The 24 Best Budget Laptops For Your Money: January 2015

| January 20, 2015 | (0)

The Best Budget Laptops For Your Money?

By that, I mean the laptops that offer the best features at a price of $550 or less

Why would you want that? Because if you’re about to buy a laptop, might as well get the one that offers the best features possible for your budget, right?

What are budget mainstream laptops ideal for?

By mainstream, I mean laptops that are well balanced, capable of handling the vast majority of tasks that you expect of them. Generally have a screen size between 11.6″ and 17.3″, with 15.6″ being the most common.

They are ideal for:

  • Web browsing
  • Microsoft Office
  • Emails
  • Listening to music
  • Watching TV/movies from DVDs, local files or streaming. HDMI outputs allow you to connect your laptop to a HDTV if you wish to.
  • Students
  • Family members
  • School

Pretty much anything that you can think of really, except for:

  1. Gaming, where a powerful dedicated video card is required. I suggest a few alternatives with powerful integrated video cards, but there are no match for models with more powerful dedicated video cards.
  2. Workstation, for professionals who require outstanding reliability, easy servicing, workstation-class video cards, top-notch IPS screen with excellent color reproduction, better security and the like.
  3. Ultra-portable (also known as ultrabooks), where smaller dimensions, low-weight and long battery life matter the most. Then again, some the recommended alternatives are highly portable and have good battery life, so check them out.

Some alternative models are good enough for gaming, workstation use or that are highly portable, but in this article I focused on recommending the best overall laptops at a given price.

There’s also an article for The 10 Best Mainstream Laptops For $600 to $800 if you want a better laptop with superior features and higher performance.

There will be an article for the Best High-End Mainstream Laptops For Your Money soon, if you want nothing short of the best!

If you want a gaming, workstation or ultra-portable laptop, I invite you to check out all our other laptop articles to find the one that fits your requirements. I plan to update and add new laptop articles in the next few weeks and next few months.

If you have the time to do research… but who does?

Many of us don’t have the time to read or the knowledge to understand detailed laptop reviews and specifications and just want the answers.

In other words, what you want to know is:
What’s the best laptop for my budget?

So if you don’t have the time, don’t worry. We’re here to help you with this article.

The features that we evaluate in order to make our recommendations:

1. Price
2. Performance: CPU, RAM, Storage, Video Card and Wireless Adapter
3. Screen: Size, Resolution, Matte or Glossy, Panel type (TN, IPS, etc.), Brightness, Contrast, Viewing Angles and Color Accuracy
4. Portability: Dimensions, Weight, Real-life battery life during average web browsing?
5. Usability: Keyboard: Layout, Key size, Travel/Pressure, Key Shape and any additional Function keys. Touch pad quality, trackpoint, backlit keyboard, numpad, Operating System, which ports are offered, Webcam resolution, sound quality, optical Drive, noise levels.
6. Reliability: How solid is the chassis? Are the temperatures under load reasonable? How solid are the screen hinges? Is the keyboard spill-resistant? Overall manufacturer long-term reliability? How easy is it to service the laptop?
7. Warranty: Warranty length? What does the warranty cover?

We then recommend laptops that score the best overall, at various price points.

Alternatives recommendations:

We also suggest alternative recommendations, with clear explanations as to why they are interesting alternatives. That way, you can easily choose the best laptop to answer YOUR needs and desires.

Put all of this together and you get this article: The Best Budget Laptops For Your Money.

Dell Inspiron 7000 I734-750SLV

The Dell Inspiron 7000 I734-750SLV, an alternative 2-in-1 convertible laptop suggested at the $500 price point.

A few reminders:

I’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices I’ve seen on January 20th 2015.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read this article:

- This list is based on the best prices from B&H, NewEgg and/or Amazon. Prices and availability change all the time. While I can’t keep up with ever changing prices, I can suggest to you great laptops that you won’t regret buying.
- All prices are based on new laptops prices, no refurbished or open box laptops are listed; they might be a good deal, but they come with trade offs, such as missing accessories, higher failure rate, limited return policy, limited warranty, etc.

Summary

Click on any of these links to jump to the section that interests you. Alternatively, scroll down to see them all, in this order.

The Best Budget Laptop for:

  1. $200
  2. $300-350
  3. $400
  4. $500

Upgrade your laptop:

  1. Upgrade the RAM
  2. Upgrade the hard drive to a larger/faster model or to a SSD
  3. USB DVD and Blu-ray External Burners
  4. The Best WiFi Routers, WiFi Adapters and Bluetooth Adapters

Best Laptop for $200

HP Stream 11

- $199.99 – Amazon (Horizon Blue)
- $199.99 – Amazon (Orchid Magenta)
- $199.99 – B&H (International Shipping), Horizon Blue

About the HP Stream 11:

The HP Stream 11 is a good laptop for $199. While there comprises made to reach that price point (slow CPU, 2GB of RAM, limited storage, TN screen), it is perfectly usable for web browsing, e-mails and Office.

