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

Editor’s Note (3/5/24): Apple just announced the new MacBook Air with M3 in 13-inch and 15-inch sizes, available now starting at $1,099. We knew it was coming: in late 2023, the iPhone maker updated its MacBook Pro and 24-inch iMac to run on M3 chips, so it was only a matter of time before the latest silicon appeared in the lightest company laptop. The new chipset is the biggest change in the new Air machines, aside from support for Wi-Fi 6E and up to two external displays. But the additions pushed the M1 Air drives out of Apple’s official lineup; the company is no longer selling its first Air laptop powered by an M-series chip (although it is still available at other retailers), and the MacBook Air M2 has now become its “budget” option with a starting price of $999. We’ll be checking out the new M3-powered machines with full reviews soon, so you might as well wait until then to pick the best laptop for you. However, if you’re in immediate need of a new daily driver that won’t break the bank, our current recommendations below still stand.

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 below that (say $500 or less), that’s where you’ll really start to see performance trade-offs . You’ll usually find the best balance of power and price in the $500 to $1,000 range. But in this guide, we’ll look at the best choices across a wide range of prices – there are a number of excellent options at the low and high end of the budget spectrum.

Probably the biggest thing to look for in a cheap laptop is a decent spec sheet. You may be able to find configuration options with the latest generation of processor chipsets, or you may need to choose one that has a slightly older processor. We recommend that you try to find a laptop with the most up-to-date internals possible, but know that if you choose a machine with a processor that is a generation behind, it probably won’t significantly affect performance.

Along with processors, you also need to 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 less than that will have a hard time multitasking and managing all those browser tabs. The latter is a little more personal: how much built-in storage you need really depends on how many apps, files, photos, documents, and more you’ll be keeping locally. As a general rule, try to choose a laptop that has at least a 256GB SSD (this only applies to macOS and Windows machines, as Chromebooks are slightly different). This should give you enough space for programs and files, plus room for future operating system updates.

Once you’ve determined the best performance you can get while sticking to your budget, it’s also worth exploring a few different design aspects. We recommend choosing a machine with a mostly metal body, a screen that has at least 1080p resolution, and a keyboard and trackpad that are reasonably roomy. Any affordable laptop worth buying will have a built-in webcam, but most of them go up to 720p. Several of the latest models have 1080p webcams, but you might want to consider a standalone peripheral if you spend a lot of time in Zoom meetings.

Don’t forget to check the port situation as well. Many laptops closer to $1000 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 latest machines, which means you may need a separate dongle if you need to connect to SD cards often.

Note on Refurbished Laptops

Refurbished laptops are another option to consider if you need a new machine and don’t want to spend a lot of money. Buying a refurbished appliance can be difficult if you’re not familiar with a brand or dealer’s policies regarding what they classify as “refurbished.” But it’s not impossible—for laptops, we recommend going directly to the manufacturer for refurbished devices. An apple, Dell and Microsoft all have official refurbishment processes that their devices go through before being released back into the market, which checks that the machines are working properly and in good condition. Third party retailers such as Amazon and Walmart also have their own programs for updating laptops and other gadgets.

The best cheap laptops of 2024

Photo by Devindra Hardavar / Engadget

Screen size: 13-inch | Touch screen: No | Processor: Apple M1 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Weight: 2.8 pounds | Battery life: Until 16.5 hours

Read our full Apple MacBook Air M1 review

There’s a reason Apple keeps it MacBook Air M1 in its lineup even after it came out with the 13-inch and 15-inch Air M2 laptops. The first machine with Apple’s custom SoC, the Air M1, was released in late 2020 and proved that the company no longer needs Intel to power its notebooks. The M1 processor gave the Air lightning-fast performance, with responsiveness close to that of the iPad Pro. This hasn’t changed even after the release of the M2 chipset and the latest Air powered by it. You’ll still get impressive performance from the base MacBook Air M1, which will be just right for most people as a daily driver.

The Air M1 has a classic wedge design that we’ve seen in this notebook family for years, which some will appreciate. It might not be the sleek profile that the M2 machine has, but it’s still thin and light, and since it doesn’t have a fan, it’ll be super quiet too. The 13.3-inch Retina display is gorgeous and is accompanied by a comfortable keyboard (no TouchBar) and a roomy trackpad. Battery life reached nearly 16.5 hours in our testing, which should be more than enough for a full day of work. It may be on the higher end of our budget price range, starting at $999, but it will be money well spent. Also, we’ve often seen the MacBook Air M1 drop to $800 or $900 when it goes on sale at Amazon and other retailers.

$750 at Amazon

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

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

Read our full HP Pavilion Aero 13 review

If you like the overall aesthetic of machines like Dell’s XPS 13 but don’t want to pay $1,000 or more, 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’s pretty close with its angular profile, 2.2-pound weight, and its 13.3-inch anti-glare display. Although its keyboard is a bit narrow, 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 up the Aero 13 for just $900, but they’ve gone on sale for even less. All of the pre-built base models available from HP directly come with Ryzen 5 processors, and you can customize the laptop to have up to a Ryzen 7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD.

$880 at HP


Screen size: 13-inch | Touch screen: Yes | Processor: Intel Core i3 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Weight: 4.45 pounds | Battery life: Until 8 o’clock

Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i review

It’s been a few years since we baptized him Lenovo’s IdeaPad Flex 5i our favorite Chromebook and remains our top pick today. That’s because it still has the best mix of specs and features that will satisfy most Chrome OS lovers. It runs on an 11th generation Intel Core i3 processor, has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Plus, its bright 13.3-inch 1080p touchscreen is great for working on Google Docs and streaming Netflix.

While it doesn’t excel in the design department, this convertible is relatively light, and we appreciate that it comes with a backlit keyboard—something you don’t often see in laptops at this price point. It should also last about eight hours on a single charge, or long enough to get you through a typical workday. You also get a solid collection of ports here: two USB-C, one USB-A, a microSD card slot, and a headphone jack. All of this keeps the Flex 5i ahead of the Chromebook pack, and its affordable price makes it even better.

$459 at Amazon


Screen size: 15-inch | Touch screen: No | Processor: 11th Gen Intel Core i3 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Weight: 3.64 pounds | Battery life: Until 10 o’clock

of Acer Aspire 5 family is a solid Windows option if you have less than $500 to spend on a new laptop. The latest models hit a nice middle ground for most people, running Intel’s 11th generation processors and supporting up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. Of course, the higher spec you get, the more expensive the machine will be – not all Aspire 5 laptops cost under $500. But right now you can take a model with a 15.6-inch 1080p display, a Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage for around $380 (or less if it’s on sale). The design here is pretty basic, but you get a handy numeric keypad 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 has increased the expected battery life to 10 hours.

$360 at Amazon