Your buying guide for the best budget laptops in 2018
Although we review many mid-range and high-end laptops, there are plenty of cheaper options. We review and rank them with the same care and attention so here you can find the best budget laptop for your needs under £500.
If your needs are basic, then almost any of the laptops below will be perfectly good. They’ll all handle web browsing, office work, casual games and a bit of photo editing. If you need something even cheaper, take a look at the best Chromebooks.
Chances are you’re looking for a budget laptop for a specific task, whether that’s video editing, music production or even playing Minecraft and other games. There’s also a chance you’re looking for the best budget laptop with an SSD or with good battery life.
Typically, it’s hard to get something which is capable of demanding tasks like these examples (particularly games) within a tight budget though, so if games are a particular priority, check out the best gaming laptops instead.
However, if you’re willing to sacrifice certain aspects, such as screen quality – usually the first corner cut on a cheap laptop – then you might just find what you’re after.
What should I look for in a cheap laptop?
Which specifications are important depends on what you want to do with your laptop. You may want lots of storage or you might need as much power for the money as possible.
Starting with the screen, you need to decide on a size. Most laptops will be 13- or 15in but you can also go smaller or larger if you want something even more portable or if it rarely needs to move.
Remember that the size of the screen will have an impact on things like the weight of the laptop and other things like the keyboard and even how many ports and connections it can have.
It’s typical to find a budget laptop with an unexciting resolution of 1366×768 (HD) but if you can find higher, probably 1920×1080 (or Full HD) then you’ll be much better off. Look for a matt finish which is preferable to a glossy screen that reflects like a mirror when it’s bright and sunny.
The processor is the heart of the computer and has a large impact on how fast it runs. You might well find many with an Intel Celeron or similar and these are to be avoided unless you will be simply browsing the web and sending emails.
Look for either an Intel Core processor or AMD A-series if you can – and some of the laptops in this chart do offer these. The most powerful and efficient chips are currently Intel generations codenamed Broadwell (5th) and Skylake (6th) and can be found in some budget laptops. You won’t see the latest Kaby Lake (7th gen) for a while yet in cheap models.
Ideally go for a Core i5 processor, but an i3 is a good compromise if everything else in the laptop is to your liking and you’re only doing basic tasks. We run various benchmarks on every laptop so be sure to read the full review to see the results and what they mean for daily use.
Storage and memory
Don’t confuse storage and memory. The latter – also called RAM – is for temporarily storing information when you open an app or file, while storage is the space to store files and programs.
In both cases it’s better to have as much as possible. A lot of budget laptops will come with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive but only 4GB of RAM. You’re unlikely to find an SSD (solid state drive) or more than 8GB of RAM at under £300 but these are things you might be able to upgrade yourself – the latter being easier to DIY if there is a spare slot.
Remember that you can also always use cloud storage if you need additional space.
Do you need a CD or DVD drive?
Many modern laptops ditch the CD drive to save money and weight. So if you need one, be sure to check your chosen laptop has an optical drive. Also make sure it has enough USB ports and even a network port.
Also make sure the speakers are decent unless you’re happy to use headphones.
These days virtually all laptops come with Windows 10. Don’t assume they will have Microsoft Office. This is separate software, but you can download free alternatives.
What if I can’t find the exact laptop reviewed?
At the time of writing every one of the laptops listed here is available to buy in the UK. However, the budget laptop market is extremely volatile, and retailers tend to secure limited stock of any model so there’s a chance it can go out of stock without us noticing – we check as often as we can.
Also remember that laptop makers will make many variations of the same laptop, with subtly different specifications. It’s generally safe to buy one of these alternatives if you understand the differences in specification.
1. Acer Swift 1
The Acer Swift 1 is perhaps the most expensive-looking and feeling laptop Windows 10 laptop you can get for £350.
A metal shell, solid keyboard and trackpad, and a 13.3in Full HD IPS screen are all to be celebrated. However, performance isn’t great so you’ll need to stick to basic tasks and casual gaming.
Read our Acer Swift 1 review.
2. HP 250 G5
Those after something flashy may not find an awful lot of appeal in the HP 250. However, it’s one of the best-value, low-cost laptops you can find right now. You’ll pay around £370 for a model equipped with an SSD and 8GB of RAM, but if you can afford more, go for the version with a Core i5 processor.
You’ll need to spend considerably more on a laptop to get good screen quality, though. While the display here is practical, poor colour and contrast don’t make it a good fit for an entertainment device.
Read our HP 250 G5 review.
