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If you wanted a decent portable computer a decade or so ago, you’d have had to fork over thousands of dollars. Luckily, the technological advancements have made laptops relatively cheap (especially compared to fully decked-out PCs) while still maintaining solid physical characteristics and specs. Nowadays, it is relatively easy to find a decent laptop that won’t set you back more than $500, with various notable brands vying for the top spot.
If you’re primarily concerned about the budget, you will have to make some concessions in build quality and capabilities. A 15-inch laptop that doesn’t cost a lot might come with a flimsy cooling system and relatively cheap external materials, making it more likely to crumble under heavier use.
Most modern laptops have switched from bulky spinning hard drives (HDDs) to the new solid-state drives (SSD). While this radically improves performance, it typically presents a challenge where a machine doesn’t have a vast memory bank to store data. On the other hand, an inexpensive laptop might have a sluggish CPU with an integrated GPU, making it less suited for specific industries and tasks. Understanding the tradeoffs of a budget laptop will make it much easier to choose one that suits your needs and requirements.
In this list, we’ll take you through all the laptops that can offer the most bang for your buck. While some laptops will be more budget-friendly, others are more suited to users who need portability and peak performance.
This is an excellent deal since you’re getting an overall solid laptop that will last and be able to tackle more demanding tasks. While the hardware isn’t exactly new (the pieces were developed a few years ago), the combination of a solid CPU and good memory makes this one of the best laptops in its class.
The Ryzen 3500U is heavily optimized for daily tasks, making it a perfect choice for a student or a worker who doesn’t require the specialized tools that a workstation can offer. Its eight cores and decently-sized cache make light work of standard browsing and work-related programs. It can even tackle some older games without problems, although users will feel the lack of a dedicated GPU if they want graphics-demanding software.
Set your expectations (and graphics settings) accordingly, and you will do just fine. The Vivobook M413 comes with 500 GBs of hard disk space in the form of an SSD. While the sheer capacity isn’t much, the faster loading times make all the difference here. You can use this space for a few games and offloading camera photos and work-related documents when you need them. Don’t forget that this is the only SSD in the system, meaning the OS will take a chunk of it by default, especially when updates start piling up.
It also has 8 GB of RAM, which has become one of the industry standards. You can’t really accomplish much with fewer than that in the modern age. The best parts about the Vivobook are its size and weight. It’s extremely light, weighing in at only 3.1 lbs. Users can maneuver it around effortlessly, especially considering the generous battery capacity, allowing the laptop to work for several hours on small tasks between charges. Overall, the Vivobook M413 is one of the better picks if you’re looking for a medium-sized laptop that won’t cost a fortune.
The Acer Aspire 5 comes in several configurations, mostly in the available memory capacity and RAM. The baseline 4GM RAM, 128 SSD device is one of the most efficient on the market for a laptop with a full HD 15.6-inch screen. However, there’s also a slightly more powerful, 8GB/256GB option for those that need the boost, and we’d highly recommend sticking to this version if you want a machine that can run more demanding programs.
Regardless of what you go for, the Acer Aspire 5 has a mobile intel processor. The base version has an i3, while the upgraded ones have an i5 or i7, depending on your budget and requirements. The i5 model is a clear winner when it comes to performance. While this laptop doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card, relying on the integrated Intel UHD graphics, you can still get a bit of gaming or graphic design done. However, it won’t perform well with those that require full-blown graphics chips like on a desktop PC.
Still, when it comes to system specifications, the Acer Aspire 5 is hard to beat. The 15.6-inch screen is the main selling point, considering there are rarely options on the market that have high system specs and a larger screen to make more use of it. Performance-wise, Acer is generally solid, but the build quality usually suffers as a result. The laptop’s outer casing is not made of the best materials, but it gives the device enough durability to survive for a couple of years. The laptop also doesn’t have stellar cooling, so you might want to pair it with a pad for more demanding programs.
Overall, the Acer Aspire 5 proves to be a worthy contender, definitely one of the best laptops if you are low on budget but need some serious system specifications.
If you need to play some games while on the move, a gaming laptop with a dedicated GPU is a must. One of the most efficient graphics cards for laptops on a budget is the GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. It is a perfect blend of performance and price if you don’t have a lot to splurge on a high-end gaming laptop.
