Searching for the best laptop on a budget can be challenging. It’s difficult to discern the difference between a great deal and a poorly constructed mess of plastic.
With a seemingly endless list of models from more than a handful of manufacturers, which laptop is the best choice for your needs? And how much should you pay for it?
We have answers. With price and quality in mind, we dug into the market to find the best budget laptops for every situation.
Our guide spotlights the best Windows, ChromeOS and Mac laptops you can get for a reasonable price. We’ve even highlighted options for gamers looking to save money and those on an ultra-tight budget. Our picks are:
- Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 ($600)
- Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 ($390)
- Apple Macbook Air M1 ($850)
- Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 ($700)
- Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11 ($125)
The 5 Best Budget Laptops of 2022
|Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2
|Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5
|Apple Macbook Air M1
|macOS Big Sur
|Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3
|Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2
- Touch screen
- HD camera
- Four color options
Microsoft has a strong contender for the best budget laptop with the Surface Laptop Go 2. A sibling to the more expensive Surface Laptop series, the Surface Laptop Go 2 pairs down extraneous features to give you an affordable, top-tier experience.
The thinnest and lightest Surface laptop available, the Surface Laptop Go 2 weighs less than 2.5 pounds and is crafted from lightweight aluminum. There are plastic pieces, but you’ll find an overall sturdy construction built to impress.
The highlight of the Surface Laptop Go 2 is its 12.4-inch PixelSense display. Larger displays are nice but the smaller 12.4-inch, multi-touch option helps make the unit light and portable. The PixelSense display also makes watching movies and other content a joy, thanks to its high resolution.
The base model of the Surface Laptop Go 2 comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM (memory) and a 128 GB solid-state drive. While those specs won’t win too many awards, they are fine for web browsing or writing up documents in Microsoft Office.
One award it does win? Our pick as our best budget laptop.
If you love the idea of the Surface Laptop Go 2 but would rather have a tablet, check out the Surface Go 3, for $400. While the internal specs aren’t as impressive, you still get a great experience.
You’ll find yourself enjoying up to 13.5 hours of battery life on a single charge, making this laptop a good option for students and others on the go. As for connections, there is one USB-C port, one USB-A port, a headphone jack and a Surface Connect port for charging.
For $600, Microsoft offers a computer with a sound build and the familiar Windows operating system that can run many applications. If you’re looking for budget Windows laptops, you’ve found the best option with the Surface line.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5
- Touch screen
- 2-in-1 design
- Detachable keyboard
Chromebooks have a strong advantage over Windows laptops in the low-price category. From the beginning, Chrome’s operating system (OS) was designed to work on less powerful hardware, so generally you get more performance for your dollar from a Chromebook.
Our top budget Chromebook pick is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5. This is a 2-in-1 Chromebook, meaning you can use it as a laptop or a touch-screen tablet thanks to the detachable keyboard.
The Chromebook Duet 5 features a 13.3-inch full HD touch screen, a comfortable, middle-ground screen size for most users. As we like to see from higher quality laptops, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 is constructed from aluminum to keep it tough yet lightweight.
ChromeOS is a unique operating system, focused on the Chrome web browser, but you can download apps from the Chrome Web Store. Chromebooks cannot run Windows or macOS applications.
Inside this hybrid 2-in-1 Chromebook, you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB solid-state drive. As ChromeOS is essentially just a web browser — you can’t run Windows or macOS apps — the hardware is more than sufficient.
On a standard charge, Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 5 delivers up to 12 hours of battery life, enabling you to work the day away in Google Docs or binge-watch the latest Netflix hits. That’s a solid battery life for any machine.
Overall, Lenovo offers a notable Chromebook for less than $400, perfect for those who perform most of their work within a web browser.
Apple Macbook Air M1 (Refurbished)
- Most powerful (and expensive) pick
- Stellar construction
- Best battery life at 18 hours
Macs are excellent computers, however, they aren’t known for being cheap. If you want a Mac on a budget, we recommend looking at the company’s refurbished laptops, such as the Macbook Air with the M1 chip.
Out of the gate, we’ll give you the price — $849. While that may sound like a high price tag for a refurbished laptop, grabbing a modern Macbook Air for under $1,000 is a deal.
Not only are Apple refurbished computers like new, but the M1 chips pack a punch for processing, which is great for photo and video editing.
The Apple Macbook Air is not only the most powerful — and expensive — laptop we recommend, but it also sports a stellar build quality. You won’t need to worry about plastic cracking as the Macbook Air is crafted from a block of aluminum.
If you want the Apple experience for less, consider an iPad, which starts at $329. You won’t have access to macOS apps, but there are endless apps for the iPad operating system.
The 13.3-inch retina display on the Macbook Air is also the best in our budget laptop roundup — that extra money goes somewhere. The Macbook Air delivers a high-resolution LED display and the screen has 400 nits of brightness, making it easier to view in bright daylight.
Other internal aspects of the Macbook Air include 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of high-speed storage with a solid-state drive. Regarding connections, the Macbook Air comes up short, offering only two USB-C ports and a single headphone jack.