Speaking of Office, you get a one year subscription to Office 365 included with the laptop. You also get 1TB of OneDrive storage for free for the first year.

Windows 8.1 with Bing: By default, Internet Explorer uses Bing as its search engine. You can change this.

Pros:

  1. Lowest cost for a Windows 8.1 laptop: $200!
  2. Highly portable: 11.81 x 8.1 x 0.78″ and only 2.74lbs! Small and light power adapter too.
  3. Matte (non-reflective) screen
  4. Matte body finish, so not a fingerprint magnet.
  5. Excellent build quality for the price—solidly built for a budget computer
  6. Great battery life: 7-8 hours of web browsing
  7. Quick charge: 0 to 100% in less than 2.5 hours.
  8. 1TB of OneDrive storage (free for the first year)
  9. Fanless: Silent
  10. Runs cool, so you can use it on your lap without getting uncomfortable.
  11. Bluetooth 4.0
  12. 97% of a full sized keyboard. Keys have a good travel.

Cons:

  1. Bay Trail Celerons CPUs are not powerful CPUs; don’t expect to multitask or to run heavy applications like Adobe Photoshop.
  2. Only 2GB of RAM; don’t expect to multitask, run many applications at the same time, nor to have a lot of web browser tabs open at the same time without slowdowns.
  3. Touchpad is average at best
  4. Speakers are not very loud, not ideal for movies or music playback.
  5. Screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution and a TN panel: Poor contrast, not accurate color reproduction and poor viewing angles. Expected at this price point.
  6. Limited onboard storage (32GB) with only 17.5GB available. You get 1TB of OneDrive storage for free for one year and you can also use a SD card.
  7. WiFi limited to 802.11n with a single stream, 2.4GHz only and only 20MHz channel: Fine for Web browsing, slow for file transfers over the network.
  8. No VGA output
  9. No LAN
  10. No optical drive
  11. No Numpad
  12. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop

Ideal for:

  1. Anyone who’s looking for an inexpensive computer for web, office, emails and the like.
  2. Someone who’s traveling a lot and who wants an highly-portable, lightweight laptop to carry around all day.
  3. Someone who wants a laptop with a long battery life.
  4. Someone who wants to use their laptop outside, thanks to the anti-reflective matte screen.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to run heavy programs for image editing or video editing
  • Someone with high-storage requirements: You’ll definitely need a SD card or an external drive to help
  • Someone who wants to play video games.
  • Someone who wants a powerful laptop to run about anything.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Specifications:

Components
HP Stream 11
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit with Bing
CPU Intel Celeron N2840 (Bay Trail) 2.16GHz (2.58GHz Turbo) Dual-Core
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlit, Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes, 720p
Intel HD Graphics
RAM
Max RAM
2GB DDR3L
None, soldered onboard, not upgradable
Storage 32GB eMMC + 1TB of OneDrive storage (free for the first year)
Optical Drive None
Audio Integrated microphone
Two Stereo Speakers
Networking No LAN
802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports SD Card Reader
Headphone 3.5mm jack
1 x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
11.81 x 8.1 x 0.78″
2.74lbs
Battery Life 7-8 hours

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#1: HP Stream 13: Same as HP Stream 11, but with 13.3″ screen

- Horizon Blue – $226.33 (Amazon)
- Horizon Blue – $226.33 (B&H – International Shipping)
- Orchid Magenta – $239.32 (Amazon)

The HP Stream 13 has the same components as the HP Stream 11, but instead of a 11.6″ screen, you get a 13.3″ screen.

Battery life is a tad shorter, at 6.5-7.5 hours instead of 7-8 hours.

#2: Slightly more powerful, larger screen, 500GB hard drive

ASUS F551MAV-DB02-B:
- $249.00 (Amazon)
- $249.00 at B&H (International Shipping)
Compared to the HP Stream 11, the ASUS F551MAV-DB02-B offers a larger 15.6″ screen (same resolution), twice the RAM (4GB vs 2GB), far more storage space, thanks to a 500GB hard drive and a numpad. Despite its 15.6″ size, it does not come with an optical drive.

The additional RAM will help it handle a bit more multitasking and more tabs in the web browser before slowing down. That said, its equipped with the same CPU as the HP Stream 11, so don’t expect a powerhouse either. Just slightly higher performance.

It has VGA and LAN ports. No bluetooth.

Due to its larger screen size, it is less portable and heavier. Its battery life is also a lot shorter, at only 3-4 hours.