The Acer Nitro combines the graphics performance of the GTX 1650 Ti with the sheer power of the AMD 5600H. This powerful CPU has six cores running at a maximum of 4.2 GHz when overclocked. While Intel generally makes more powerful high-end CPUs, AMD’s line of affordable Ryzens is impossible to beat for those who want a gaming rig on a budget. If you want to save a bit, there’s a slightly weaker option available, with an i5-9300H inside and little worse RAM usage, and another one with a Ryzen 4600H.
Versatility is the name of the game with Acer, and there are options to everyone’s liking. With such a powerful CPU and GPU combination in the casing, the Nitro 5 can launch some of the world’s most popular gaming titles. You’ll have no problems running Apex Legends, Fortnite, DOTA 2, or Rocket League at a steady 60-80FPS if some of the more taxing graphics details take a hit. This laptop isn’t lacking in memory and overall performance. With 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD at its disposal, users can hold a few more demanding games and still have enough room left over for work or school files and essential data.
There’s also an unused PCIe slot in the device, allowing users to put another mobile SSD if they want to increase the laptop’s overall memory capacity. We also like the fact that the RAM is 3200MHz instead of the standard 2666MHz seen in most other laptop models in a similar price range. Regardless of whether you’re buying this laptop to enjoy video games or for high-quality work, the 15.6-inch full HD screen will deliver. It has a 144Hz refresh rate, making gameplay smooth as silk.
Acer builds powerful laptops, but they are typically housed in flimsy exteriors, and this one is not much different. While you’re certainly getting your money’s worth in the product with durable casing and excellent design, it isn’t the highest-grade case you’ve ever seen. And that’s completely alright since there has to be a tradeoff for a wonderful machine at such an affordable price.
If you don’t need a robust device for daily work and want a machine that connects to the internet and handles most daily tasks without a hitch, then a Chromebook might be for you. As you may know, Chromebooks run on a dedicated Chrome OS that strictly supports Chrome- and Google-based applications like Google Drive, Google Docs, and Sheets.
While Chromebooks are extremely limited compared to traditional laptops with a macOS or a Windows setup, they have the distinct benefit of being extremely cheap. Since there’s not much of a need to put high-performance graphics cards and stellar CPUs, these devices can be found for as little as $200. The ASUS Chromebook C523 is one of the larger Chromebooks, sporting a 15.6-inch display (compared to the traditional 11-14). It relies on a dual-core 2.4GHz processor to power everything up behind the screen, which is plenty if you mostly use your laptop for small tasks, web browsing, and word processing.
The screen has an “HD-ready” 1366×768 resolution, which isn’t a lot, but it’s excellent considering the price tag. Users should also welcome the fact that the battery timer suggests about ten hours of consistent use. The exteriors are also polished, suggesting attention to detail that goes above what the model’s cost would imply. Since the laptop was explicitly designed to make full use of the Chrome OS, it boots up quickly and generally performs favorably compared to other laptops in a similar price range. While it certainly won’t threaten a heavy-duty workstation or a gaming rig, it’s more than enough to cover a wide range of tasks when connectivity is key. Most Chromebooks suffer from a lack of available memory.
Fittingly, the C523 only has 32GBs of available storage, and you get an additional 100GB in cloud storage via Google Drive. Still, it might not be the best solution for those who prefer to hold vast libraries of photos and video.
Dell has consistently produced high-quality small laptops that suit the general public and can fill most work and school-oriented needs. This XPS 13 is no different. Weighing just 2.7lbs, this is one of the lightest laptops around, but don’t let that lack of size fool you.
Its 13.3-inch display houses plenty of extremely efficient gear to produce excellent results. The 10th generation Intel i7 processor is lightning fast at 4.9GHz, allowing users to switch between multiple demanding programs at will. While the XPS 13 doesn’t have a dedicated GPU, the integrated model will work just fine for most tasks that don’t involve gaming or demanding model design.
This model has a large 512GB SSD, which is a rarity among laptops, allowing users to carry enormous amounts of data with them at all times. However, the RAM takes a bit of a hit, as it only has 8GB of 2133MHz RAM onboard, which is below most contemporary laptops of its price range. Since the Dell is so lightweight and thin, concessions have been made on the exterior design and available jacks. While it has a USB 3.1, it only comes with a single USB slot, making it cumbersome to use if you intend to stick multiple flash drives or a separate mouse.
It also doesn’t have an Ethernet slot, so you’re stuck with Wi-Fi even at home. However, if you’re able to get past the shortcomings of the exteriors, the Dell is a beautiful piece of tech that performs extremely well in its price range. If you don’t need a powerful gaming rig and need to focus on the sheer versatility of a powerful CPU combined with impeccable mobility, the XPS 13 won’t let you down.
