Find out which are the 20 Best Budget Laptops For Your Money

| May 22, 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

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

  1. Gaming, where a powerful dedicated video card is required. I recommend two alternatives for gaming, but you should see the Best Budget Gaming Laptops article too.
  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. Some recommendations/alternatives are worth considering though.
  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 budget laptops 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.

The Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120 Convertible 2 in 1 Touchscreen laptop, the best laptop for less than $400, equipped with fast storage (SSD)!

The Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120 Convertible 2 in 1 Touchscreen laptop, the best laptop for less than $400, equipped with fast storage (SSD)!

A few reminders:

I’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices that I’ve seen on May 22nd 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. $250
  3. $300
  4. $370
  5. $400
  6. $480
  7. $500-550

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

ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01

- $199.00 – Gold (Amazon)
- $194.99 – Dark Blue (Amazon)
- $199.99 – Gold (B&H – International Shipping)

About the ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01:

Replacing the previously recommended HP Stream 11 is the ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01.

ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01 VS the HP Stream 11:
The HP Stream 11 was a strong contender for $200, but the ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01 is a better choice in my professional opinion.

1. The ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01 is lighter, at 2.16lbs compared to 2.74lbs for the HP Stream 11.
2. Its battery life is longer, reaching up to 12 hours compared to 7-8 hours for the HP Stream 11.
3. Thinner: 0.69″ vs 0.78″
4. My opinion: The colors and design chosen by ASUS are better than those offered by HP. They are similar to the Apple Macbook and that’s not a bad thing.

Are you looking for an highly portable laptop, with a long battery life, to go on the Internet, check your e-mails, use Microsoft Office and do other simple tasks?
The ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01 is designed for that type of workload. As long as you don’t expect more than that, you’ll be happy. It’s not a powerful desktop PC, not a desktop replacement, not a workstation nor a gaming PC, so don’t expect to run like one either. It’s good for what it’s designed for, but if you ask more of it, it will definitely slow down.

1 year free subscription to Microsoft Office 365 included!
Speaking of Microsoft Office, you get a one year subscription to Office 365 included with the laptop. Yes, for free.

1TB of online storage for one year for free
You also get 1TB of OneDrive storage for free for the first year.

It comes with ‘Windows 8.1 with Bing’. This means that by default, Internet Explorer uses Bing as its search engine. You can change this your favorite search engine, if you’re still using Internet Explorer in 2015 for some reason.

Pros:

  1. Lowest cost for a Windows 8.1 laptop: Less than $200!
  2. Highly portable: 11.3″ x 0.69″ x 7.6″, 11-12 hours of battery life, only 2.16lbs! Small and light power adapter too.
  3. 1TB of OneDrive storage (free for the first year)
  4. Fanless: Silent
  5. Runs cool, so you can use it on your lap without getting uncomfortable.
  6. Bluetooth 4.0
  7. 97% of a full sized keyboard. Keys have a good travel.

Cons:

  1. The Intel Atom Z3735E is not a powerful CPU; don’t expect it to be able to do heavy multitask or to run heavy applications like Adobe Photoshop without significant lag.
  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 okay, not great
  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, you can also use a SD card and/or an external drive.
  7. WiFi limited to 802.11n with a single stream, 2.4GHz only and only 20MHz channel: Good for Web browsing, slow for file transfers over the network.
  8. No VGA output
  9. No LAN
  10. No optical drive, so if you want to listen to music on audio CDs or to DVDs or Blu Ray disks, you’ll need to use an external USB optical drive.
  11. No Numpad
  12. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Specifications:

Components
ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit with Bing
CPU Intel Atom Z3735E Quad-Core 1.33-1.83GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlit, Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes
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 microSD Card Reader
1/8″ (3.5 mm) Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack
2 x USB 2.0
micro-HDMI output
Dimensions
Weight
11.3″ x 0.69″ x 7.6″
2.16lbs
Battery Life 11-12 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Laptop for $250

Toshiba Satellite C55-B5100

- $255.99 at Amazon
- $288.40 at B&H (International Shipping)

About the Toshiba Satellite C55-B5100:

The Toshiba Satellite C55-B5100 offers a considerable step up in performance compared to the ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01, thanks to being equipped with a faster CPU and twice the memory (4GB of RAM vs 2GB for the ASUS EeeBook X205TA-DS01). This will allow you to run multiple applications simultaneously without having to wait on your laptop as much.

It’s also equipped with a much larger 500GB hard drive, making it ideal to store your music, pictures and video.

Overall, it is usable for listening to music, watching videos, web browsing, e-mails and Office.