You get a 1-Year Accidental Damage Protection. Covers accidental drops, spills, power surges and fire damage for the first year. Visit adp.asus.com. Registration required.

#3: Slightly more performance, Bluetooth, 5-6hrs battery

Compared to the HP Stream 11, the Dell Inspiron 15R i3531-1200BK offers a larger 15.6″ screen (same resolution), twice the RAM (4GB vs 2GB), far more storage space, thanks to a 500GB hard drive and a numpad. Despite its 15.6″ size, it does not come with an optical drive.

The Dell Inspiron 15R i3531-1200BK – $259.00 at B&H (International Shipping) is a good alternative to the ASUS F551MAV-DB02-B alternative above. Performance is identical, thanks to the same CPU, RAM and hard drive.

You get a longer battery life (5-6 hours vs 3-4 hours) and Bluetooth. However, you don’t get the VGA and LAN ports of the ASUS, nor do you get the accidental damage warranty.

#4: Lighter alternative with longer battery life

If you need a laptop that’s even more portable and has a longer battery life, the $219.99 ASUS X205TA-DH01 is only .69″ think and weights only 2.2 pounds. Its battery life is 10 to 12 hours. Its battery charges up quickly, in about an hour.

Compared to the HP Stream 11, its performance is lower. Its Atom processor offers lower performance, but also uses less power, meaning that ASUS could use a smaller, lighter battery to offer a longer battery life and a lighter laptop.

Just like the HP Stream, you are limited to 32GB of storage (~20GB with Windows installed). ASUS offers 500GB of storage only and you can expand the laptop’s storage with a micro-SD card.

You get a 1-Year Accidental Damage Protection. Covers accidental drops, spills, power surges and fire damage for the first year. Visit adp.asus.com. Registration required.

Its no powerhouse, but if all you do is text editing, web browsing, emails and the like, its performance is perfectly fine. Ideal if you need an highly portable laptop with a long battery life at a rock-bottom price.

#5: Entry-level detachable 2 in 1 Touchscreen Laptop

ASUS Transformer T100 32GB
- $254.00 (Amazon)
- $269.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

Pros:

  1. Detachable 2 in 1: The computer is contained entirely in the tablet, which can be docked to the keyboard.
  2. 1 year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 included
  3. IPS touchscreen: Beautiful colors, full viewing angles
  4. Long battery life: Expect 7 to 9 hours.
  5. Micro SD card reader: Useful to expand the storage capacity.
  6. Highly portable: 10.3 x 0.4 x 7.0″ and only 2.40lbs for the whole package. The tablet on its own is lighter of course
  7. 30-Day Zero Bright Dot Guarantee ensures ASUS will replace tablet if display has bright dots or dead pixels

Cons:

  1. Weak processor: The Intel Atom Z3775F is a quad-core processor running at 1.33GHz, with Turbo frequencies up to 1.83GHz. While the Atom processor offers far better performance than it used to, it’s still at the bottom of Intel’s stack of CPUs when it comes to performance, offering lower performance than Celeron, Pentium and Core ix CPUs. It’s fine for web browsing, text editing, Office and the like, but forget about running anything that’s even moderately demanding without slowdowns.
  2. Only 2GB of RAM, which cannot be upgraded: Forget multitasking
  3. Limited storage capacity
  4. Limited selection of ports
  5. Adapters required: The micro-B USB port on the tablet only works with USB OTG adapters; you cannot charge the tablet using USB. With a USB OTG Adapter, you can hook up USB devices such as keyboards and flash drives directly to the tablet portion without using the keyboard base. The Micro-HDMI port can be used with a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable if you want to hook up a monitor or HDTV.

Best Laptop for $300-350

Lenovo Thinkpad X140e

$329.00 – Lenovo ThinkPad X140e 20BLS00400 (Amazon)

About the Lenovo Thinkpad X140e:

Windows 7 Pro, great keyboard, 7200rpm hard drive, good battery life, RAM can be upgraded, etc.

Pros:

  1. More powerful processor than lower-priced alternatives: AMD’s A4-5000 1.5GHz quad-core
  2. Fairly portable: 11.6″ x 8.5″ x 1.38″ and 3.92lbs.
  3. Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  4. 7200rpm hard drive is faster than the 5400rpm hard drives found in most budget laptops.
  5. Great battery life: 7-8 hours
  6. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 8GB (2x4GB) by adding a 4GB stick of DDR3 4GB DDR3 1600MHz SO-DIMM RAM.
  7. Only need to remove three screws to access the hard drive and RAM.
  8. Good quality construction despite its low price. It’s not a tank but it’s more sturdy than most budget laptops.
  9. Solid screen hinges
  10. Bluetooth 4.0
  11. VGA Output
  12. Great keyboard
  13. Spill-resistant keyboard
  14. Trackppoint
  15. Battery can be swapped.
  16. Easy to service and to upgrade RAM and hard drive
  17. Anti-reflective (Matte) screen