Although it might be a stretch to call this a fully functioning laptop, the Surface Go 2 provides a seamless blend of utility and mobility with a lightweight, tablet-like device that can function as a laptop when needed. If you would rather not lug around a weighty laptop over your shoulder, the Surface Go’s 1.2 lbs are going to be the most attractive feature. This 2-in-1 device has a small 10.5-inch screen and doesn’t have a dedicated keyboard or anything other than a USB-C port and a headphone jack.
It’s a perfect entry device if you need to carry some vital information and need something more accessible than a mobile phone. While this device doesn’t boast the most powerful system specifications, especially considering its price tag, it can hold its own for light daily tasks and some minor work. With 8GBs of RAM and an SSD with 128GB, this device is perfect if you don’t need a robust workstation to meet your daily quota. The 1.7GHz Intel i9 is powerful enough to launch browsers and most mundane programs while not taxing the relatively small battery. Microsoft advertises 10 hours of use for this device. While this is usually an exaggeration, the tablet’s limited functionality and versatility make it last longer since you won’t be powering up games on it.
The laptop has to be paired with a keyboard input if you want to use it as a laptop, which does not come with the product and will need to be purchased separately. Overall, if you need a starter laptop that can be used pretty much everywhere and can function as both a laptop and a tablet depending on your setup, the Surface Go 2 is an excellent piece of tech that fulfills that niche.
Not everyone can afford a brand new MacBook Air. However, owning this revolutionary piece of tech means getting the most out of Apple’s top-performing CPUs and ingenious design. That’s where Apple’s refurbished program is the best way to get a hold of the Air on a budget. When purchasing a refurbished model, you get a year of warranty. The laptop comes almost as good as new, and you can take advantage of Apple’s financing options to spread out the cost over 12 months.
The MacBook Air boasts a 13.3-inch display with a stellar 2560×1600 resolution that is unparalleled for the price. While you might think that the smaller display makes higher resolution meaningless, that isn’t exactly true. Images and text become much crisper and are easier to discern. There’s a reason that MacBooks are highly sought after for image editing, after all. This model has 8GB of RAM, perfect for multitasking and powering up demanding programs. The M1 core is a combined 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, providing excellent performance in a small package.
Users have 256GB of SSD space to slowly fill out with necessary programs and data. This laptop skimps a bit on connectivity since it doesn’t have much more than other slimmest products on the market. There are two Thunderbolt ports suited for USB 4 and USB 3.1 connections. The battery life of a MacBook air is usually stellar. However, note that you’re getting a refurbished product, which may reduce the overall battery life slightly due to use and testing. Perhaps one of the MacBook’s biggest downsides is the cooling.
Due to the extremely tight space and specifications, the device has a suboptimal cooling and heat dispersal system, proving to be troublesome if it’s left to run extremely demanding programs for too long. Overall, if getting a new MacBook Air is out of the question due to cost, a refurbished model will do just fine. It’ll be difficult to spot the difference, and you can get years of use with it. While the savings are not extreme, they can still impact the user’s choice.
If budget is not a concern, then one of the best laptops that money can buy you in 2021 is definitely the newest generation of ASUS ZenBook Pros. Outfitted with some of the most impressive components, the UX581 is miles ahead of the competition and behaves similarly to a high-end desktop PC that you can move around.
The UX581 also comes with a dual display, allowing you incredible freedom when allocating apps and effectively increasing the available screen size by about 50%. The 15.6-inch main display has a whopping 3840×2560 resolution, giving you incredible details and making it the best option for graphic design by far. This beast houses a 10th generation i7 processor with up to 5GHz speed when overclocked.
It also has a gaming-grade GeForce RTX 2060 inside, making it perfect for heavy-duty editing, image processing, design, and modern games. The UX581 also has 16GB of RAM, which is plenty for most users, and the 1TB SSD to help you store precious data and files while on the move. Users that want even more performance can opt for additional hardware upgrades, like an i9 processor or 32 gigs of RAM.
The secondary display adds an entirely new dimension to graphic design, programming, image editing, and animation. Both displays will react to the stylus, allowing you to jot down ideas or make works of art. This laptop weighs 5.5 pounds, which might be a challenge to carry around. However, for a fully functioning workstation, it might be worth the cost and effort.
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