of my memory). After that, it starts swapping between RAM and SSD, which is a bit slower. A lot of sub-$500 laptops have 4GB or 8GB, which in conjunction with a slower disk can make for a frustratingly slow Windows laptop experience. Also, many laptops now have the memory soldered onto the motherboard. Most manufacturers disclose this, but if the RAM type is LPDDR, it is soldered on and can't be upgraded. However, some PC makers will solder memory on and also leave an empty internal slot for adding a stick of RAM. You may need to contact the laptop manufacturer or find the laptop's full specs online to confirm. 

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Laptop FAQs

How much do good laptops cost?

Setting a budget is a good place to start when shopping for the best laptop for yourself. Higher-end components like Intel Core i-series and AMD Ryzen processors and premium design touches like thin-display bezels and aluminum or magnesium bodies have made their way to laptops priced between $500 and $1,000. You can also find touchscreens and two-in-one designs that can be used as a tablet or a laptop -- and a couple other positions in between. In this price range, you'll also find faster memory and ssd storage -- and more of it -- to improve performance. 

Above $1,000 is where you'll find premium laptops and two-in-ones. If you're looking for the fastest performance, the best battery life, the slimmest, lightest designs and top-notch display quality with an adequate screen size, expect to spend at least $1,000. 

Which is better, MacOS or Windows?

Deciding between MacOS and Windows laptop for many people will come down to personal preference and budget. Apple's base model laptop, the M1 MacBook Air, starts at $999. You can sometimes find it discounted or you can get educational pricing from Apple and other retailers. But, in general, it'll be at least $1,000 for a new MacBook, and the prices just go up from there. 

For the money, though, you're getting great hardware top to bottom, inside and out. Apple recently moved to using its own processors, which resulted in across-the-board performance improvements compared to older Intel-based models. But, the company's most powerful laptop, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, still hasn't been updated to Apple silicon. 

But, again, that great hardware comes at a price. Also, you're limited to just Apple laptops. With Windows and Chromebooks (more on these below), you get an amazing variety of devices at a wide range of prices. 

Software between the two is plentiful, so unless you need to run something that's only available on one platform or the other, you should be fine to go with either. Gaming is definitely an advantage for a Windows laptop, though.

MacOS is also considered to be easier and safer to use than Windows, especially for people who want their computers to get out of the way so they can get things done. Over the years, though, Microsoft has done its best to follow suit and, with Windows 11 hereit's trying to remove any barriers. Also, while Macs might have a reputation for being safer, with the popularity of the iPhone and iPad helping to drive Mac sales, they've become bigger targets for malware.

Are Chromebooks worth it?

Yes, they are, but they're not for everyone. Google's Chrome OS has come a long way in the 10-plus years since they arrived and Chromebooks -- laptops that run on Chrome OS -- are great for people who do most of their work in a web browser or using mobile apps. They are secure, simple and, more often than not, a bargain. What they can't do is natively run Windows or Mac software. 

What's the best laptop for home, travel or both?

The pandemic changed how and where a lot of people work. The small, ultraportable laptops valued by people who regularly traveled may have suddenly become woefully inadequate for working from home. Or maybe instead of needing long battery life, you'd rather have a bigger display with more graphics power for gaming.

If you're going to be working on a laptop and don't need more mobility than moving it from room to room, consider a 15.6-inch laptop or larger. In general, a bigger screen makes life easier for work and is more enjoyable for entertainment, and it also is better if you're using it as an extended display with an external monitor. It typically means you're getting more ports, too, so connecting an external display or storage or a keyboard and mouse are easier without requiring a hub or dock. 

For travel, stay with 13- or 14-inch laptops or two-in-ones. They'll be the lightest and smallest while still delivering excellent battery life. What's nice is that PC-makers are moving away from 16:9 widescreens toward 16:10- or 3:2-ratio displays, which gives you more vertical screen space for work without significantly increasing the footprint. These models usually don't have discrete graphics or powerful processors, though that's not always the case.

Which laptop is best for gaming or creating?

You can play games and create content on any laptop. That said, what games you play and what content you create -- and the speed at which you do them -- is going vary greatly depending on the components inside the laptop. 

For casual browser-based games or using streaming-game services like Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming, you don't need a powerful gaming laptop. And similarly, if you're trimming video clips, cropping photos or live-streaming video from your webcam, you can get by with a modestly priced laptop or Chromebook with integrated graphics. 

For anything more demanding, you'll need to invest more money in discrete graphics like Nvidia's RTX 30- or 40-series GPUs. Increased system memory of 16GB or more, having a speedy SSD of at least 512GB for storage and a faster processor such as an Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 will all help you get things moving faster, too. 

The other piece you'll want to consider is the display. For gaming, look for screens with a high refresh rate of 120Hz or faster so games look smoother while playing. For content creation, look for displays that cover at least 100% sRGB color space or, better yet, 100% DCI-P3.