Cons:

  1. Screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution and a TN panel: Poor contrast, not accurate color reproduction and poor viewing angles. Expected at this price point.
  2. While the CPU is more powerful than lower-end alternatives, it’s no match for Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 series.
  3. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop
  4. No optical drive
  5. No numpad

Ideal for:

  1. Anyone who’s looking for an inexpensive computer for web, office, emails and the like.
  2. Someone who’s traveling a lot and who wants an highly-portable, solid, lightweight laptop to carry around all day.
  3. Someone who wants a laptop with a great keyboard
  4. Someone who wants a laptop with a long battery life.
  5. Someone who wants a solid, reliable laptop
  6. Someone who wants to use their laptop outside, thanks to the anti-reflective matte screen.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to run heavy programs for image editing or video editing
  • Someone who wants to play video games.
  • Someone who wants a powerful laptop to run about anything.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Specifications:

Components
Lenovo Thinkpad X140e
OS Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
CPU AMD A4-5000 1.5GHz quad-core
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes: 720p HD webcam
AMD Radeon HD 8330
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3
2 slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive
Optical Drive None
Audio Integrated microphone
Two Stereo Speakers
Networking 10/100/1000Mbps LAN
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 4-in-1 (MMC/SD/SDHC/SDXC) Card Reader
Headphone or Headset Two-in-one 3.5mm jack
2 x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
VGA Output
Dimensions
Weight
11.6″ x 8.5″ x 1.38″
3.92lbs
Battery Life 7-8 hours

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Alternative #1: Toshiba CB35-B3340 13.3-Inch Chromebook 2 Full HD 1080p IPS Screen

- $329.00 (Amazon)
- $329.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

Think that all budget laptops come with crappy 1366 x 768 TN screen with dull, inaccurate colors and terrible viewing angles?

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is the exception: It comes with a 1920 x 1080 Full HD screen with an IPS panel. IPS means full viewing angles, great contrast and accurate, vibrant colors!

It also features an Intel Celeron Processor N2840 Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.16-2.58GHz CPU, which sips power so that the laptop can provide a battery life of up to 9 hours. With 4GB of RAM, you’ll be able to open plenty of web tabs without any slowdowns.

With the Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7260 adapter and Bluetooth 4.0, you get high performance and reliable connectivity.

About Chromebooks:

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is unlike any laptop that you have ever used, as a matter of a fact this won’t be like anything you have ever used. Simply put: This is just a web browser through and through, with apps. The laptop is more current now so more then ever, with “cloud computing” becoming the latest trend in the market, Chromebooks are literally made for cloud computing.

If you have an Android phone, used Gmail, and regularly used many of Google’s applications, you’ll feel just at home with the Chromebook. Even if that isn’t the case, it’s easy to learn.

Setup is very simple and only takes a few minutes. No need concern yourself with updates, patches, anti-virus software, or even software installation, the OS takes care of it for you automatically. All applications are used through the web browser (you’ve guessed it: Chrome), with Google Docs for office apps, Google Drive to save and share your documents and Google App store.

Thanks to the ChromeOS, the laptop is very snappy and easy to use. Really, if you’re looking for an inexpensive, great looking, simple to use and highly portable computer to browse the web, listen to music, write documents and stream videos, you should highly consider the Toshiba Chromebook 2.

For those who are brand new to Chrome, it will take some time adjusting to the strange new Chrome surroundings, having to work mostly within a browser and relying on the Chrome App Store, but it doesn’t take long to see the benefits of a cloud based laptop that does those everyday tasks so effectively and with minimal fuss.

Alternative #2: Windows 8.1 11.6″ touchscreen ultra-portable available in 4 colors:

ASUS K200MA-DS01T:
- $328.00 Black (Amazon)
- $329.00 Blue (Amazon)
- $307.99 Red (Amazon)
- $299.99 White (Amazon)
- $314.99 Black (B&H – International Shipping)
- $307.99 Red (B&H – International Shipping)
- $309.00 White (B&H – International Shipping)

Small, lightweight and inexpensive laptop with a touchscreen.

It comes with a 500GB hard drive, so storage is no problem.

It also comes with 4GB of RAM (cannot be upgraded unfortunately) and an Intel Celeron N2830 Dual-Core 2.16-2.41GHz CPU, so it’s no powerhouse but if all you want to do with it is browse the Web, listen to some music and use Office applications (Word, Excel, etc.), want a touchscreen and need a decent battery life (4-5 hours), it’s a good choice.

