If you’re shopping for the best cheap laptop of 2021, the question to ask is: what’s most important, and what are you willing to sacrifice? Even the best cheap laptops aren’t perfect in every area — they have some strengths but cut corners to achieve their price tags. You can almost certainly find a budget laptop with a touchscreen, a premium-looking chassis, an HDMI port, a backlit keyboard, or stylus support, but you may need to consider which of those features you want the most, and which you can go without.
Our pick for the best cheap laptop of 2021 is the HP Envy x360 13. We feel that the Envy has build quality, performance, and battery life that surpass those of many premium laptops. But we’ve tested dozens of systems in the sub-$800 range, and we’ve got a number of additional models on this list from Lenovo, Acer, Samsung, HP, and more.
Our other picks for the best cheap laptop of 2021 include the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and the Acer Chromebook Spin 713. Many of these laptops also appear on our best laptop, best Chromebook, and best student laptop lists.
Many of our picks for the best cheap laptop of 2021 are currently Chromebooks. We believe that Chromebooks are, in many cases, the best-value option for shoppers seeking a laptop under $500 and tend to offer better specs, features, and build quality than most Windows laptops at that price point. We hope to add more Windows laptops under $500 to this page in the future and are keeping a close eye on those releases.
The best cheap laptop of 2021
HP’s Envy x360 13, currently available for $689 is the best budget laptop you can buy under $800. With a high-quality and sturdy convertible build, it looks like a device that should cost twice its price. It has plenty of other great features as well, including a really excellent keyboard and a bright, colorful screen. It’s also exceptional on the inside. Thanks to its AMD Ryzen processor, the system delivers all-day battery life and very smooth performance — it can even handle some light gaming. (Intel options are available as well.)
We have some minor complaints about the Envy, of course. The screen is 16:9, which is a cramped aspect ratio for multitasking. Our test unit had a somewhat limited port selection (notably, missing Thunderbolt and HDMI support) and came with some bloatware preinstalled. But none of these are deal-breakers at the Envy’s price point. Overall, budget shoppers will want for very little with this machine.
The best laptop under $500
If you’re looking for an absurdly cheap Chromebook that absolutely gets the job done, you should definitely be looking at the $260 Lenovo Chromebook Duet. The Duet is a 10-inch aluminum alloy Chrome OS tablet that comes with a kickstand and keyboard cover. It looks sturdy and classy, and it can easily function as either a tablet or a PC. But you’re not compromising too much on performance for this device’s tiny size; as long as you’re not running dozens of tabs and apps, you should be fine. And we got over 11 hours of battery life in our testing, making it one of the longest-lasting Chromebooks we’ve seen in the past year.
The main thing to know about the Chromebook Duet is that the screen is quite small — just 10.1 inches. That’s a fine size for a young student (especially with the touch capability) and for an adult’s secondary device for note-taking, Netflixing, and the like, but it’s not an ideal size for a primary work device unless you’re fine with quite a bit of squinting.
The best budget laptop with Chrome OS
If you’d prefer a more traditional Chromebook with a clamshell form factor, the $329 Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is an affordable option that’s all-around excellent. It has a gorgeous 3:2 display that delivers a sharp picture and bright, vibrant colors with plenty of vertical space. The screen alone would make the Chromebook Spin 713 a standout, but it has a number of other strengths as well, including a great keyboard, all-day battery life, and a comprehensive port selection, including an HDMI, in addition to USB-C, USB-A, and a microSD slot.
The best cheap laptop with a stylus
If you like the Duet’s size and detachable form factor but are willing to spend on something a bit more upscale, you may find the Asus Chromebook Detachable CM3 to be a better choice. Like the Duet, the CM3 is a 10.5-inch 16:10 Chrome OS tablet with a fabric cover, kickstand, and detachable screen. But the CM3’s kickstand folds multiple ways: you can crease it lengthwise to stand the tablet up like a laptop or fold it the short way and stand the tablet up horizontally. Plus, it comes with a built-in USI stylus and roomy keys with a surprising amount of travel. Battery life was also quite impressive: we averaged close to 13 hours of continuous work.
Where the CM3 lags a bit behind the Duet (and other cheap laptops you may try) is the power. Its MediaTek processor can be a bit sluggish compared to more pricier offerings. But the CM3 still offers a surprising number of perks for its sub-$400 price and makes a great student driver or secondary device.
The best thin-and-light laptop under $1000
If you’re looking for a budget Windows laptop that’s thinner and lighter than the Envy x360 while delivering similar category-topping performance, the $669 HP Pavilion Aero 13 is a good choice for you. It has a powerful eight-core Ryzen processor, which is one of the fastest processors for thin and light laptops that you can get. Not only does it perform well, but it’s also unbelievably light at just 2.1 pounds, and it comes with a blindingly bright 16:10 screen. It’s a standout in battery life, too — I averaged almost 11 hours of continuous work.
HP did have to cut a few corners to achieve those benefits at this price point. The audio on our model wasn’t great, and the device shipped with some cheap bloatware installed. But the Pavilion Aero 13 is excellent in almost every other way, and it won’t disappoint if you’re looking for a functional, cheap Windows PC.
An affordable laptop with a bold look
If you’re looking for an affordable Chromebook that stands out from the crowd, the $549 Galaxy Chromebook 2 should be on your list. It comes in a bold “fiesta red” color (as well as a regular gray, if you prefer to blend in). It’s a touchscreen convertible with stylus support (though the stylus isn’t included).
On top of the design, the Galaxy Chromebook 2 includes an excellent QLED panel, which is one of the best displays we’ve ever seen on a Chromebook. You also get a solid keyboard, decent battery life (we averaged 7 hours and 21 minutes of continuous work), and a port selection that includes two USB-C ports, a microSD slot, and a headphone jack. It’s easily one of the best Chromebooks you can buy and one of the best cheap laptops as well.
The best cheap laptop for Surface fans
The $399 Surface Go 2 is a 10.5-inch tablet that’s about the size of a regular iPad. You’ll have to buy the keyboard cover separately, but the overall package is still quite affordable if you’re buying a lower-priced model.
You can configure the Surface Go 2 with a Pentium Gold or Core m3 processor. Those aren’t the fanciest or most powerful processors, but the system should still be adequate for your streaming and browsing needs, especially if you only need it to do one task at a time. It can run any Windows app, it’s easy to carry around, and it makes a solid secondary computer.
The best budget laptop for students
Many of the best cheap laptops might be good choices for high school and college students, but the Acer Swift 3’s exceptionally durable build makes it an excellent choice for backpack-battering and dining hall spills. Its 14-inch screen also gives you more room for homework multitasking than some of the 13-inch machines here.
But the highlight of the Swift 3 is its Ryzen 4000 processors. We tested a model with a Ryzen 7 4700U, which did an excellent job handling our daily multitasking workload, and delivered seven-hour battery life as well.
On the outside, the Swift 3 isn’t the thinnest or most beautiful laptop you can buy, but it’s a solid performer in most areas. It has all kinds of ports, including USB-C, USB-A, and an HDMI. The backlit keyboard has a nice click to it and has a reliable integrated fingerprint reader as well.
A cheap laptop with standout build
The Yoga C740 is as straightforward as a laptop can get. It has a sturdy aluminum build and perfectly fine 10th Gen Intel processors. We were pleasantly surprised by the device’s audio — the upward-firing speakers on the sides of the keyboard deliver a nice surround-sound experience. The keyboard and touchpad are both quite comfortable to use. There’s not much to complain about and not much to enthusiastically praise — if you’re looking for a sub-$800 Windows laptop with a well-made aluminum chassis and a sturdy frame, you’re looking for the Yoga.
The C740 is a year old now, but that means you can get it at very affordable prices. We’re looking forward to reviewing its successor, the Yoga 7i, shortly in the future.