Tech

Find the best laptop for under £500

Not everyone can afford a premium laptop like Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Air, but budget laptops aren’t rubbish, with many offering surprisingly well-rounded packages at affordable prices. Here we review and rank the best budget laptops.

While some are more unknown brands, the likes of HP, Asus, Lenovo and Acer remain dedicated to including cheap laptops in their ranges.

If you just need to do basic tasks like browsing the web, checking email and office work then a budget laptop will be up to the job. Plenty will be fine for streaming video, too, albeit on lower-quality displays and with typically poor sound. Some even have enough power for photo editing without slowing down and casual games.

When looking at budget laptops, we’re typically meaning around £500 or lower, but we may include the odd model that goes slightly over if it’s really worth it. Often they will be available at lower than the RRP from retailers before long anyway.

You’ll find a plethora of cheap laptops available at major outlets such as Currys, Amazon, Argos and John Lewis, as well as online retailers such as Laptops Direct. If you don’t know what is a good spec for the money then you will struggle to work out which offers the best value, and also which is going to be capable of doing what you need.

In our chart below we’ve rounded up a range of options to suit all budgets – and all of them tested by our expert team, so you can buy with complete peace of mind that you won’t be disappointed. Find out how we test laptops.

But the best budget laptops don’t hang around for long, simply because they are so sought after and offer little profit margin for manufacturers.

If your budget will stretch a little further we also review many mid-range and high-end laptops, as well as gaming laptops

Best budget laptop 2021

1. Asus E410 – Best Overall

2. Honor MagicBook 14 – Best Performance

Honor MagicBook 14

3. Asus Chromebook C433TA – Best Chromebook

Asus Chromebook C433TA

4. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go – Best Portability

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

5. Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 – Best Windows 2-in-1

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5

6. Acer Chromebook 314 – Best Budget Chromebook

Acer Chromebook 314

7. Acer Aspire 5 – Best Battery Life

Acer Aspire 5 (A514-52)

8. HP Pavilion 14 – Best Speakers

HP Pavilion 14 (2021)

9. Avita Liber V – Best Webcam

Avita Liber V

10. Lenovo IdeaPad 3i – Most Colourful

Lenovo IdeaPad 3i 14

What should I look for in a cheap laptop?

Which specifications are important depends 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.

Screen

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 (HD) but if you can find higher, probably 1920×1080 (or Full HD) 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.

You’ll also want to look out for the type of display and this is often an area where costs are cut so viewing angles can be poor as well as brightness and colour. Get an IPS rather than TN screen if you can.

Processor

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, Pentium 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 Ryzen if you can – and some of the laptops in this chart do offer these. When it comes to Intel, go for a Core i5 processor if you can, but an i3 is a good compromise if everything else in the laptop is to your liking and you’re only doing basic tasks.

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.

Avita Liber

Storage and memory

Don’t confuse storage and memory. The latter – normally called RAM – is for temporarily storing information when you open an app or file, while storage is the space to store files and programs.

In both cases, it’s better to have as much as possible. A lot of budget laptops will come with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive but only 4GB of RAM. An SSD (solid state drive) is more common now and helps keep things speedy but don’t expect more than 8GB of RAM at these budget prices.

Remember that you can also always use cloud storage if you need additional space.

Do you need a CD or DVD drive?

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, but it’s highly unlikely. You can still buy external DVD drives if you really need it.

Software

These days virtually all laptops come with Windows 10. Don’t assume they will have Microsoft Office, though. This is separate software, but you can download free alternatives

We’ve also included some Chromebooks here as laptops running Google’s Chrome OS are typically very affordable. The operating system is fairly basic and relies on an internet connection for a lot of tasks but this could be perfect for some users. 

If that sound particularly good, we have a dedicated chart of the best Chromebooks you can browse.

What if I can’t find the exact laptop reviewed?

We do our best to make sure all the laptops listed here are 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 such as a different sized hard drive. It’s generally safe to buy one of these alternatives if you understand the differences in specification.

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