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Best cheap laptop 2021: Our favourite budget Windows laptops and Chromebooks

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Looking for a budget laptop that doesn't cost the earth? These are the best cheap laptops on the market today

There's no reason to spend a fortune on a new portable PC when the best cheap laptop can hold its own against more expensive competition.

Many of the best budget laptops now offer impressive specifications without wallet-busting price tags, meaning you don't need to limit your search for a budget workstation to the realm of tablets, Chromebooks or refurbished laptops.

Buying the best cheap laptop has never been simpler, provided you know where to look – and what to avoid.

Below, you'll find a comprehensive buying guide detailing all the things to consider before splashing out on a budget laptop along with a list of what we deem the best cheap laptops available.

Each entry has been put through its paces by one of our experts and undergone tests to assess the performance of its CPU and GPU, along with various other key metrics.

If you can't tell an Intel Core i5 from a Ryzen 3, don't know the difference between a Chromebook and a laptop, or are simply looking for some buying advice, read on.

READ NEXT: Our guide to buying a refurbished laptop

Surface Laptop Go: Cheaper than EVER this January

The best cheap laptop from a big brand, Microsoft's Surface Laptop Go is a gorgeous machine that hides its low price well. The 256GB model is currently cheaper than ever at Amazon – don't miss this deal.
Amazon
Was £899
Now £660

How to choose the best cheap laptop for you

Should I buy an old laptop?

When you’re really strapped for cash it’s easy to get into a “cheaper is better” mentality, but with laptops that’s not necessarily the case. If you see a laptop going for a rock bottom price, it might be because it’s incredibly outdated, uses cheap design materials or a combination of both.

There really is no need to buy an outdated laptop these days, but if you're a little uncertain about swapping to one of the lesser-known manufacturers we recommend, here's a checklist of things that a useable cheap laptop must have/do.

Windows 10: Unless you're going for a Chromebook, the single most important thing to watch out for when buying a cheap laptop is that it runs the latest version of Microsoft's operating system – Windows 10. Ideally, you want a laptop that comes with Windows 10 pre-installed; if it's running Windows 8 or earlier, steer clear.

Connection ports: The last thing you want to do is snag a bargain on a cheap old laptop, only to find that it doesn't support any modern connectors. To make sure that the laptop you're buying can connect to your TV, for example, check that it has an HDMI port, rather than an outdated VGA port.

If you're the type who plugs in external storage, you might also want to check that it supports USB 3 (for faster file transfers) and has an SD or microSD card slot. It's also worth noting the type of USB ports a cheap laptop houses. Some use USB-A ports, others USB-C and some a mix of both. Pick a cheap laptop that offers ports that support whatever accessories you intend to use your laptop with.

Physical specs: Old laptops are often heavier and larger than current models. There's nothing wrong with a larger screen, but if you need portability, it's worth looking at how much the laptop you're eyeing up actually weighs – and whether it will fit into your rucksack.

Next, you'll want to make sure that the specifications are up to scratch.

What kind of specifications should I look for?

A laptop's internal components will determine what it can do, and how fast it can do it. As a general rule, even the best cheap laptop will be slower than an expensive one, and won't be able to multitask as effectively or play demanding AAA games.

READ NEXT: The best budget gaming laptops

CPU: Unless you're a bit of a tech-head, you won't need to worry too much about the complexities of the Central Processing Unit (CPU). Ultimately, cheap laptops aren't famed for their processing power, and you certainly won't be given much choice over what kind of CPU your laptop ships with.

Many budget laptops house quad-core Intel Atom or Celeron processors – these are Intel's cheap processors and are used to keep the cost down. At around the £400 mark, you'll start seeing laptops incorporating more powerful Intel Core i3 and i5 core CPUs, along with AMD's equivalents, the Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5.

You should only be interested in the quad-core bit: this indicates that the laptop is better suited to running multiple processes at once – useful for office workers who run programs other than Google Chrome and Slack. All of the Windows laptops on our list have quad-core processors.

RAM: Random Access Memory sounds complicated, but it's really just a measure of exactly how many tasks your laptop can handle at once (higher is better). Some applications, particularly games, have a minimum required RAM below which they will not function as intended.

Most cheap laptops will have 4GB of RAM, which is enough for work but too little for demanding photo/video-editing tasks or gaming. If you can afford it, we recommend hunting for a laptop with 8GB of RAM.

READ NEXT: Choosing the best RAM for you

Storage: Budget laptops have less onboard storage than their high-end counterparts but can still take advantage of Solid-State Drives (SSDs) and Embedded Multi-Media Cards (eMMCs), both of which are storage formats that will speed up your laptop considerably.

We recommend that you buy a cheap laptop with as much storage as you can afford: you're probably not going to want to spend time clearing out your meagre 32GB storage drive every time it fills up with documents, images, videos or apps. 64GB of onboard storage should be a bare minimum; most smartphones offer at least that much storage nowadays.