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

Pros:

  1. Low cost for a 15.6″ Windows 8.1 laptop equipped with 4GB of RAM
  2. Good build quality for the price—solidly built for a budget computer
  3. Good battery life: 6-8 hours of web browsing.
  4. Quiet
  5. Runs cool, so you can use it on your lap without getting uncomfortable.
  6. Bluetooth 4.0
  7. Numpad
  8. 500GB hard drive
  9. DVD drive
  10. LAN port, but limited to 100Mbps
  11. VGA and HDMI output

Cons:

  1. Bay Trail Celerons CPUs are not powerful CPUs; don’t expect to multitask much or to run heavy applications like Adobe Photoshop.
  2. 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.
  3. Prone to fingerprints
  4. RAM cannot be upgraded
  5. Poor speakers: They aren’t very loud.
  6. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop

Click here to go back up to the summary

Specifications:

Components
Toshiba Satellite C55-B5100
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit with Bing
CPU Intel Celeron N2840 2.16GHz-2.58GHz Turbo Dual-Core
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlit, Anti-Glare (Matte)
Yes, HD
Intel HD Graphics
RAM
Max RAM
4GB DDR3L 1333MHz
Not upgradable
Storage 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive
Optical Drive Yes, DVD burner
Audio Integrated microphone
Two Stereo Speakers
Networking 10/100Mbps LAN
802.11b/g/n WiFi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports SD Card Reader
1/8″ (3.5 mm) Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack
1 x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
VGA Output
Dimensions
Weight
15″ x 10.2″ x 1.03″
5.29
lbs
Battery Life 6-8 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Alternative: 11.6″ lightweight laptop that can be upgraded

Acer Aspire E 11 ES1-111M-P2YU
$229.99 at Amazon
$239.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

Least expensive laptop that you can upgrade its RAM and hard drive to turn it into a small and very capable laptop:
As it is configured, with only 2GB of RAM, the Acer Aspire E 11 ES1-111M-P2YU offers limited capabilities.

However, this Acer laptop can be a formidable lightweight laptop if you upgrade its RAM to 4GB or preferably 8GB, thanks to its relatively powerful CPU at this price point, the Intel Pentium N3540 Quad-Core 2.16-2.66GHz.

See the end of the article for my recommended RAM upgrades.

Even better if you replace the hard drive by a much faster SSD. See the best SSDs for your money article for my recommendations.

The hard drive is relatively easy to replace, requiring you to remove the bottom panel of the laptop to access it.

Upgrading the RAM is a longer process, as the RAM slot is located on the other side of the motherboard, requiring you to disassemble the laptop to get to it. It’s not that complicated though, here’s an excellent video that walks you through it.

Pros:

  1. Highest performance CPU at this price point: Intel Pentium N3540 Quad-Core 2.16-2.66GHz
  2. Least expensive laptop that can be upgraded
  3. Good battery life: Expect 6-7 hours.
  4. SD card reader
  5. USB 3.0 port
  6. Highly portable: 11.5 x 0.8 x 8.3″ and only 2.84lbs
  7. Quiet
  8. Runs cool, so you can use it on your lap without getting uncomfortable.

Cons:

  1. Requires upgrades to be a good choice
  2. Only 2GB of RAM, which can and should be upgraded.
  3. No optical drive
  4. No Bluetooth
  5. No LAN
  6. No VGA output
  7. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop

#2: 64GB Tablet PC with a keyboard dock

ASUS Transformer Book T100TAM-C1-GM 64GB
$239.00 at Amazon
$249.00 (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 10-point 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. USB 3.0 on the keyboard dock
  7. Bluetooth 4.0
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  2. Only 2GB of RAM, which cannot be upgraded: Forget multitasking
  3. Limited storage capacity

Best Laptop for $300

Acer Aspire V3-112P-C2HF

- $299.99 at Amazon
- $299.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

About the Acer Aspire V3-112P-C2HF:

Pros:

  1. Slightly more powerful processor than $200 and $250 recommendations: Intel Celeron N2940 1.83-2.25GHz Quad-Core
  2. Touchscreen
  3. Fanless: Silent
  4. Gigabit LAN port
  5. Highly portable: 11.5 x 0.9 x 8.3″ and 3.06lbs.
  6. Great battery life: 7 hours
  7. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 8GB (2x4GB) by adding a 4GB stick of DDR3 SO-DIMM RAM.

