Your buying guide for the best budget laptops in 2020
The very best laptops can cost well over a grand, sometimes two, but for some people it's not all about the best performance and the fanciest design. For many consumers the best laptop is the one that offers the best value, doing exactly what they need and nothing more, saving money for other gadgets like phones.
You'll find a plethora of cheap laptops available at major outlets such as Currys, Amazon, Argos and John Lewis, as well as online retailers such as Laptops Direct. If you don't know what is a good spec for the money then you will struggle to work out which offers the best value, and also which is going to be capable of doing what you need.
These days it's fair to say pretty much all budget laptops are going to be up to homework, email, social media and web browsing. Many will be capable of video streaming, though the screen and audio quality and graphics are going to come into play here; not many are going to be up to anything more than casual games.
Typically speaking a budget laptop is one that costs under £500, but in many cases that is double what you'll be looking to spend - especially if it's a present. In our chart below we've rounded up a range of options to suit all budgets - and all of them tested, so you can buy with complete peace of mind that you won't be disappointed.
But budget laptops don't hang around for long, simply because they are so sought after and offer little profit margin for manufacturers. They can also be advertised under slightly differing model names. As well as pointing you in the direction of some great cheap laptops, in this article we also aim to educate you on what makes a good budget laptop spec, so that even if these laptops aren't available you can feel confident in knowing what you want.
What should I look for in a cheap laptop?
Which specifications are important depends on what you want to do with your laptop. You may want lots of storage or you might need as much power for the money as possible.
Starting with the screen, you need to decide on a size. Most laptops will be 13- or 15in but you can also go smaller or larger if you want something even more portable or if it rarely needs to move.
Remember that the size of the screen will have an impact on things like the weight of the laptop and other things like the keyboard and even how many ports and connections it can have.
It's typical to find a budget laptop with an unexciting resolution of 1366x768 (HD) but if you can find higher, probably 1920x1080 (or Full HD) then you'll be much better off. Look for a matt finish which is preferable to a glossy screen that reflects like a mirror when it's bright and sunny.
You'll also want to look out for the type of display and this is often an area where costs are cut so viewing angles can be poor as well as brightness and colour. Get an IPS rather than TN screen if you can.
The processor is the heart of the computer and has a large impact on how fast it runs. You might well find many with an Intel Celeron or similar and these are to be avoided unless you will be simply browsing the web and sending emails.
Look for either an Intel Core processor or AMD A-series if you can – and some of the laptops in this chart do offer these. When it comes to Intel, go for a Core i5 processor if you can, but an i3 is a good compromise if everything else in the laptop is to your liking and you're only doing basic tasks.
We run various benchmarks on every laptop so be sure to read the full review to see the results and what they mean for daily use.
Storage and memory
Don't confuse storage and memory. The latter - nomrally called RAM - is for temporarily storing information when you open an app or file, while storage is the space to store files and programs.
In both cases it's better to have as much as possible. A lot of budget laptops will come with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive but only 4GB of RAM. An SSD (solid state drive) is becoming more common and helps keep things speedy but don't expect more than 8GB of RAM at under £300.
Remember that you can also always use cloud storage if you need additional space.
Do you need a CD or DVD drive?
Modern laptops ditch the CD drive to save money and weight. So if you need one, be sure to check your chosen laptop has an optical drive, but it's highly unlikely. You can still buy external DVD drives if you really need it.
These days virtually all laptops come with Windows 10. Don't assume they will have Microsoft Office, though. This is separate software, but you can download free alternatives.
What if I can't find the exact laptop reviewed?
At the time of writing every one of the laptops listed here is available to buy in the UK. However, the budget laptop market is extremely volatile, and retailers tend to secure limited stock of any model so there's a chance it can go out of stock without us noticing – we check as often as we can.
Also remember that laptop makers will make many variations of the same laptop, with subtly different specifications such as a different sized hard drive. It's generally safe to buy one of these alternatives if you understand the differences in specification.
