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The best budget laptops for 2024

Get a great machine for cheap with our top-rated picks for budget laptops all costing $1,000 or less.

HP Pavilion 13 Aero (Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget)

Yes, you can get a good laptop without spending thousands of dollars. Not everyone wants (or needs) to spend a boatload on their next notebook, and depending on how you plan on using it, you might be better off with a cheap laptop anyway. As with most affordable tech, the key in getting the right machine for you is understanding what you need your laptop to do and the sacrifices you can make to save a bit of cash. Best of all, you may find that you don’t need to sacrifice as much as you thought to get a good laptop at a great price. We’ve tested a bunch of budget-friendly laptops to find our top picks and gather buying advice that can guide you to the right machine for you.

Quick overview

What to look for in a budget laptop

First, we at Engadget consider anything under $1,000 to be “budget” in the laptop space. The reason for this is twofold: even the most affordable flagship laptops typically start at $1,000 or more, and if you go dramatically lower than that (say, $500 or less), that’s where you’ll really start to see compromises in performance. You’ll typically find the best balance of power and price in the $500 to $1,000 range. But in this guide, we’ll cover top picks at a wide range of prices — there are a number of excellent options on the low and high end of the budget spectrum.

Arguably the biggest thing to look for in a cheap laptop is a decent spec sheet. You might be able to find configuration options with the latest generation CPU chipsets, or you may have to go for one that has a slightly older processor. We recommend trying to find a notebook with the most up-to-date internals as possible, but know that if you pick a machine with a CPU that’s one generation behind, it probably will not significantly affect performance.

Along with processors, you should also consider the amount of memory and storage you need in a daily driver. For the former, we recommend laptops with at least 8GB of RAM; anything with less than that will have a hard time multitasking and managing all those browser tabs. The latter is a bit more personal: how much onboard storage you need really depends on how many apps, files, photos, documents and more you will save locally. As a general rule of thumb, try to go for a laptop that has at least a 256GB SSD (this only goes for macOS and Windows machines, as Chromebooks are a bit different). That should give you enough space for programs and files, plus room for future operating system updates.

After determining the best performance you can get while sticking to your budget, it’s also worth examining a few different design aspects. We recommend picking a machine with a mostly metal body, a screen that has at least a 1080p resolution and a keyboard and trackpad area that’s relatively spacious. Any affordable laptop worth purchasing will have a built-in webcam, but most of them top out at 720p. A few of the latest models have 1080p webcams, but you may want to consider a standalone peripheral if you spend a ton of time on Zoom meetings.

Be sure to check out the port situation as well. Many laptops closer to $1,000 will have fewer ports than their more affordable counterparts (as counterintuitive as that may seem). You’ll find at least one or two USB-C ports on the newest machines, which means you may need a separate dongle if you frequently have to connect to SD cards.

A note about refurbished laptops

Refurbished laptops are another option to consider if you need a new machine and don’t want to spend a ton of money. Buying refurbished tech can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with a brand’s or merchant’s policies surrounding what they classify as “refurbished.” But it’s not impossible — for laptops, we recommend going directly to the manufacturer for refurbished devices. Apple, Dell and Microsoft all have official refurbishment processes that their devices go through before they’re put back on the market that verifies the machines work properly and are in good condition. Third-party retailers like Amazon and Walmart also have their own refurbishment programs for laptops and other gadgets as well.

The best cheap laptops of 2024

Screen size: 13.6-inch | Touchscreen: No | Processor: Apple M2 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 2.7 pounds | Battery life: Up to 17 hours

Read our full review of the Apple MacBook Air M2

The launch of the M3 MacBook Air saw the retirement of the first Air with an M-series chipset. Apple’s no longer officially selling the M1 MacBook Air (although you can still find it at other retailers right now), but it knocked down the starting price of the M2 Air to $999. The M3 MacBook Air is the best thin and light laptop for most people, but the M2 is an unmatched value for those on a budget. In our testing, we didn’t notice a huge improvement in real-world use between the M2 and the new M3 Air, and battery life is similar for both of them. The biggest differences between them are that the M3 models support Wi-Fi 6E and driving to up to two external displays when the lid is closed.