It also comes with the 1-Year Accidental Damage Protection, which covers accidental drops, spills, power surges and fire damage (registration required, for more information, visit http://notebookcare.asus.com ))

Alternative #3: More powerful W8.1 11.6″ touchscreen ultra-portable with longer battery life:

If you don’t mind spending a bit more, the Acer Aspire V3-112P-C2HF – $349.99 (B&H – International Shipping) offers nearly twice the processing power of the ASUS K200MA-DS01T, thanks to its Intel Celeron N2940 Quad-Core 1.83-2.25GHz CPU, compared to the Intel Celeron N2830 Dual-Core 2.16-2.41GHz found in the ASUS laptop.

You also get a longer battery life, at 6-7 hours, compared to 4-5 hours for the ASUS.

This is a case where spending a bit more does get you a better product in my opinion.

Alternative #4: Better detachable 2 in 1 Touchscreen Laptop

ASUS Transformer Book T100 10
- 32GB Tablet + 500GB HDD Dock: Red, White or Dark Grey: $345.99-359.00
- 32GB Tablet + 500GB HDD Dock: Grey or Dark Grey: $359.00 (B&H – International Shipping)
- 64GB Tablet + Dock: Dark Grey, Red or White: $360.00-384.21 (Amazon)
- 64GB Tablet + Dock: Dark Grey: $360.00 (B&H – International Shipping)
- 64GB Tablet + Dock: White: $359.00 (B&H – International Shipping)
- 64GB Tablet + Dock: Red: $369.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

Pros:

  1. Detachable 2 in 1: The computer is contained entirely in the tablet, which can be docked to the keyboard.
  2. 1 year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 included
  3. IPS touchscreen: Beautiful colors, full viewing angles
  4. Long battery life: Expect 9 to 11 hours.
  5. Micro SD card reader: Useful to expand the storage capacity.
  6. Highly portable: 10.3 x 0.4 x 7.0″ and only 2.40lbs for the whole package. The tablet on its own is lighter of course
  7. 30-Day Zero Bright Dot Guarantee ensures ASUS will replace tablet if display has bright dots or dead pixels

Cons:

  1. Weak processor: The Intel Atom Z3775F is a quad-core processor running at 1.46GHz, with Turbo frequencies up to 2.39GHz. While the Atom processor offers far better performance than it used to, it’s still at the bottom of Intel’s stack of CPUs when it comes to performance, offering lower performance than Celeron, Pentium and Core ix CPUs. It’s fine for web browsing, text editing, Office and the like, but forget about running anything that’s even moderately demanding without slowdowns.
  2. Only 2GB of RAM, which cannot be upgraded: Forget multitasking
  3. Limited storage capacity: With Windows taking some space, you’ll have about 46GB free to use.
  4. Limited selection of ports:
  5. Adapters required: The micro-B USB port on the tablet only works with USB OTG adapters; you cannot charge the tablet using USB. With a USB OTG Adapter, you can hook up USB devices such as keyboards and flash drives directly to the tablet portion without using the keyboard base. The Micro-HDMI port can be used with a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable if you want to hook up a monitor or HDTV.

Acer offers the Acer Aspire Switch 10 SW5-012-16GW for $350, but the ASUS is a better alternative: Faster processor, longer battery life, higher resolution screen, available in multiple colors, better keyboard, USB 3.0 instead of USB 2.0 on the keyboard and it’s slightly lighter (2.4lbs vs 2.58lbs)

Best Laptop for $400

Lenovo Thinkpad E545 20B20011US:

- $399.99 (Amazon)
- $415.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

About the Lenovo Thinkpad E545 20B20011US:

Pros:

  1. More powerful processor than lower-priced alternatives: AMD A6-5350M 2.9-3.5GHz Dual-Core Richland
  2. Decent integrated video card performance for the price: Older games will be playable, modern games may be playable at low settings. Add a second stick of RAM to enable dual-channel RAM to boost the video card performance.
  3. Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  4. 7200rpm hard drive is faster than the 5400rpm hard drives found in most budget laptops.
  5. Good battery life: 5-6 hours
  6. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 8GB (2x4GB) by adding a 4GB stick of DDR3 4GB DDR3 1600MHz SO-DIMM RAM.
  7. Good quality construction despite its low price. It’s not a tank but it’s more sturdy than most budget laptops.
  8. Solid screen hinges
  9. Bluetooth 4.0
  10. VGA Output
  11. Great keyboard
  12. Spill-resistant keyboard
  13. Trackppoint
  14. Battery can be swapped.
  15. Easy to service and to upgrade RAM and hard drive
  16. Anti-reflective (Matte) screen
  17. Numpad
  18. Optical drive
  19. Four USB ports, including three USB 3.0 ports!

Cons:

  1. Screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution and a TN panel: Poor contrast, not accurate color reproduction and poor viewing angles. Expected at this price point.
  2. While the CPU is more powerful than lower-end alternatives, it’s no match for Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 series.
  3. Not an ultra-portable: 9.65 x 14.84 x 1.35″ and 5.2lbs.