If you can stretch to the £500 mark, you'll find cheap laptops with up to 256GB of SSD storage, which is a solid investment if you're a digital hoarder.

READ NEXT: The best external hard drives you can buy

How different are Chromebooks to regular laptops?

Chromebooks use Google’s own operating system, Chrome OS, which differs from the Windows (or Linux) systems that you may be used to. Laptops that run on Chrome OS still have a desktop, a file browser and an applications menu but they rely heavily on cloud storage.

This means that all the work you do across Google’s office working apps (that is, Google Docs, Google Sheets and so forth) is saved automatically while you’re connected to the internet. If you’re disconnected, there is still the option to operate offline in Chrome OS, and all the work will be backed up as soon as you’re back online.

Due to their dependence upon the cloud/internet, Chromebooks break the rules we've laid out above. They tend to have dual-core processors, under 4GB of RAM and under 64GB of onboard storage. There's nothing wrong with Chromebooks - in fact, they're a great choice for those after a cheap laptop - but just be careful you don't mistake a Chromebook for a full-blooded Windows laptop if it's the latter you're after.

READ NEXT: The best laptops for students

Best cheap laptop 2021: At a glance


The best cheap laptops to buy

1. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go: The best cheap laptop from Microsoft

Price: £549 | Buy now from Amazon

If you're after a premium-brand laptop at an affordable price, it's hard to beat the base model of the Surface Laptop Go. For a reasonable price of £549, you'll get a laptop powered by a tenth-gen Intel Core i5 processor featuring a beautiful PixelSense display with a resolution of 1,536 x 1,034px. It does only come with 4GB RAM and 64GB SSD however, so is best suited to those wanting a cloud computing device rather than a laptop for storing thousands of files and running large applications.

Weighing just 1.1kg and measuring 278 x 206 x 15.7mm when closed, the Surface Laptop Go is extremely portable but the 12.4in screen feels a lot more spacious than its dimensions would have you believe owing to its 3:2 aspect ratio. The keyboard is a delight to type on and you have a choice of USB-A and USB-C ports, which is very welcome.

When treated like a Chromebook rather than a full-blown Windows 10 machine, the base specification Surface Laptop Go is undoubtedly one of our favourite laptops around the £500 mark.

Read our Microsoft Surface Laptop Go review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB; Screen resolution: 1,536 x 1,024; Weight: 1.11kg


2. Lenovo IdeaPad Duet: The best cheap 2-in-1 laptop

Price: £280 | Buy now from Amazon

Chromebooks are a great option if you're after a cheap laptop and this offering from Lenovo is one of the most compact, affordable and versatile around. Used with the detachable keyboard it functions exactly like a standard laptop. Unclip the magnetic clip-on peripheral and you've got yourself a 10in tablet with an FHD display.

The keyboard itself lies flat on whatever surface you place it but feels good to type on thanks to tight and springy action when you hit the keys. The IPS display is small compared with the other entries on this list but is of superb quality, covering 99% of the sRGB colour gamut with decent accuracy.

The Duet is powered by a MediaTek CPU and unfortunately, this means performance is a little on the sluggish side. It handles general web browsing and streaming well enough but begins to struggle when running single-core heavy web-based apps. The lack of power is made up for by bumper battery life, however, with the Duet lasting over 16 hours in our battery rundown test.

Read our Lenovo IdeaPad Duet for more details

Key specs - Processor: MediaTek Helio P60T; RAM: 4GB; Storage: 64GB eMPC; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080px; Weight: 0.92kg


3. Chuwi HeroBook Pro+: The best cheap laptop with a 3K display

Price: £240 | Buy now from Amazon

You'll be hard pushed to find a better laptop under £300 than the Chuwi HeroBook Pro Plus. Sure, its 2016 Intel Celeron J3455 processor is predictably sluggish and after you've installed the latest Windows 10 update you'll only be left with around 85GB storage space but the Pro Plus has a couple of aces up its sleeve.

The 13in display has a very impressive resolution of 3,200 x 1,800px - an astonishing inclusion at this price - and covers over 90% of the sRGB colour space, while the in-built webcam has a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200. Elsewhere, the Pro Plus is about par for the course when it comes to true budget laptops. The microphone and speakers are low quality but work well enough to serve their purpose and the keyboard is functional rather than a joy to type on.

Ultimately, you're always going to have to make sacrifices when buying a laptop this cheap but the HeroBook Pro Plus has just enough redeeming features to make it worth the minimal outlay.

Read our Chuwi HeroBook Pro Plus review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Celeron J3455; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 128GB SSD; Screen resolution: 3,200 x 1,800; Weight: 1.2kg


4. Asus Chromebook Flip CX5: The best cheap 15.6in Chromebook

Price: £500 | Buy now from Amazon

We believe there's a gap in the market for large-screen Chromebooks and Asus clearly does too. The CX5 is currently our favourite 15.6in Chromebook and is eminently affordable by laptop standards. It boasts solid specs - an 11th-gen Intel Core i3 processor is backed by 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD - and, like other members of the Flip family, the CX5 is fully convertible so can be used as a laptop or tablet.