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
  6. No Bluetooth
  7. 5400rpm hard drive


Specifications:

Components
Acer Aspire V3-112P-C2HF
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit
CPU Intel Celeron N2940 1.83-2.25GHz Quad-Core
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 Touchscreen
Yes
Intel HD Graphics
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3
2 slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive
Optical Drive None
Audio Integrated microphone
Stereo Speakers
Networking 10/100/1000Mbps LAN
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Ports SD Card Reader
Headphone or Headset Two-in-one 3.5mm jack
1 x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
11.5 x 0.9 x 8.3″
3.06lbs
Battery Life 7 hours

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

$309.00 (Amazon)
$309.00 (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 an 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.

Best Laptop for $370

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series I3543-000BLK

- $389.00 at Amazon
- $369.00 at B&H (International Shipping)

About the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series I3543-000BLK:

Pros:

  1. Far more powerful processor than lower-priced alternatives: Intel Core i3-5005U 2GHz Dual-Core+Hyper-Threading. Based on the newest Broadwell architecture from Intel. A good starting point for the minimum performance that you want for photo editing.
  2. 500GB drive, which can be upgraded to a SSD of course.
  3. Gigabit LAN port
  4. Fine looking laptop, looks like it means serious business, doesn’t look cheap. That’s a pro to me, as a professional.
  5. Good battery life: 4-7 hours, depending on the screen brightness and your usage.
  6. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 8GB (1x8GB) by replacing the 4GB stick by a 8GB stick
  7. DVD Burner
  8. Bluetooth 4.0
  9. Numpad

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. 5,400rpm hard drive offers low storage performance compared faster alternatives such as a 7,200rpm hard drive, an hybrid hard drive or a SSD.
  3. Poor integrated video card performance: Fine for web, office and the like, but forget gaming on this laptop.
  4. Not the most portable option: 15.0 x 1.0 x 10.0″ and 4.8lbs. That said, for a 15.6″ laptop with a numpad and a DVD drive, it’s quite light.
  5. 5400rpm hard drive


Specifications:

Components
Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series I3543-000BLK
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i3-5005U 2GHz Dual-Core+Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768
Yes, 720p HD
Intel HD Graphics 5500
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3L 1600MHz
1 slot, occupied with 4GB, can be upgraded to 8GB
Storage 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive
Optical Drive Yes, CD/DVD Burner
Audio Integrated dual-array microphones
Stereo Speakers
Networking 10/100/1000Mbps LAN
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports SD Card Reader
1x 1/8″ (3.5 mm) Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack
1 x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
LAN
Dimensions
Weight
15.0 x 1.0 x 10.0″
4.8lbs
Battery Life 4-7 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Laptop for $400

Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120 Convertible 2 in 1 Touchscreen Laptop:

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

About the Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120:

Pros:

  1. The least expensive laptop equipped with a 128GB SSD. This means that your laptop will start and shutdown more quickly, that programs will launch faster and that your laptop will feel more snappy overall.
  2. Touchscreen
  3. Fanless: Silent
  4. 360 degrees screen hinge allows you to use this laptop in a laptop, stand, tablet, tabletop and presentation mode.
  5. Highly portable: 11.4″ x 7.8″ x 0.86″ and 2.9lbs.
  6. Physical volume button on the right side.
  7. Decent battery life: 4-5 hours
  8. Bluetooth 4.0

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. Compared to the lower priced Dell Inspiron 3000, the CPU performance in the Toshiba Satellite takes a significant hit. The Toshiba, with the Intel Pentium N3540 2.16-2.66GHz Quad-Core is based on the Bay Trail architecture, is optimized for lower power usage. The Intel Core i3-5005U 2GHz Dual-Core+Hyper-Threading, featured in the Dell, is based on Intel’s newest high-performance Core 5th generation architecture, Broadwell.
  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
  6. Storage is limited to 128GB. The SSD can be upgraded, but this requires to disassemble the laptop.
  7. No LAN RJ-45 port
  8. Only two USB ports: One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0

Click here to go back up to the summary
Specifications:

Components
Toshiba Satellite Radius 11 L15W-B1120
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit
CPU Intel Pentium N3540 2.16-2.66GHz Quad-Core
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 Touchscreen
Yes: HD
Intel HD Graphics
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
Not upgradable
Storage 128GB M.2 SSD
Optical Drive None
Audio Integrated microphone
Stereo Speakers
Networking 802.11b/g/n Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm 2-in-1 combo jack
1x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
11.4″ x 7.8″ x 0.86″
2.9lbs
Battery Life 4-5 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Alternative #1: 12″ 64GB Tablet PC with a keyboard dock (with space for a 7mm hard drive or SSD), detachable 2 in 1, touchscreen

ASUS Transformer Book 12-Inch T200TA-C1-BL:
- $429.00 at Amazon
- $429.00 at B&H – International Shipping

About the ASUS Transformer Book 12-Inch T200TA-C1-BL:
VS the ASUS T100 suggested at lower price points: The T200 has a bigger screen, measuring 11.6 inches compared to the T100’s 10.1 inches. Since the T200 is a bigger device, its keyboard is bigger and closer to that of a full size keyboard. The T100 keyboard is adequate but definitely cramped. The T200 also has a larger trackpad and palm rest vs the T100.