3. Lenovo IdeaPad 320S
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S proves cheap laptops don’t have to be undesirable. A portable frame and modern look make this a laptop you could be proud to take out at the local coffee shop.
We’re also glad to see a Pentium-based system run Windows 10 so well, with performance in basic tasks similar to that of an Intel Core machine,
The screen is very poor, however, thanks to its use of a basic TN panel. If you’re looking for something that’ll double as a portable Netflix/iPlayer, you might want to save up for something with an IPS screen. You’re unlikely to find many Windows 10 laptops as attractive and slick at £350, though.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad 320S review.
4. Acer Spin 1
If you want a cheap hybrid and have realistic expectations about performance, you should jump at the Acer Spin 1. It’s well-made, is comfortable to type on and has a superb screen for the price.
We would, however, advise getting the 64GB version unless you are planning on installing virtually nothing. A 32GB phone may leave you with plenty of space, but a 32GB Windows 10 laptop certainly does not.
If you’re not bothered about the hybrid factor, also consider Acer’s great Swift 1, another laptop that gets you a lot for your money.
Read our Acer Spin 1 review.
5. Jumper EZBook 3 Pro
Available at the same price as the Chuwi LapBook 14.1 but with a metal shell and slightly faster performance (though significantly slower startup times) the EZBook 3 Pro is a great budget buy. It’s capable for day-to-day computing tasks and low-intensity gaming, and does a good job of balancing portability with a usable size screen. You get just 64GB of storage, though this can be expanded.
Read our Jumper EZBook 3 Pro review.
6. Chuwi LapBook 14.1
Chuwi’s LapBook is not the fastest laptop you can buy by any stretch of the mind, but it is both capable for most daily tasks and more up to the job than most cheap Windows 10 laptops. The full-HD screen and full-size keyboard are highlights, as is the incredibly quick startup, but you’ll want a proper mouse to get around that awful trackpad. Recommended for those looking for a usable Windows 10 laptop at an attractive price.
Read our Chuwi LapBook 14.1 review.
7. Chuwi LapBook 12.3
It might appear to be the better of the two on paper, and physically the more premium device with its metal build and high-res screen, but we couldn’t recommend the Chuwi LapBook 12.3 over the LapBook 14.1 – the instant startup times, improved battery life and larger screen of the latter has won us over. But while it’s no better than the larger LapBook, the LapBook 12.3 remains an excellent budget buy if you’re looking for a cheap Windows 10 laptop.
Read our Chuwi LapBook 12.3 review.
8. Asus VivoBook Max X541SA
The Asus VivoBook Max X541SA is a laptop made for those who want a solid, cheap computer. It has some neat extras such as a large hard drive, a fake brushed metal finish and speakers that sound much better than most at the price. If you need a computer you’ll use extensively most days, though, we’d strongly advise getting one with an Intel Core i3 CPU rather than the Intel Pentium used here. While it’s the “next best” option, it is noticeably slower, regardless of what you’re doing. If £300, or even £400, is your max budget you also have to accept that you won’t get a dazzling screen. The VivoBook’s dated display technology ensures image quality is, at best, passable. Still not put off? We won’t deny there’s a good amount on offer here for those on a very tight budget, with plenty of storage, wide-ranging connectivity and reasonable build quality.
Read our Asus VivoBook Max X541SA review.
9. Asus Transformer Mini T102HA
Buyers are likely to either love the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA or be disappointed in it. Its highs and lows are marked. Don’t expect the quality of the Surface Pro 4 for less than half the price. While build isn’t dramatically reduced, general performance is. It’s the same old issue with Windows 10 laptops that have Atom processors, making the Asus Transformer Mini T102HA much slower than a Chromebook or Android hybrid. It’s the price of Windows 10 flexibility. However, if you can accept the slower feel, common to everything that runs Windows 10 using an Atom CPU, then the T102HA is a handy little machine. Battery life is excellent, the keyboard solid once you become accustomed to its smaller size and the stylus a fun extra.
Read our Asus Transformer Mini T102HA review.
10. GamePad Digital Pocket
The GPD Pocket laptop is more expensive than some Chinese budget laptops, but despite its small dimensions you get a lot for your money. No laptop is more portable than this device, and combined with an HDMI cable and a second screen it has big ambitions. The touchscreen eases handheld use, and performance is more than adequate for daily tasks. There are, of course, down sides though – no matter how well designed the keyboard is never going to be as usable as a full-size model, and there’s no trackpad. Cameras are also missing from this device, ruling out video chat without plugging in an external webcam.
Read our GamePad Digital Pocket review.
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