The Best Budget Laptops for 2021 | Digital Trends

By Pro Web Design

2021-03-10 20:00:50

We’ve reviewed hundreds of laptops, so we know what to look for in a laptop regardless of the price. The best laptop you can buy is the Acer Swift 3. It does everything that laptops cost hundreds of dollars more can do — and in some cases, it does it even better.

But if your budget is a bit lower, or if you want to be able to game on your laptop, we’ve included options for you as well. If you’re looking for savings, you can also check out some of the best laptop deals happening now.

The best budget laptops at a glance:

The best budget laptop: Acer Swift 3

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Why you should buy this: You want a fast, well-built laptop for very little money.

Who it’s for: Anyone who doesn’t mind sacrificing style for power.

Why we picked the Acer Swift 3 (AMD):

Finding a fast, well-built laptop for $650 isn’t easy. Normally, one of the things you give up is processing power, relegated to low-end and/or last-generation Intel Core CPUs, in addition to builds that are plasticky and don’t elicit confidence in their long-term viability.

Fortunately, Acer has come on strong with the Swift 3 equipped with AMD’s latest Ryzen 7 4700U CPU. For around $650 (prices fluctuate), you get an eight-core laptop with AMD Radeon integrated graphics. That helps the laptop not only perform productivity tasks with aplomb but even churn through demanding tasks like encoding video. The display isn’t the best we’ve seen, but you’ll forgive it once you see how well this budget laptop performs.

The $650 Acer Swift 3 also gets you 8GB of RAM and a large 512GB SSD. It’s not a sleek or modern-looking laptop by any means, although it’s very well built, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a faster or better-built laptop for this kind of money.

Read our in-depth Acer Swift 3 (AMD) review

The best budget laptop for students: Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

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Why you should buy this: It’s inexpensive and fits a student’s mobile lifestyle.

Who it’s for: Students, buyers on a budget.

Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: 

Students usually want a few things in a laptop — something that’s easy to carry around, that provides good enough performance for getting their homework done, and something that’s not going to embarrass them when they pull it out to take notes. Oh, and it needs to be affordable. Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop Go meets all those criteria and more.

To begin with, it’s the first Surface device offered at budget prices, in this case, $550 for a 10th-gen Ice Lake Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 64GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD). You can spend a bit more, namely $700, and double the RAM and storage. Those are remarkably low prices for a Surface laptop and should appeal to students at all levels.

Next, the Surface Laptop go is a highly mobile device with a 12.4-inch IPS display that, although it’s not quite FHD resolution, is still of very high quality and a pleasure to use. It’s solid for both productivity and media binging.

Finally, the Surface Laptop Go is a good looking device that comes in a variety of colors to let students choose just the right one for them. It’s as well-built as all Surface devices and shares a common aesthetic — it’ll look great sitting on a desk.

Read our in-depth Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

The best budget Chromebook: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

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Why you should buy this: It’s extremely affordable, with a great screen, and more than all-day battery life.

Who it’s for: Anyone on a budget who doesn’t mind sacrificing performance for extreme value.

Why we picked the Lenovo Chromebook Duet:

Chromebooks have become popular budget choices over the last few years, and many have won us over as well. One style that hasn’t done as well as some others is the detachable Chrome OS tablet. That’s changed with the introduction of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, which not only is a very usable tablet but that represents a tremendous value thanks to the included kickstand cover and detachable keyboard.

The Lenovo Chromebook Duet’s low price brings some limitations — performance isn’t the greatest, for example, although it’s good enough for the kinds of tasks you’ll want to run on it. And the display is very good but not great, with a 16:10 1,920 x 1,200 resolution that’s not as pixel-sharp as Apple’s baseline iPad that the Duet competes against.

However, if you want a tablet for web browsing, light productivity work, and consuming media, then the Duet has you covered. It’s a very comfortable size as a tablet — although it’s a bit chunky with the kickstand cover and keyboard attached — and it feels great in hand. Not only is this the best budget Chromebook, but it’s one of the best budget laptops you can buy, period.

You will have to get used to Chrome OS too. It’s not as functional as Windows, and it works best when you have an active internet connection, but it’s more fleshed out today than it was in the past. If you find yourself using a lot of Google web services and watching streaming services like Netflix, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could be a great way to save a lot of money on your next upgrade.

Read our in-depth Lenovo Chromebook Duet review

The best budget gaming laptop: Dell G5 SE Gaming Laptop

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Why you should buy this: It offers solid gaming performance for under $1,000.

Who it’s for: Gamers, and only gamers.

Why we picked the Dell G5 SE:

Although gaming laptops are typically expensive, the Dell G5 SE is a great example of why they don’t need to be. Starting at just under $900, you get an AMD Ryzen 5 4500H CPU, an AMD Radeon RX 5600M graphics chip, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, with options for faster CPUs, more powerful graphics, extra and faster storage, and memory if you don’t mind spending a little more. Every model comes with a 15.6-inch, 1080p IPS display. For $1,049, you’ll get a fantastic machine with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and the faster Ryzen 7 4800H.

With a decent build quality and surprisingly good gaming performance that rivals laptops with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, the G5 SE offers an all-around solid gaming package at an impressively competitive price. It does have its weak points, most notably a less than stunning display — it’s dull, but it offers a fast 144Hz refresh rate that’s great for gaming.

The keyboard is surprisingly good and offers RGB lighting for $30 more, and overall there are fewer sacrifices than expected to keep the price down on such a capable gaming machine.

There are far better gaming laptops out there, but we’d struggle to find one that’s as powerful as Dell’s G5 SE at this price point. It’s a fantastic, budget gaming machine.