So when it comes to buying a new laptop and spending only $1,000 or less, the MacBook Air M2 is the notebook we’d recommend to most people. Not only do you get the updated Air design that’s thinner and more squared-off than before, but you also get a gorgeous 13.6-inch display, a solid quad-speaker array and, most importantly, stellar performance thanks to the M2 chip. For tasks personal and professional, this MacBook Air should have more than enough power and speed for most people (we’d even recommend it over the 13-inch MacBook Pro for many). The fact that it’s now $200 less than before simply because it’s changed places in Apple’s lineup presents a great opportunity for those in need of a new daily driver to get our previous top pick for best laptop at its new low price.

Pros
  • Thin and light design
  • Gorgeous 13.6-inch screen
  • Great quad-speaker setup
  • Excellent M2 performance
Cons
  • No ProMotion
  • Some speed throttling for extended tasks
$849 at Amazon
Explore more purchase options
$849 at Abt Electronics$999 at Apple
Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Screen size: 13-inch | Touchscreen: No | Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 2.2 pounds | Battery life: Up to 12 hours

Read our full review of the HP Pavilion Aero 13

If you like the general aesthetics of machines like Dell’s XPS 13 but don’t want to pay $1,000 or more, the HP Pavilion Aero is your best bet. We gave it a score of 87 in our review and compared it to Dell’s flagship laptop. It’s certainly not as sleek as that machine, but it comes pretty close with its angled profile, 2.2-pound weight and its anti-glare 13.3-inch display. Despite its keyboard being a little cramped, it’s a solid typing machine and we appreciate all of its connectivity options: one USB-C port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI connector and a headphone jack. You can currently pick an Aero 13 up for as low as $900, but they have gone on sale for even less. All of the prebuilt base models available from HP directly come with Ryzen 5 processors, and you can customize the laptop to have up to a Ryzen 7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

Pros
  • Attractive design
  • Many ports
  • Solid performance for the price
Cons
  • Cramped keyboard
$880 at HP

Display: 14 inches FHD | CPU: 13th-generation Intel Core i3 | RAM: Up to 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Weight: 3.52 lb (1.6 kg)

Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s resident Chrome OS aficionado Nathan Ingraham described as a tremendous value. This laptop nails the basics, with a 14-inch Full HD touchscreen, a great backlit keyboard and a 13th-gen Core i3 processor. The latest model has an upgraded 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which when paired with the Core i3 CPU, make for a speedy, capable machine. It’s also nice to see one USB-A and two USB-C ports, six hours of battery life and a 360-degree hinge that makes it easy to use the Flex 5 as a tablet. This could be the ideal laptop for Chrome OS fans, and it’ll hit the sweet spot for a lot of other buyers out there, providing a level of quality and performance that’s pretty rare to find at this price point.

Pros
  • Great overall performance for the price
  • Nice display
  • Solid keyboard and trackpad
Cons
  • Mediocre battery life
  • A bit heavy and chunky
$424 at Amazon

Screen size: 15-inch | Touchscreen: No | Processor: 11th-gen Intel Core i3 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Weight: 3.64 pounds | Battery life: Up to 10 hours

Acer’s Aspire 5 family is a solid Windows option if you have less than $500 to spend on a new laptop. The most recent models hit a good middle ground for most people, running on Intel 11th-gen CPUs and supporting up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. Of course, the higher specs you get, the more expensive the machine will be — not all Aspire 5 laptops come in at under $500. But you can currently pick up a model with a 15.6-inch 1080p display, Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for about $380 (or less if it’s on sale). Design is pretty basic here, but you do get a handy number pad and a variety of ports, including one USB-C connector, three USB-A ports and an Ethernet port. We also appreciate that the latest Aspire 5s support WiFi 6, and Acer upped the estimated battery life to 10 hours.

Pros
  • Ultra affordable
  • Good performance for the price
  • Keyboard includes number pad
  • Good variety of ports
Cons
  • Lackluster design
$380 at Amazon