Surface Go 2Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

Best Affordable Laptops Windows Central 2021

The best budget Windows laptops don't necessarily have to 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 many 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 laptops that we've rounded up here.

Best overall: Surface Go 2 -10.5-inch

Surface Go 2 Top KeyboardSource: Windows Central

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 the 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. It almost makes the list of best laptops under $300 with the Amazon price, but you'll generally pay $400 or more.

Pros:

  • Premium design with rear stand
  • Core m3 makes a huge difference
  • Outstanding display with thinner bezel
  • Optional 4G LTE

Cons:

  • Battery life just below 7 hours
  • Pentium 4425Y model is underpowered

Best Overall

Surface Go 2

Surface Go 2 - 10.5-inch

Surface Go 2 gets a much-improved processor that finally delivers on speed 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 Laptop 14z

Hp Laptop 14zSource: HP

HP has been on a roll, and its more budget-conscious laptops have come a long way. Just check out the HP Pavilion Aero, which Executive Editor Daniel Rubino awarded full marks as the best mid-range AMD laptop available today. HP's standard "Laptop" lineup lives just below the Pavilion line, and this 14-inch version packs in a whole lot of features for less than $500. It even has AMD Ryzen 5000 Mobile CPUs.

Prices start at about $370 for a model with Ryzen 3 CPU and HD display, but for a few dollars more, you can get a way better configuration. For about $490, I configured a model with Ryzen 5 5500U CPU with six cores and 12 threads, 8GB of dual-channel DDR4-3200MHz RAM, 128GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD (upgradeable all the way to 1TB if money allows), and a 14-inch 1920x1080 (FHD) IPS display. No having to deal with inferior TN panel or HD resolution.

The laptop can be upgraded to Wi-Fi 6 for free, and port selection is good at this price. You get USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI 1.4b, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Pros:

  • Excellent AMD performance
  • Above-average IPS display
  • Wi-Fi 6 connectivity
  • USB-C and HDMI
  • SD card reader

Cons:

  • Display still not particularly bright
  • No keyboard backlight
  • No fingerprint reader

Powered by AMD

Hp 14z

HP Laptop 14z

AMD's Laptop 14 is quite attractive, if only for the stellar AMD Ryzen 5000 performance. But the FHD display with IPS panel, good port selection, and Wi-Fi 6 help a lot.

Lots of features: ASUS Vivobook 15 - 15.6-inch

Asus Vivobook 15 Source: ASUS

I recently reviewed the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 — another ultra-budget laptop — and compared it to the ASUS Vivobook 15. They're both 15-inch laptops with Windows 10 in S mode (which can be switched easily to normal Windows 10 Home), and they both have a similar price. However, the Vivobook 15 has some extra features that you won't find in the IdeaPad.

With the ASUS laptop, you'll be looking at a 1920x1080 (FHD) display with a thin bezel. The chassis is relatively thin, but it has plenty of ports. You get USB-C, HDMI, microSD card reader, three USB-A, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The keyboard has decent travel distance at 1.4mm, and it has a backlight to help with working after hours. A fingerprint reader is built into the touchpad for some added security.

Performance from the 10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 CPU will handle light productivity work without much issue, especially with 8GB of RAM. The 128GB SSD isn't particularly large, but for the price, it's easier to overlook. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi 5 is the standard here.

Pros:

  • Backlit keyboard with 1.4mm travel
  • FHD display
  • Lots of ports
  • Fingerprint reader

Cons:

  • Wi-Fi 5
  • Core i3 is just OK

Lots of features

Asus Vivobook 15

ASUS Vivobook 15 - 15.6-inch

The ASUS Vivobook 15 comes with a lot of extra features that not all laptops in the same price range include. FHD display, backlit keyboard, fingerprint reader, and lots of ports make this a top option.

Bottom line

Many more PCs hit the sub-$500 mark, but they can't necessarily be considered one of the best cheap Windows laptops for one reason or another. For example, the Acer Aspire 5 A515-56 is a great 15-inch laptop with upgradeable storage and RAM, generous port selection, good audio and camera, and decent performance. But its FHD display is dreadful to the point that I can't recommend it. Here's hoping it's fixed in the next refresh.

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. You can check out the best Chromebooks over at Android Central.

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 for 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

Author:

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.

Author:

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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