Read our in-depth Dell G5 SE review

The best budget laptop for video editing: HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen)

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Why you should buy this: You won’t find a better video editing laptop for less than $1,000.

Who it’s for: Video and photo editors who demand fast performance and a low price.

Why we picked the HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen):

Finding a laptop for video editing under $1,000 isn’t easy. When it comes to video editing, the more cores the better. The best video editing laptops like the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16-inch will cost you well over $2,000.

Fortunately, HP has released the Envy x360 13 with AMD’s latest Ryzen 5 4500U CPU. For $730, you get an eight-core machine with AMD Radeon graphics that can handle demanding video and photo editing tasks unlike many other laptops in its price range — or even higher. The Envy x360 actually outperforms many premium laptops costing well over $1,000 at tasks like rendering video.

The Envy x360 even has an excellent display, with a fairly wide color gamut (71% of AdobeRGB and 96% of sRGB) and a DeltaE of 2.26 (not the most accurate, but not terrible either). But it’s also a bright screen at 399 nits and enjoys an excellent contrast ratio of 1110:1 (we consider anything over 1,000:1 to be very good indeed).

The $730 also gets you 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, which can be upgraded to 256GB for only $40. And the Envy x360 is also a great looking 360-convertible 2-in-1 with pen support, giving you some creative flexibility. It’s a great creative laptop for an almost unbelievably low price.

Read our in-depth HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen) review

The best business budget laptop: Dell Inspiron 13 7000

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Why you should buy this: With powerful and efficient hardware, this budget laptop enjoys solid battery life for an all-day work schedule.

Who it’s for: Office workers who want to game in their off-hours.

Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 13 7000:

Whether you’re typing up another spreadsheet or winding down with a game at the end of a long workday, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 strikes a great balance. It features powerful and efficient general computing power, like a ninth-generation Intel CPU — options include Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9 chips — and up to 16GB of RAM, and this laptop sports a dedicated graphics chip. The standard model comes with an Nvidia GTX 1050 3GB for entry-level gaming chops, but there’s also an option for a new-gen 1650, which can play all sorts of games if you tweak the settings enough.

With the typical Inspiron build quality, we’d expect this system to borrow several great design features from the more premium XPS range, but make them available in a more affordable form. It’s not the lightest laptop at just over four pounds, but it has a great, spill-resistant keyboard, full Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth connectivity, and a top-mounted 720p webcam for conferencing.

The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 also comes in an attractive white paint job, which helps it stand out from all of its silver contemporaries.

The best budget 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Go 2

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Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s quick, lightweight, and versatile.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs the on-the-go mobility of a small, 2-in-1.

Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Go 2:

The Surface Go 2 may be limited by its small size and, at the entry-level, by a low-powered Intel Pentium processor — which can be upgraded to an Intel Core m3 for $130 more — but it offers something never before seen in the Windows world: A truly budget-minded 2-in-1. Its build is every bit as solid as its bigger brother, the Surface Pro 7, and it boasts a beautiful, bright display to boot. The best part? It’s actually thin and light enough to be held in one hand like a proper tablet.

While performance doesn’t feel as smooth as on something like an iPad or even a Chromebook, those devices can’t do quite as many things as the Surface Go 2, which runs a full version of Windows 10. On the battery front, however, it’s a bit lacking. That’s its most unfortunate compromise since this is a device made for portability. Also, we still wish the excellent Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen came bundled in.

But even with its fair share of faults, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is absolutely the best budget 2-in-1 you can buy. Competitors in this price range lack its high build quality and often have a less impressive display or keyboard.

Read our in-depth Microsoft Surface Go 2 review

Research and buying tips

Are budget laptops any good?

Absolutely! Depending on what you need your laptop to do, budget options can be just as good as their high-end counterparts. If you only need a laptop for watching Netflix and answering emails, a budget Chromebook can save you hundreds of dollars and perform no worse than something that costs $2,000 or more.

That said, you do need to be careful about which system you pick. Budget laptops tend to make some sacrifices where the expensive options don’t, so be sure to make sure that the system you’re interested in can do what you need it to before buying.

Do any budget laptops have Thunderbolt 3?

Certain features are less common in budget laptops, and Thunderbolt 3 is one of them. Plenty of budget laptops offer USB-C support, but only some provide Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 spec, such as the Dell Inspiron 13 7000.

Do budget laptops have good battery life?

Some do, some don’t. The models that prioritize portability tend to offer a little more, and you’ll want to skip a dedicated graphics chip if you want the most battery life.

However, you can find plenty of budget systems that offer a full workday and beyond on a single charge. In some cases, an option like the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 offers better battery life than many laptops that cost a few hundred dollars more. Many Chromebooks also offer impressive battery life thanks to how lightweight the software is.

Can I find a good display on a budget laptop?

Definitely, but as with battery life or specific ports, you’ll need to pick and choose the right laptop. A good display will need to be a key component of the laptop, as color accuracy and contrast can be some areas where savings can be made on certain systems.

The best-looking screen of our budget recommendations comes with the HP Envy x360 13, which is yet another reason why it’s our pick for the best video editing laptop.

Is AMD better for budget laptops?

AMD’s release of the Ryzen 4000 line of CPUs has shaken up the budget laptop space. In short, the fastest machines we’ve tested that aren’t based on Intel’s 45-watt powerhouse CPUs have been running AMD, and that’s a major advance. Intel is still a far more dominant force in the laptop space with a wider range of options available, but as far as the CPUs that go into budget — and even premium thin and light — laptops, Ryzen 4000 rules the performance roost.

We strongly suggest that you consider AMD when picking your next budget laptop. If you can find one that matches your needs, you’ll get much better performance per buck.

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