Build quality is impressive, with the CX5 designed in such a way that it weighs under 2kg and avoids feeling overly bulky despite its larger display. The touchscreen could be brighter and more vibrant but is perfectly good for casual viewing as are the in-built speakers, which are particularly immersive when the CX5 is in tent mode.

Speedy, efficient performance and battery life that'll easily see you through the day complete what is a great package for the money. Chromebooks may be an acquired taste but they're growing in popularity as machines for both work and play. If you're ready to join Google's web-based ecosystem and want plenty of screen real estate when you do, the CX5 is just the ticket.

Read our full Asus Chromebook Flip CX5 review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Core i3-1115G4; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 128GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080p; Weight: 1.95kg


5. HP Pavilion 14: A premium notebook at a budget price

Price: £549 | Buy now from Currys

With an RRP of £680, the Intel Core i5 version of this notebook is dearer than all of the other non-gaming options on this list. However, it delivers a value-for-money package so compelling that we just had to include it.

So, what's so great about it? Well, for starters, the HP Pavilion 14 is sturdily constructed and looks great. It's largely made of metal so feels nice and solid, while the sandblasted, anodised finish is very easy on the eye. There's a fingerprint scanner and the 14in display is fully touch-enabled - both rare inclusions at this price - while the keyboard is spacious and the plastic trackpad excellent.

Audio quality from the Bang & Olufsen-branded speakers is highly impressive for the money too, delivering composed, punchy sound. Performance is about what you'd expect from a Core i5-powered machine, which is to say that it doesn't set new records for power or speed but handles basic productivity tasks with relative ease.

As an affordable general-purpose laptop, there are very few devices that come close to the HP Pavilion 14. It really is outstanding value for money even if it does push the boundary of what one would consider cheap.

Read our full HP Pavilion 14 (2021) review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080p; Weight: 1.41kg

Buy now from Currys


6. Acer Chromebook 714: The best Chromebook for £500

Price: £500 | Buy now from Laptops Direct

Acer’s Chromebook 714 Touchscreen boasts a 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD display, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. Yes, its processor isn't the most powerful, but the beauty of Chrome OS is that you barely notice as long as you stick to areas that the Chromebook thrives: browsing, email, typing and watching. Thankfully, the premium feeling keyboard and Gorilla Glass-covered TouchPad make internet browsing an absolute joy.

It's well-equipped when it comes to connection options too, with two USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 ports, a full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, a 3.5mm headset jack and a microSD card slot. Build quality is a little rough around the edges but the Acer Chromebook 714 looks the part, performs admirably and impressed in our battery life test, lasting over 12 hours.

Read our Acer Chromebook 714 review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Core i3-8130U; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 128GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.6kg

Buy now from Currys


7. Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook: Practical, versatile and affordable

Price: £469 | Buy now from Amazon

It may not be the fastest or flashiest laptop around but this convertible Chromebook from Lenovo does pretty much everything you could ask of a cheap portable computer. The Core i5 model we reviewed matched more expensive Chromebooks in our performance tests and the device looks pricier than it is: it's slim, light and the colour of the plastic body matches the metal lid very neatly.

Image quality on the 13in FHD touchscreen is crisp and clear and can be folded back for use in tablet or tent mode (pictured above) thanks to the laptop's reversible hinge. Keyboard quality is impressive and there are a pleasing number of connection options available too, including two USB-C ports, a USB-A port and Bluetooth 5.

In fact, there's very little to dislike about the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook. The in-built speakers sound pretty poor and some may find the laptop's aesthetic a little business-like but those minor gripes aside, this is an affordable laptop that ticks all the right boxes.

Read our Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook review for details

Key specs - Processor: 2.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-10110U or 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-10210U; RAM: 4 or 8GB; Storage: 128GB; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 1.35kg


8. Medion Erazer Crawler E10: The best cheap gaming laptop

Price: £699 | Buy now from eBuyer

This laptop from Medion is available for what is considered a bargain-basement price in the gaming arena. The Erazer Crawler E10 executes basic tasks with reasonable speed and efficiency thanks to its tenth-generation Intel Core i5 processor and comes with a discrete graphics chip in the form of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650 Ti. The Nvidia GPU kept most AAA games running smoothly enough during testing, just don't expect it to run truly demanding titles at high settings.

The E10's other strong points are its solid and stylish chassis and mechanically impressive keyboard, which comes equipped with a numeric keypad. Its 15.6in FHD display is less impressive, however. It's somewhat drab and only has a 59Hz refresh rate but corner-cutting is to be expected at this kind of price so a lacklustre display can be forgiven.

Read our full Medion Erazer Crawler E10 review for more details

Key specs - Processor: Intel Core i5-10300H; RAM: 8GB; Storage: 256 or 512GB SSD; Screen resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Weight: 2.2kg

Buy now from eBuyer