Ideal for:

  1. Anyone who’s looking for an inexpensive computer for web, office, emails and the like.
  2. Someone who wants to be able to upgrade to 8GB of RAM.
  3. Someone who wants a laptop with a great keyboard
  4. Someone who wants a laptop with a good battery life.
  5. Someone who wants a solid, reliable laptop
  6. Someone who wants to use their laptop outside, thanks to the anti-reflective matte screen.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to run heavy programs for image editing or video editing
  • Someone who wants to play demanding modern video games.
  • Someone who’s traveling a lot and who wants an highly-portable, lightweight laptop to carry around all day.
  • Someone who wants a powerful laptop to run about anything.

Click here to go back up to the summary
Specifications:

Components
Lenovo Thinkpad E545 20B20011US
OS Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, Windows 8.1 Pro upgrade ready
CPU AMD A6-5350M 2.9-3.5GHz Dual-Core Richland
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes: HD 720p (1280×720)
AMD Radeon HD 8450G
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz
2 slots, one open slot, maximum 16GB (2x8GB)
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 5,400RPM
Optical Drive DVD Burner
Audio Integrated echo-cancelation dual array microphones
Stereo Speakers
Dolby Advanced Audio V2
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Ports Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm 2-in-1 combo jack
3 x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
9.65 x 14.84 x 1.35″
5.2lbs
Battery Life 5-6 hours

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Alternative #1: More powerful CPU and higher capacity hard drive

The $384.99 – Acer Aspire E5-571-34AK (B&H – International Shipping) comes with the Intel “Haswell” Core i3-4030U Dual-Core + Hyper-threading CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

So why isn’t it the main recommendation? It’s simple: While the Acer Aspire E5-571-34AK is more powerful, the Lenovo Edge E545 is more solid, has a better keyboard that’s spill-resistant and 4 USB ports vs 2 for the ASUS.

If you prefer higher CPU performance, get this Acer Aspire E5-571-34AK laptop, the ASUS X552 below or the 17.3″ Acer Aspire E5-731-P3ZW below it. If you prefer a slightly less powerful CPU, a better video card, a better keyboard, a more solid laptop and more USB ports, get the Lenovo.

#2: More powerful CPU, more RAM and higher capacity hard drive

The $419.00 – ASUS X-Series X552LAV-AH31 (B&H – International Shipping) comes with the Intel “Haswell” Core i3-4030U Dual-Core + Hyper-threading CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

Compared to the Acer above, it has 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB and comes with a 1 year warranty that covers accidental damage.

#3: More powerful CPU, larger higher resolution screen and higher capacity hard drive

The $418.44 – Acer Aspire E5-731-P3ZW (B&H – International Shipping) comes with the Intel “Haswell” Core i3-4030U Dual-Core + Hyper-threading CPU, a 17.3″ screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

Just like the Lenovo and unlike the first two alternatives, you get four USB ports: Two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports. You also get a VGA output and Bluetooth.

With its larger 17.3″ screen, it’s not as portable, with dimensions of 16.7 x 1.1 x 11.4″ and a weight of 6.61 lbs. Battery life is on the short side, at 3-4 hours.

#4: Entry-Level Gaming Laptop

The $404.99 (Amazon) – Acer Aspire E5-551-86R8, comes with the latest generation AMD “Kaveri” A8-7100 Quad-Core 1.8-3.0 GHz APU and an AMD Radeon R5 integrated video card.

If you’re on a tight budget, this laptop should run the vast majority of video games, but you will have to lower the graphic settings to low for most games, in order to get decent frame rates. Still, for $400, you’re not going to get a more powerful gaming laptop.

#5: Convertible 2-in-1 touchscreen laptop

Dell Inspiron i3147-3750sLV
- $374.99 (Amazon)
- $424.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

This laptop comes with a 360 degrees hinge, allowing you to flip it and use the laptop as a tablet. Compared to the ASUS T100 recommended at lower prices points:

- Equipped with an Intel Pentium quad-core 2.16-2.58GHz CPU (Bay trail), 4GB of RAM, it is significantly more powerful and capable of handling more demanding tasks.
- 500GB hard drive
- You also get more ports, that are full size.
- The screen is larger at 11.6″ vs 10.1″ for the AUS T100.

The downsides, compared to the ASUS T100, are that:

  1. You cannot detach the screen from the base.
  2. It’s larger and heavier (3.1lbs vs 2.4lbs).
  3. Its battery life isn’t as long, at 6-7.5 hours vs 9-11 hours
  4. It’s more expensive.

