You can easily spend over a grand on a new laptop, but with phones costing so much now it's hardly surprising if you can't afford a flagship model. Luckily, budget laptops are better than ever and you can get a lot for not much money and we have a range of choices here from the likes of Acer, Lenovo and HP.
If you just need to do basic tasks like browsing the web, checking email and office work then a budget laptop will be up to the job. Plenty will be fine for streaming video, too, albeit on lower quality displays and with typically poor sound. Some even have enough power for photo editing without slowing down and casual games.
When looking at budget laptops, we're typically meaning around £500 or lower, but we may include the odd model that goes slightly over if it's worth it. Often there will be many different models to choose from depending on things like how much storage you need.
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.
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.
Best budget laptop 2020
1. Lenovo IdeaPad S340
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 full Lenovo IdeaPad S340 review
2. Honor MagicBook 14
Honor's first laptop in the UK is a knockout for the price - both looking and performing like a much more expensive device.
Despite the MagicBook 14 being a dainty and lightweight laptop, it still boasts a decent AMD processor and Radeon graphics card, which means that it can easily handle a couple of games or high-performance programmes. In addition, the longevity of the battery life will give you more than 10 hours of work or play time.
Spec nuts will notice that this laptop is almost identical to Huawei's MateBook D 14. However, the one key difference is that this laptop is less expensive.
Read our full Honor MagicBook 14 review
3. HP 250 G7
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 full HP 250 G7 review
4. Acer Swift 3 (SF-314)
The Acer Swift 3 is an excellent choice for those looking for a reasonably priced laptop that does everything well.
There's no single area where the Swift 3 blows the competition out of the water. Instead, it does a bit of everything to a decent standard including design, build quality, features and performance.
Sure, there are laptops out there with longer battery life or more powerful components. What you get here is a nice balance if you don't have one particular need - sometimes being a jack of all trades is a good thing.
Read our full Acer Swift 3 (SF-314) review
5. Acer Aspire 3 (A315-54)
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 full Acer Aspire 3 (A315-54) review
6. Avita Liber
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 full Avita Liber review
7. Lhmzniy A9
Lhmzniy avoids the tendency of many laptops to pair a capable processor with paltry offerings of RAM, and performance on the A9 benefits hugely as a result. Paired with Windows 10 Pro it offers an excellent user experience, while the excellent chocolate keyboard makes typing a joy.
But you won’t be looking at the keyboard much, and the screen above it is a real disappointment. Its Full HD resolution is good on paper, but colours lack vibrancy and visibility is extremely poor in any situation with bright lighting.
The speakers perform well, but unfortunately it’s another sound that dominates the experience - an extremely loud fan. It kicks in as soon as you turn on the A9, and is a constant reminder of the laptop’s aggressive cooling system.
Compromises are inevitable at this affordable price point, but the A9’s drawbacks are hard to ignore.
Read our full Lhmzniy A9 review
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.