The T200 has 4GB of RAM, which makes a massive difference for running more than one application at the same time.

The T100 is lighter and more portable than the T200, especially when in use as a tablet. The T100 gets 11 hours of battery life compared to 8.5 on the T200.

Pros:

  1. Detachable 2 in 1: The computer is contained entirely in the tablet, which can be docked to the keyboard.
  2. The T200’s keyboard dock is equipped with a smart hard drive bay design that makes adding more storage easy. Just remove the tray, slide in a new hard drive/ solid state drive and you’re good to go. Supports only 7mm thick drives. 1TB drives may require a BIOS update to be performed on the T200 in order to be recognized.
  3. Internal high-performance storage
  4. IPS touchscreen: Beautiful colors, full viewing angles
  5. Long battery life: Expect 7 to 9 hours.
  6. Micro SD card reader: Useful to expand the internal tablet storage capacity, when you’re not using the keyboard dock.
  7. Portable: 12.0 x 1.5 x 7.9″ and 3.40lbs for the whole package. The tablet on its own weights 1.68lbs
  8. 30-Day Zero Bright Dot Guarantee ensures ASUS will replace tablet if display has bright dots or dead pixels
  9. 4GB of RAM

Cons:

  1. Weak processor: The Intel Atom Z3795 is a quad-core processor running at 1.59GHz, 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. The RAM cannot be upgraded.
  3. Limited storage capacity: With Windows taking some space, you’ll have about 46GB free to use.
  4. Somewhat 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 $480

Acer Aspire E5-571P-51GN 15.6″ Multi-Touch Notebook Computer:

- $479.00 at B&H (International Shipping)

About the Acer Aspire E5-571P-51GN:

Ideal for multi-tasking:
You get a relatively powerful CPU, the Intel Core  i5-4210U, which is a 1.7-2.7GHz dual-core + Hyper-Threading CPU capable of handling 4 threads at the same time.

You also get a good amount of memory (8GB) and storage capacity (1TB).

It also comes with a touchscreen.

Getting all of this together for less than $500 is unheard of.

Pros:

  1. The least expensive laptop equipped with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drive.
  2. Touchscreen
  3. Good battery life for a 15.6″ laptop: Expect 5 hours of web browsing, 7 hours for text editing.
  4. Large keyboard with a Numpad
  5. RAM can be upgraded to 16GB (2x8GB)
  6. Hard drive can be upgraded.
  7. VGA and HDMI outputs.
  8. SD card reader
  9. Latest generation 802.11ac WiFi
  10. Bluetooth 4.0

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, but forget gaming on this laptop
  3. No optical drive
  4. No LAN RJ-45 port
  5. Only two USB ports: One USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0
  6. Its thick and heavy, not highly portable: 15.0 x 1.2 x 10.1″ and 5.95lbs

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Specifications:

Components
Acer Aspire E5-571P-51GN
OS Windows 8.1 64-bit
CPU Intel Core  i5-4210U 1.7-2.7GHz Dual-core + HT
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 Touchscreen
Yes
Intel HD 4400 Graphics
RAM
Max RAM
8GB DDR3L
16GB (2x8GB)
Storage 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive
Optical Drive None
Audio Integrated microphone
Stereo Speakers
Networking 10/100/1000Mbps LAN
802.11b/g/n/ac Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports SD Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm 2-in-1 combo jack
1x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
VGA Output
Dimensions
Weight
15.0 x 1.2 x 10.1″
5.95lbs
Battery Life 5-7 hours

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Alternative: Entry-level Gaming laptop:
The Lenovo Z50 (80EC000TUS) – $467.68 (Amazon) features the latest generation AMD “Kaveri” A10-7300 Quad-Core 1.9-3.2 GHz APU, an AMD Radeon R6 integrated video card, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.

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.

Best Laptop for $500-550

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E550 20DF002YUS

- $499.00 at Amazon
- $519.00 at B&H (International Shipping)

About the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E550 20DF002YUS:

The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E550 20DF002YUS is a solid laptop that will last you many years without any problem.