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Best Laptop for $500

Lenovo ThinkPad E440 20C5004YUS

- $497.00 – Amazon
$575.00 – B&H (International Shipping)

About the Lenovo ThinkPad E440 20C5004YUS:

Pros:

  1. Powerful processor, capable of handling more demanding tasks: Intel Core i5-4200M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.5GHz-3.1GHz Turbo
  2. Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  3. 7200rpm hard drive is faster than the 5400rpm hard drives found in most budget laptops.
  4. Good battery life: 5-6hours
  5. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 8GB (2x4GB) by adding a 4GB stick of DDR3 4GB DDR3 1600MHz SO-DIMM RAM.
  6. Good quality construction despite its low price. It’s not a tank but it’s more sturdy than most budget laptops.
  7. Solid screen hinges
  8. Bluetooth 4.0
  9. VGA Output
  10. Great keyboard
  11. Spill-resistant keyboard
  12. Trackppoint
  13. Battery can be swapped.
  14. Easy to service and to upgrade RAM and hard drive
  15. Anti-reflective (Matte) screen
  16. Optical drive

Cons:

  1. Screen with a 1366 x 768 resolution and a TN panel: Poor contrast, not accurate color reproduction and poor viewing angles. Expected at this price point.
  2. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like. Forget about gaming.
  3. No Numpad
  4. Limited portability: 13.5″ x 9.4″ x 1.1″ and 4.69lbs.

Ideal for:

  1. Anyone who’s looking a relatively powerful, solid and reliable laptop.
  2. Someone wanting to run heavy programs such as image editing
  3. Someone who wants to be able to upgrade to 16GB of RAM.
  4. Someone who wants a laptop with a great keyboard
  5. Someone who wants a laptop with a good battery life.
  6. Someone who wants to use their laptop outside, thanks to the anti-reflective matte screen.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to play video games.
  • Someone who’s traveling a lot and who wants an highly-portable, lightweight laptop to carry around all day.
  • Someone who wants a powerful laptop to run about anything.

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Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad E440 20C5004YUS
OS Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i5-4200M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.5GHz-3.1GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
14″ 1366 x 768 Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes
Intel HD 4600
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz
2 Slot, maximum 16GB
Storage 500GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD Burner
Audio Integrated echo-cancelation dual array microphones
Stereo Speakers
Dolby Advanced Audio V2
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 4-in 1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm 2-in-1 combo jack

2x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0 (Powered)
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
13.5″ x 9.4″ x 1.1″
4.69lbs
Battery Life 5-6 hours

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Alternatives:

#1: Entry-level Gaming laptop alternative:
The Lenovo Z50 (80EC000TUS) – $529.00 (Amazon) features the latest generation AMD “Kaveri” A10-7300 Quad-Core 1.9-3.2 GHz APU and an AMD Radeon R6 integrated video card.

If you’re on a tight budget, this laptop should run the vast majority of video games, but you will have to lower the graphic settings to low or medium for most games, in order to get decent frame rates.

#2: Higher resolution screen alternative:
The HP Pavilion 17-e117dx – $494.99 (Amazon) is a laptop with a 17.3″ screen that has a 1600 x 900 resolution.

Fairly potent CPU too, Intel Core i3-3130M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.6GHz. 4GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive.  Needless to say, with such a big screen, it’s anything but portable. It’s heavy and large.

#3: Higher-end detachable 2 in 1 Touchscreen Laptop
ASUS Transformer Book T200TA
- $469.00 (Amazon)
$469.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

Like the ASUS Transformer T100, but want an higher-end model with a slightly faster CPU and 4GB of RAM? This is it.

#4: More powerful detachable 2 in 1 Touchscreen Laptop
Like the ASUS Transformer T100, but want a more powerful CPU than the Intel Atom and more than 64GB of flash storage?

The Lenovo Miix 2 – $514.98 at Amazon is an excellent alternative.

It features a dual-core + hyper-threading Intel Core i3-4012Y and a 128GB SSD.

It has three modes: Regular laptop, stand and tablet. 7-8 hours battery life, great speakers and lightweight: The tablet itself weights 1.76lbs, while the base weights 1.21lbs.

#5: Flippable 11.6″ IPS screen (360 degrees hinge), backlit keyboard, can be used as tablet:
Dell Inspiron 3000 I3148-6840SLV:
- $519.00 (Amazon)
- $519.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

It’s also available as a 13.3″ model, with more ports (3 USB ports (2xUSB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0), HDMI) and a built-in stylus:
Dell Inspiron 7000 I734-750SLV:
- $529.66 (Amazon)
- $546.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

With dimensions of 0.7 x 12.9 x 8.7″ and a weight of 3.6lbs, it’s bigger and heavier than the 11.6″ model. That’s the trade-off: You either get the smaller and lighter 11.6″ model with less ports, or the bigger and heavier 13.3″ model with more ports and the built-in stylus. Your choice.