- Reviewed on: 11 December 2019
As we expected following an initial look, the S340 has turned out to be one of the best budget laptops we've tested after going through our lab.
At an extremely affordable starting price, you get a surprisingly stylish laptop with a nice keyboard, a decent set of ports and long battery life. Performance, as you would expect, is limited to basic tasks but you can upgrade to more powerful specs with plenty of still affordable models on offer.
The biggest let down here is the low quality display so look for an IPS model if this will bug you.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad S340 review.
2. HP 250 G7
- Reviewed on: 30 August 2019
It has a distinctly plain design and so so build quality but that's typically the case with any budget laptop.
What's important here is that you get a set of core specs that is highly unusual at this price. Namely a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. This means performance can match that of much more expensive laptops and the 350 G7 is capable of tackling more demanding tasks.
Battery life is decent, too but the poor screen stops it scoring any higher.
Read our HP 250 G7 review.
- Reviewed on: 16 August 2019
There's a lot to like about the Acer Aspire 3 including it's simple yet nice design including fairly slim bezels, decent selection of ports and a dedicated numpad.
We're more impressed by the specs and performance on offer here at this price. A speedy Core i5 processor means it can keep up with much more expensive laptops in some tasks. There's also a huge 1TB of storage if you have a lot of files to keep on this laptop.
In order to smash it out the park, we'd like a brighter screen that has a higher resolution and longer batter life than six hours
Read our Acer Aspire 3 (A315-54) review.
- Reviewed on: 5 July 2019
The Lenovo V330 by no means the perfect budget laptop but is a great option for those looking for power and performance rather than style and design.
This might be an unsightly laptop on the whole, but it has surprisingly good AMD components including a dedicated graphics card. In our benchmarks it even outperformed laptops costing over £1,000. It's also portable and has good connectivity.
However, it flounders when it comes to the display which is seriously lacking in brightness and this doesn't even appear to help battery life which is short to say the least.
Read our Lenovo V330-14ARR review.
- Reviewed on: 19 November 2018
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S proves cheap laptops don’t have to be undesirable. A portable frame and modern look make this a laptop you could be proud to take out at the local coffee shop.
We’re also glad to see a Pentium-based system run Windows 10 so well, with performance in basic tasks similar to that of an Intel Core machine,
The screen is very poor, however, thanks to its use of a basic TN panel. If you’re looking for something that’ll double as a portable Netflix/iPlayer, you might want to save up for something with an IPS screen. You’re unlikely to find many Windows 10 laptops as attractive and slick at £350, though.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad 320S review.
- Reviewed on: 19 November 2018
The Slim is a dependable, well designed and cost effective little machine. It's certainly one of the cheapest we've ever tested that's has been worthy of recommendation.
If you’re looking for something portable to take notes on, browse the internet or watch a few films it’s a solid choice – just don’t expect a whole lot more than that.
Read our iOTA Slim 14 inch review.
7. Acer Swift 1
- Reviewed on: 12 December 2017
The Acer Swift 1 is perhaps the most expensive-looking and feeling Windows 10 laptop you can get for around £350.
A metal shell, solid keyboard and trackpad, and a 13.3in Full HD IPS screen are all to be celebrated. However, performance isn't great from the Pentium processor so you'll need to stick to basic tasks and casual gaming.
Read our Acer Swift 1 review.
8. Avita Liber
- Reviewed on: 20 September 2019
The Avita Liber offers a sleek MacBook feel with thin bezels, a full metal chassis, and slim frame. You also get a nifty fingerprint scanner. The Core-i3 processor isn't particularly powerful compared to rivals, which is unfortunate.
It's not ideal for heavy graphics either, though you may get away with casual gaming. Higher specs would certainly bump the device out of the budget price range, but as a trade-off for price you get a beautiful machine with specs that should easily satisfy web and social media browsing, streaming, and word processing.
The Avita Liber costs £529 and is available in the UK from select retailers JD Williams, Studio and Look Again, and eBuyer. The paisley print models are available in Lilac and Gold, but you can opt for a solid white or blue as well.
Read our Avita Liber review.