Macbooks tend to have outstanding battery life and this model is no exception. On a single charge, you’ll get up to 15 hours of web browsing or 18 hours watching movies and TV shows.
If you’re looking for the best battery life, you’ll find it here with the Macbook Air. It’s an expensive computer, but the Macbook Air M1 is likely the best laptop you’ll ever buy for less than $1,000.
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3
Best for Gaming
- 120 Hz screen refresh rate
- Rapid charging technology
- Keyboard designed for gaming
Many gaming laptops cost thousands of dollars, which makes Lenovo’s IdeaPad Gaming 3 laptop a steal. For about $700, this Lenovo still offers a compelling gaming experience with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti graphics. It’s the best budget laptop for gamers.
While you won’t find a complete metal chassis here — as most of the money went to the internals — Lenovo offers a sturdy-looking budget laptop. At 4.8 pounds, this gaming machine with a blue backlit keyboard isn’t lightweight though.
The case houses a 15.6-inch full HD in-plane switching display that supports several viewing angles and a 120 Hz refresh rate. A 120 Hz screen means that action in your game reaches your eyes as it happens with smoother detail.
The leading powerhouse in the IdeaPad Gaming 3 is an AMD Ryzen 7 backed by its Nvidia graphics card and 8GB of RAM. This combination provides you with a well-built gaming laptop at a competitive price.
The IdeaPad Gaming 3 includes a 1 TB hard-disk drive for plenty of storage but suffers from a slow operating speed. In-game, loading screens may take longer when you start a game or move between areas.
Don’t expect much battery life from a gaming computer though. You’ll want to keep the charger handy and keep battery use to a few hours when gaming.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11
Best for a Super Tight Budget
- Light and small
- 10-hour battery
- Great for average use
The IdeaPad 3 11 is an ultra-budget laptop from Lenovo with just as many numbers in the name as the price. This is our cheapest budget laptop pick at less than $130.
The IdeaPad 3 11 won’t win any awards for speed and don’t rely on it for any heavy lifting, such as photo or video editing. However, the laptop can easily handle browsing the web and working on Google documents.
Crafted purely from plastic, the IdeaPad 3 11 weighs less than 2.5 pounds, making it easy to carry around. The 11-inch display can be cramped for some, but for others, it helps create a smaller size for true portability.
On the inside, you’ll find a lackluster Intel 1.1 GHz Celeron processor and 4 GB of RAM. While that’s enough to surf the web, we wouldn’t push ChromeOS with too many open tabs at once.
A 32 GB solid-state drive provides some storage for offline files. If you work with larger files, we recommend the cloud for most storage. As Google designed ChromeOS, it pairs nicely with other services, including Google Drive.
Perfect as a student laptop, the IdeaPad 3 11 offers up to 12 hours of battery life for all-day use.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11 isn’t an impressive laptop in terms of power, but the price is impressive. If you’re looking for an ultra-budget computer for basic web use, this may be the option for you.
How We Picked the Best Budget Laptops
There’s a dizzying array of laptops on the market, even when you’re only looking at budget-friendly options. Our analysis involved hands-on testing and market research, looking at specific factors that affect user experience.
Here’s what we considered when handpicking the best budget laptops:
- Operating system: Do you prefer a Windows PC, a Mac or a Chromebook? There are plenty of options, so we included laptops running each operating system.
- In the end, it all comes down to preference.
- Display: The screen is an integral part of using a laptop. That’s why most of our selections offer full HD or better.
- For gaming, we chose a computer with a 120 Hz refresh rate for a superior experience.
- Processor and RAM: What’s under the hood? Hardware is the foundation of everything. The better the hardware, the better the experience.
- All of our options — minus the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11 — offer powerful Intel, AMD or Snapdragon processor chipsets.
- Each computer has a minimum of 8 GB of RAM (memory) for quick, effortless everyday tasks.
- The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 11 is less powerful, so we selected a Chromebook because ChromeOS performs better than Windows laptops on similar hardware.
- Battery: A laptop isn’t as versatile with a substandard battery. Apart from the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 computer, we only picked laptops with batteries that can last a full work day with average use. The Macbook Air M1 even boasts a battery life of up to 18 hours.
- Price: It all comes down to price. We looked for the most powerful specs for the best price, finding options starting at $850 and going as low as $125.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are Budget Laptops Any Good?
Whether or not a budget laptop is good depends. For starters, what is a “budget” laptop for you? Is it under $1,000, $500 or $200? Second, what do you plan on doing with the computer — web browsing, photo editing, gaming?
In most cases, good budget laptops are available at every price point for every use, though you’ll pay more for the hardware to run more intensive programs.
Can I Find a Good Display on a Budget Laptop?
Decent displays do exist on budget laptops but you should always double check as screen quality is one way to cut costs.
If the display matters to you, look for a minimum screen resolution of 1920 x 1080, which is full HD. For vivid colors, check for an LED backlight. If you can get an “IPS” — in-plane switching — display, that’s even better.
What Is the Best Budget Laptop?
Michael Archambault is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology.