Best cheap laptops under £500
By Michael Passingham
Big laptop brands like HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer all product budget laptops. We reveal some of the best - and explain how to pick the perfect model.
False economy is rife in the world of laptops. We see plenty of cheap models that may look like a great deal, but simply fail to perform.
Of the laptops reviewed in 2017 and 2018, the lowest score we gave to a sub-£300 laptop is 41% (making it a Don’t Buy). However, we’ve also handed out scores in excess of 70%.
In this article, we’ll take you through our top picks of the best laptops to buy for less than £500, £300 and £200. This article is updated monthly.
In this article:
- Laptops under £200
- Laptops under £300
- Laptops under £500
- The pros and cons of cheap laptops
- Budget laptop brands
- Where to find a good laptop deal
The difference between a good and a bad cheap laptop can be stark. Terrible touchpads and screens are the most common offenders, and even laptops from the same brand can be hit and miss.
When shopping for a low-priced laptop you're looking for a bargain. The models selected below might not be the highest-scoring, but they are our expert picks for offering superb value for money.
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If you’re looking for a laptop that costs less than £200, there are a number of options available that have scored well in our tests. Ultra-cheap laptops are often best suited to more basic computing tasks such as writing documents and sending a few emails. See our list of pros and cons further down for more.
Best laptops under £200
This lovely, little laptop has a 360-degree screen hinge, meaning you can flip it around and use it as a tablet if you don’t need the keyboard to watch a few of your favourite shows. But if you need to get work done, this laptop won’t let you down either thanks to its long battery life. It’s not the fastest, but at this price it’s very hard to complain.
This compact Windows laptop has proven very popular over the years thanks to its very light weight, reasonable performance and all-day battery life. This is the latest version, and while it hasn’t changed much from when it launched four years ago, it still performs consistently well in our lab tests.
At this price, you’ll start to find higher-scoring models with faster processors and better screens. Plenty of Chromebooks show up in this price range, but you’ll also see a smattering of Windows models.
Best laptops under £300
This ultra-cheap Chromebook is also ultra small, making it one of the most portable laptops you can buy right now. It’s not quite small enough to stuff into your pockets, but it will slide into even the smallest of bags. It’s not fast, but if you want a laptop simply for typing notes and checking your emails, there’s little reason to spend any more.
This 11-inch Chromebook puts up a good fight against more expensive rivals. It's not the fastest computer around, but we liked its keyboard and its battery life, which combine together to make it a fabulous, compact note-taking laptop for students at both school and university.
This 13-inch laptop is modest in every sense and can often be found for £250. It puts in a good performance where it counts thanks to its sprightly Intel Pentium processor. It may not have the best keyboard and mouse, and you will need a microSD card, but it's still worth a look.
Best laptops under £500
If you’re looking for a laptop for less than £400, look no further than this one. It has a thin and lightweight design, a Full HD screen and performance that’s good enough for all your daily computing tasks. What’s more, it’s the cheapest Best Buy we’ve tested in almost three years. Read our full review for the verdict on this budget machine.
This tech brand is known for its higher-end computers, but this laptop proves it can still make some good cheaper models, too. This laptop has a 15.6-inch, Full HD screen and an Intel Core i3 processor that will handle all your daily computing tasks with ease. There’s also a 1TB hard disk and 4GB of Ram and all the ports and connections you’ll need. Read our full review to find out how it fared in our tests.
This cheap, 15.6-inch laptop achieves something many budget laptops don’t: it’s actually modestly attractive despite also being big and chunky. It’s more than fast enough for daily office tasks as well. This laptop also comes with a Full HD display, which isn’t a given at this price point. Read our full review to find out whether this laptop is right for you.
All prices and recommendations correct as of December 2018
Shopping at the cheap end of the market is not easy. The worst offenders are given 'Don't Buys', due to poor performance, battery life, display quality, or often all three. The Don't Buy laptops below are definitely models to avoid.
Top two laptops to avoid
If you’re thinking of buying a cheap laptop, you should know what you can and can’t do with your new machine.
- Portability: Very cheap laptops under £300 tend to be small, which means they often weigh around 1kg or less. They’re also typically very thin, so should slide into even the smallest of bags.
- Battery life: Because these laptops feature low-power processors, they often have exceptionally long battery life – some of the best models we’ve tested easily last more than 10 hours. This means they can last all day, so you won’t get caught short if you’re out for longer than you expected.
- Cheerful designs: Some budget laptops tend to feature more colourful, slightly rugged designs. While this won’t ever make or break a laptop purchase, it can be a nice bonus.
- Performance: The main downside to very cheap laptops is their speed. You’ll find most cheap laptops with Intel Celeron and Atom processors. The very latest models perform fine when web browsing with a few web browser tabs open, but they will slow down significantly if you try to have several programs running at once. Read more about processor brands in our guide to Intel, AMD and Nvidia. Laptops around £500 will be fast enough for almost everyone, however.
- Screen quality: This isn’t the case across the board, but some cheaper laptops have screens that are significantly duller with lower resolutions than their more expensive counterparts. This isn’t a universal truth, however, and some ultra-cheap laptops have impressive screens. Our reviews reveal all.