Upgrade your Laptop:

Upgrade your RAM:

RAM can easily be upgraded on most laptops. Do note that some laptops cannot be upgraded at all, due to their unique design. I provide that info for main recommendations, for alternatives, you can find that info on the product information page, usually under specifications. Otherwise, a quick google search on the manufacturer’s website should provide that info. Feel free to ask me in the comment section if you aren’t sure and can’t find the info.

Pick one of the following recommendations below, depending on if your laptop comes with a single stick of RAM or two, or if you can have up to 4 sticks.

My recommendations should be compatible with all the laptops recommended in this guide, all those that can be upgraded that is.

I recommend the most reliable sticks that I can find and that are available internationally.

Add a single 4GB stick: Crucial 4GB 1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM:

- $35.49 (Amazon)
- $36.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

Add a single 8GB stick: Crucial 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM

- $66.99 (Amazon)
- $68.76 (B&H – International Shipping)

2x4GB (8GB) kit: Crucial 8GB (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM

- $66.99 (Amazon)
- $73.98 (B&H – International Shipping)

2x8GB (16GB) kit: Crucial 16GB (2x8GB) 1600MHz DDR3 SODIMM

- $129.99 (Amazon)
- $137.52 (B&H – International Shipping)

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Upgrade your hard drive:

You can upgrade your hard drive to a faster and/or a larger hard drive. See our article on The Best Hard Drives (HDD) For Your Money and scroll down to the best 2.5″ hard drives for my recommendations.

Do note that most laptops accept hard drives with a 9.5mm height. Some laptops, can only accept drives with a 7mm height, but those are the exception rather than the norm. Do also note that some laptops cannot be upgraded at all, due to their unique design.

Upgrade to a SSD

SSD wise, I recommend 7mm thick SSDs, so they should fit in pretty much any laptop with a standard hard drive.

A SSD (Solid State Drive) is far faster than a hard drive (See our SSD FAQ) and it also consumes less power than a hard drive, so replacing a hard drive by a SSD will slightly boost your laptop’s battery life.

If you want to upgrade your hard drive to a SSD, I recommend that you read our ‘The Best SSDs (Solid State Drives) For Your Money‘ article.

I also recommend getting this Kingwin SATA to USB 3.0 adapter: $17.99 at B&H (International Shipping), to help you transfer the content of your hard drive to the SSD, in order to minimize downtime and make your life easier. It’s compatible with pretty much all 2.5″ SATA drives.

Keep your old hard drive for external storage via an USB 3.0 enclosure:

When you replace the hard drive that your laptop came with, I recommend putting it in the Sabrent USB 3.0 2.5″ SATA Hard Drive Enclosure:
- $14.99 (Amazon)
- $14.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

That way you can use your hard drive for external portable storage, such as backups.

This particular enclosure comes with a retractable cable that is connected to the enclosure, so you don’t lose/forget it and it makes the whole package more compact too. It comes with an extension cord if you need it.

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USB DVD and Blu-Ray Drives

If your laptop doesn’t come with an optical drive and you want one, here are my recommendations for external USB optical drives.

USB DVD Burner

There are many models of USB DVD Burners. The LG GP60NB50 8x is the one with the best customer reviews:
- $32.94 (Amazon)
- $32.95 (B&H – International Shipping)

USB Blu-Ray Burner

I recommend three USB Blu-Ray burner. Make sure to plug them in an USB 3.0 port to get the maximum speed possible.

In order of price and burning speed:
- Pioneer BDR-XD055 6x – $89.95 (B&H – International Shipping)

ASUS BW-12D1S-U/BLK/G/AS 12x:
- $109.99 (Amazon)
- $109.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

LG BE14NU40 14x:
- $126.99 (Amazon)
- $124.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

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WiFi routers, WiFi Adapters and Bluetooth adapter:

Need a WiFi router, a faster WiFi adapter or a Bluetooth adapter for your laptop? Check out our recommendations for The Best WiFi Routers, Best WiFi Adapters and Bluetooth Adapter.

Conclusion

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this latest update to this article on the Best Budget Laptops For Your Money.

Of course, with this being such a long article (over 6000 words) with many recommendations and alternatives, you may find some typos.

Alternatively, you may believe that there’s a better option than my recommendation.

Or you may have some questions.

If that happens, feel free to leave a comment below and remember, you can join us on our forums to discuss with everyone else the laptop that you’re planning to buy, ask your questions and join our helpful community!

Category: The Best Laptops For Your Money

About Mathieu Bourgie: HR Founder - Computer expert with over 14 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying PCs. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for PC hardware and now I enjoy helping others build their own PCs! In April 2008, I launched Hardware Revolution and ... Read more at my about page .