Best Affordable Laptops Windows Central 2021
The best cheap laptops don't make too many sacrifices when it comes to quality and performance. We'd all have the latest and greatest Ultrabooks if we could afford them, but lots of us can't — or just don't want to — hand over thousands of dollars for a computer. Fortunately, there are a lot of choices for the budget-conscious laptop buyer that still provide a great Windows 10 experience. The Surface Go 2 from Microsoft is a versatile, affordable 2-in-1 device that is also one of the best laptops under $500. There are a bunch of other great cheap PCs that we've rounded up here.
- Best Overall: Surface Go 2
- Powered By AMD: HP ENVY x360 13
- Premium Notebook: Surface Laptop Go
- Best Battery Life: Lenovo Yoga C640
Best Overall: Surface Go 2
The Surface Go 2 might be tiny, but it's a rather versatile laptop with enough performance from an optional Core m3 processor (CPU) to get through most productivity work. Baseline models start with an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y CPU, which is still enough power for casual use. Compared to the original Go, the Go 2 improves Instant On capabilities, it has a thinner bezel, and the display is larger.
This is a typical 10.5-inch Surface display with 3:2 aspect ratio, 1920x1280 resolution, touch functionality, and Surface Pen compatibility. Thanks to the 2-in-1 form, you can use the device as a tablet for drawing and writing. Attaching a Type Cover with touchpad and keyboard turns it into a notebook with rear stand deployed.
You get front- and rear-facing cameras, optional LTE connectivity, Wi-Fi 6, and dual 2W stereo speakers. Ports include USB-C, 3.5mm audio, Surface Connect, and a microSD card reader. This is a fantastic device for anyone who is always on the move, and its starting price of $400 places it well within the cheap range despite a premium build.
- Premium design with rear stand
- Core m3 makes a huge difference
- Outstanding display with thinner bezel
- Optional 4G LTE
- Battery life just below 7 hours
- Pentium 4425Y model is underpowered
Surface Go 2
Surface Go 2 gets a much-improved processor that finally delivers on speed, but without making battery life worse. Thinner bezels and a larger display go a long way to improve usability. With options for 4G LTE and a premium build, there is still nothing like Surface Go. Unfortunately, battery life and a small price bump demonstrate the limits in this category for Windows laptops.
Powered By AMD: HP ENVY x360 13
The HP ENVY x360 13 is so good that it almost beats out the premium HP Spectre x360 lineup in terms of what we're recommending. But for the case of cheap laptops, it's an easy inclusion. The ENVY x360 employs a high-quality metal chassis with a lid that can rotate all the way around for tablet mode. The 13.3-inch touch display has a 1920x1080 resolution, and it can be had with up to 1,000 nits brightness. It also supports inking with an included active pen.
AMD Ryzen 5 models are cheaper, but they're also harder to find. Still, a model with an AMD Ryzen 7 4700U CPU starts at just $750. And you get plenty of extra features, including a fingerprint reader, Bang & Olufsen audio tuning, very good port selection, and comfortable keyboard and touchpad. Ports include USB-C, two USB-A, and a microSD card reader.
Battery life hits somewhere around eight hours, and performance is excellent thanks to the Ryzen 4000 Mobile chips. Overall, this laptop looks and feels great, it offers stellar AMD performance, and it's priced to sell.
- Excellent performance
- Above-average display
- Comfy keyboard and touchpad
- Pen is included
- No Thunderbolt
- 16:10 or 3:2 display would be better
Premium Notebook: Surface Laptop Go
If you appreciate the design and quality of the Surface Go but don't want a 2-in-1 device, the Surface Laptop Go might be a better choice. It's essentially a Surface Laptop that's been shrunk down and made lighter thanks to a polycarbonate base. And while it might not have a high-res display typical of Surface products, it still nails a bunch of the core features you want.
Typing is good despite the lack of a backlight, the touchpad tracks smoothly, audio is good, and the display is colorful and bright. It's sized at 12.4 inches with a 1536x1024 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio. It's touch-enabled, but it's not compatible with the Surface Pen.
You can expect around eight hours or more of battery life from the Laptop Go, which is respectable considering the 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 CPU. This PC will be able to handle some relatively heavy productivity work. Ports include USB-C, USB-A, 3.5mm audio, and Surface Connect.
- Excellent hardware and design
- Core i5 gets the job done
- Bright, color-accurate display
- Good battery life
- Resolution could be higher
- No keyboard backlight
Surface Laptop Go
Surface Laptop Go is a smaller and more affordable Surface Laptop, and it nails all the fundamentals to deliver a surprisingly delightful computing experience. Most of that is attributable to the Core i5 processor, which results in a responsive OS. With decent battery life and compact size, this lil' laptop is perfect for the couch, class, or boardroom.
Best Battery Life: Lenovo Yoga C640
The Lenovo Yoga C640 doesn't offer LTE connectivity after its move away from ARM in the C630, but it's still a sleek convertible PC with a lot to love. Introductory models start at about $700 and include a 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10210U CPU, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD, and a 13.3-inch touch display. It would be nice if the display got a bit brighter than 300 nits, but it has perfect sRGB color reproduction.
We saw somewhere around 12 to 14 hours of battery life from this laptop, which is excellent if you're often traveling and can't sit by while your PC charges. And with up to a Core i7-10510U and 16GB of RAM for $850, you can add performance without going way beyond budget. The laptop is built well with an aluminum lid, and it's sized perfectly for use as a tablet. Its top-firing speakers that flank the keyboard provide unmuffled audio, though quality could be a bit better.
The keyboard is comfortable, the Precision touchpad makes for easy pointing, and there's a fingerprint reader for extra security. If you need a high-quality convertible with inking and excellent battery life, consider the Yoga C640.
- Great typing and pointing experience
- Premium look and feel
- Good size and weight for tablet mode
- Stellar battery life
- Strong 10th Gen Intel performance
- Audio could be better
- No Thunderbolt
- Display could be brighter
Best Battery Life
Lenovo Yoga C640
The Yoga C640 is a well-built, well-performing convertible laptop that's available at a very tempting price. It doesn't offer all the same features as its C630 predecessor (like LTE connectivity and dual USB-C), but it's still a great alternative to more expensive 13-inch convertibles on the market.
When shopping around for a cheap laptop, you might be tempted to check some truly inexpensive hardware, like the best laptops under $300. This category is mostly dominated by Chromebooks, with Windows PCs sitting much more comfortably in the category of best laptops under $500. Stepping things up to around $800 or less adds a bunch of great options, including a few of the laptops we've rounded up in this collection.
Our overall pick for a cheap laptop is the Surface Go 2 thanks to a combination of premium build quality and design, high-end display with inking capabilities, optional 4G LTE, and the new Intel Core m3 CPU option for better performance. This PC isn't going to dominate when it comes to performance, but it will put up a fight against productivity work and daily tasks. And thanks to its diminutive size, it's easy to take with you wherever you go. Considering the price starts at just $400, this is an easy recommendation when it comes to PCs on a budget.
For more great PCs, be sure to have a look at our roundup of the overall best Windows laptop options out there today.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, accessory coverage, and the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
Daniel Rubino is the executive editor of Windows Central. He has been covering Microsoft since 2009, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Surface, HoloLens, Xbox, and future computing visions. Follow him on Twitter: @daniel_rubino.
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