- Low storage: Small and cheap laptops, especially Chromebooks, don’t have much in the way of storage. If you have a large collection of files, you should keep them backed up on an external USB hard drive. These laptops are also best for working on documents stored in Cloud services such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. If you’re buying a Windows laptop with 32GB of storage or less, you will need to also buy a micro-SD card to increase storage to prevent Windows 10 updates from causing problems.
Most of the big laptop brands cover a range of price points, including budget models. Find out what to look for if you have a particular brand in mind.
Cheap HP laptops
HP’s cheapest laptops are found in its Stream and Pavilion range. Stream models are brightly coloured and start from £160, typically with Intel Celeron processors, 2GB of Ram and HD screens. Pavilions, meanwhile, start from around £300 with Intel Pentium and Core i3 models with 4GB of Ram the most common up to £500. Pavilions are most often sold at Currys PC World and tend to always have some form of discount applied (see Currys PC World section below for more).
Cheap Dell laptops
Dell’s cheapest laptops are found in its Inspiron range, and the firm also has a couple of Chromebooks, too. Generally, Dell doesn’t stray into ultra-cheap Windows laptops, instead selling machines starting from around £400. These are usually larger, 15-inch models equipped to handle office tasks.
Cheap Lenovo laptops
Lenovo’s entire everyday laptop range is known as IdeaPad. Its cheapest laptops have model numbers starting with 1 and 3, with thin and light laptops getting an S on the end of their name– the IdeaPad 320S is a mid-range thin and light laptop, for example. Laptops in the 100 range tend to be very basic, equipped with 32GB of storage and Intel Celeron processors. Around 300 models tend to be upgraded to Intel Pentium,Core i3 and beyond, along with 4GB of Ram.
Cheap Acer laptops
Acer has cheap laptops in several lines. It has Chromebooks, as well as its thin and light Swift range, and everyday Aspire range. Lower numbers (Aspire ES1, ES2, 3 and 6, Swift 1 and 3) denote cheaper models, and Swift 1 generally covers most of the firm’s laptops under £500, although you may also find Intel Pentium Swift 3 machines at the upper end of the scale. There are also Spin laptops, which are 2-in-1s, and follow the same number rules as above.
Cheap Asus laptops
Asus doesn’t have a huge range of cheap laptops, but most of them are known as VivoBooks, although some retailers don’t include the VivoBook name in some laptop product listings. The very cheapest are the E Series (£180 for an E203, for example), but there are also larger models starting with X (X403, for example). These frequently have Intel Celeron processors on board, and either 2GB or 4GB of Ram.
It’s hard to ever pay full price for a laptop, but just because a deal exists doesn’t mean it’s special. Find out how to see through the tricks of the trade at key retailers.
Currys PC World deals and ‘clearance’ sales
At certain times of year, Currys PC World loads up its clearance pages with laptop deals. Despite what the term ‘clearance’ might suggest, discounts on these models can often be very small or, in some odd cases, nothing at all.
A snapshot look at the clearance page on 6 December 2018, for example, shows six models, three of which are discounted by up to £30, one with no discount at all, then two very expensive models discounted by up to £350. Of those deals, at least one was for a model that was several years old and listed only slightly cheaper than the most up-to-date version.
In short, clearance at Currys PC World does not automatically mean a good deal. Indeed, many deals on Currys PC World, clearance or otherwise, aren’t what they seem, with nearly every laptop initially going on sale for a high price and then dropping to a more regular price after a month or so.
You’ll often find discounts of £150 on laptops that would have cost £500-600, when their actual value is closer to the £350-400 they’re being sold for. In short, if you see a discount for more than £150 on a laptop in Currys PC World, you may well be getting a good deal.
Currys PC World also operates a price-matching scheme that, again, is unlikely to be as good as it seems. Many of the laptops that the retailer sells are exclusive to the store; it might be an exclusive colour or slight change in specification, but it’s enough to negate the price match.
Amazon laptop deals
Amazon isn’t well known for its laptop deals, but it does have a wide variety of notebooks on sale at any given time. However, many of its best-sellers are actually quite old and some are even second-hand. It’s always worth double-checking Amazon in case they have a laptop you’re interested in on discount.
Be wary, too, of small-brand laptops sold exclusively on Amazon. We’ve tested a few and none of them have impressed despite the seemingly overwhelming number of positive reviews from buyers.
Cheap Apple laptops
‘Cheap’ and ‘Apple’ aren’t words you’ll often find paired and, indeed, discounts aren’t common, especially on newer models.
Unfortunately your budget will have to stretch a lot higher than £500, at least unless you're willing to turn to the second hand market.
If you are considering splashing out, we have found that in many cases, buying direct from Apple isn’t the cheapest option. When we last looked in August 2018, we found most retailers had identical models to those sold on Apple’s website for between £100 and £450 less, depending on the model.
While visiting an Apple Store is undoubtedly a little piece of tech heaven, it pays to buy your model of choice from somewhere else.
It’s also challenging to find non-current Apple laptops on sale that aren’t used or refurbished; when a laptop is dropped from Apple’s website it very quickly disappears off the face of the Earth.
If you're wondering whether Apple is for you, our guide can help you choose between an Apple Macbook, PR and Chromebook.