Your buying guide for the best budget laptops in 2017
We like a bargain, especially when we’re spending our own money and while a laptop might be an essential device to have around, you probably don’t want to be eating into any savings and risk not being able to afford that holiday you’ve been dreaming of.
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.
Chances are you’re looking for a budget laptop for a specific task. Perhaps the best budget laptop for video editing, the best budget laptop for music production or even the best budget laptop for playing Minecraft and other games. There’s also a chance you’re looking for the best budget laptop with an SSD or the best budget laptop with good battery life.
Well we can’t promise anything but you might find something which suits your needs without blowing your bank balance. Typically, it’s hard to get something which is capable of demanding tasks like these examples (particularly games) within a tight budget and we’ll explain why. If games are a priority, check out the Best Gaming Laptops.
What should I look for in a cheap laptop?
Which specifications are important depend 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 but if you can find higher 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.
See also: AMD vs Intel
Ideally go for a Core i5 processor, but an i3 is a good compromise if everything else in the laptop is to your liking. 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 former – also called RAM – is space to store files and programs while the latter is for temporarily storing information when you open an app or file.
In both cases it’s better to have as much as possible. A lot of budget laptops will come with a 1TB hard drive but only 4GB of RAM. You’re unlikely to find an SSD (solid state drive) or more than 8GB of RAM 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.
Read our guide to the Best 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. Again, lots of new laptops don’t have one as they assume you will connect to the internet via Wi-Fi.
Try and get the best Wi-Fi tech, too, with the latest being 802.11ac which speed things up if you have a compatible router. 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.
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.
Asus has restricted build and component quality to fit the price point, but all the essentials work well together. The 5th-generation Intel chip means overall performance is better than any Celeron-based competition, but note that there’s no SSD here.
Read our Asus X555LA review.
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.
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.
HP Stream 11
The HP Stream 11 is using the cheapest Intel chip that can run Windows comfortably, has a very limited eMMC storage card with just 20 GB available space, and includes a free version of Windows given away to PC makers to keep Google Chrome OS at bay. But the result is a surprisingly useful compact laptop, attractively styled for anyone that likes bold bright colours. It runs quick enough to surf and type, and always remains cool and silent. To use HP’s own bizarrely chinglish marketing prose, that’s got to help you ‘work from happy place’.
Read our HP Stream 11 review.
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.
The Lenovo Yoga 300 hinge and size earn it plenty of flexibility points, but it pays a bit too much attention to its interior decor, and not quite enough on screen and keyboard quality.
Those considering a purchase also need to bear in mind that the entry-level Yoga 300 is also likely to feel very slow thanks to its baselines specs.
Read our Lenovo Yoga 300 review.
The Chuwi Hi10 Pro is an excellent value Windows 10 laptop-tablet hybrid with the addition of Android (albeit old Android) and a pleasing build for the money. We take issue with its fingerprint-prone screen and tinny, poorly placed speakers, but in all other respects this is a very decent device for the money. It’s not a fast device, and we wouldn’t recommend it to gamers, but it’s fast enough for most daily Windows tasks.
Read our Chuwi Hi10 Pro review.
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.
Whether the Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA is a good buy or not depends entirely on your priorities. If you want to open up loads of browser windows and have plenty of apps open at once, this isn’t for you.
The Asus Transformer Book Flip TP200SA only really runs well with an app or two running, and no data-intensive background processes going on. In laptop terms it’s a whelp.
However, good stamina, a smart design and good, non-cramped keyboard make it a great low-cost choice if you want something to do some writing/emailing/browsing while you’re away from home.