Equipped with a matte (non-reflective) screen, an excellent Thinkpad keyboard and offers up to 9 hours of battery life.

Good CPU too, Intel Core i3-4005UM Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.7GHz, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive.

This being a Thinkpad, you can easily upgrade the memory and/or hard drive. The battery is swappable too.

It also comes with Windows 7 Professional, so if you’re not a fan of Windows 8/8.1, this is an ideal choice for you!

Pros:

  1. Powerful processor, capable of handling more demanding tasks: Intel Core i3-3130M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.6GHz
  2. 500GB hard drive that spins at 7200rpm, faster than most hard drives found in laptops.
  3. 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to 16GB (2x8GB).
  4. Windows 7 Pro
  5. Long battery life: 7-9 hours
  6. Laptop is easy to service and upgrade
  7. Solid screen hinges
  8. Solid laptop
  9. Screen with a matte finish
  10. One of the best keyboards on the market
  11. Keyboard is spill-resistant
  12. VGA Output
  13. Battery can be swapped.
  14. Optical drive
  15. Numpad
  16. Fingerpring reader

Cons:

  1. 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. So-so sound system
  4. Limited portability

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Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E550 20DF002YUS
OS Windows 7 Pro 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i3-4005U Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.7GHz
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 Matte
Yes, 720p HD
Intel HD 4400
RAM
Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3L 1600MHz
2 Slot, maximum 16GB
Storage 500GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD Burner
Audio Dual Array Microphones
Stereo Speakers
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n/ac Wifi
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm 2-in-1 combo jack

2x USB 3.0 (1x always-on charging)
1x USB 2.0
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.8 x 1.1 x 10.1″
5.21lbs
Battery Life 7-9 hours

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Alternatives:

#1: Windows 7 Pro, Core i5 CPU, 7,200rpm hard drive
Like the Thinkpad and Windows 7 but want a more powerful CPU? The $544.99 (Amazon) – HP 350 G1 Core i5 is equipped with a Core i5-4210U Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.7-2.7GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive and Windows 7 Pro.

#2: Touchscreen, Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive and warranty against accidental damage
The $569.99 (B&H – International Shipping) – ASUS K550LAV-MH51T is equipped with the Core i5-4210U Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.7-2.7GHz CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.

It’s also equipped with a touchscreen.

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: Flippable 11.6″ IPS screen (360 degrees hinge), backlit keyboard, can be used as tablet:
Dell Inspiron 3000 I3148-6840SLV:
$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:
#4: Dell Inspiron 7000 I734-750SLV:
$539.99 (Amazon)
$559.99 (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.

#5: 17.3″ 1600 x 900 touchscreen and Beats Audio
HP Pavilion 17-f140nr
If you want a laptop with a large 17.3″ touchscreen with a 1600 x 900 resolution and excellent sound, look no further than the $568.61 – HP Pavilion 17-f140nr.

#6: 15.6″ touchscreen, backlit keyboard, gorgeous aluminum finish, Core i5 CPU, 6GB RAM
Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series i7537T-1122sLV
Want a forged aluminum laptop with a backlit keyboard, a numpad, a relatively powerful Core i5 CPU and a 15.6″ touchscreen? Then you want the $524.99 (Amazon) – Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Series i7537T-1122sLV 15-Inch.

#7: 15.6″ Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen touchscreen with 360 degree hinge, Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 1-year Accidental Damage Protection
ASUS TP500
$549.99 at Amazon

#8: 15.6″ Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen touchscreen with 360 degree hinge, Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, backlit keyboard and NVIDIA GeForce 840M 2GB
Lenovo Edge 15
$549.99 at BH (International Shipping)
For only $549.99, you get a powerful laptop loaded with features.

You get a Core i7-4510U 2-3.1Ghz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading CPU, a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 840M 2GB video card capable of running video games more smoothly than any integrated video card, 8GB of RAM, a large (but slow) 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive and a touchscreen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution that can be flipped by up to 300 degrees, allowing you to use this laptop as a laptop, stand and tent mode. It’s also equipped with an excellent keyboard that’s backlit.

Note that it’s a refurbished laptop but it does come with a full 1 year warranty from Lenovo.

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:

$29.99 (Amazon)
$29.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

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

$49.00 (Amazon)
$49.00 (B&H – International Shipping)

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

$49.99 (Amazon)
$59.98 (B&H – International Shipping)

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

$105.00 (Amazon)
$98.00 (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 ($16.95 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)
$13.40 (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:
$28.58 (Amazon)
$27.99 (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 – $79.95 (B&H – International Shipping)

ASUS BW-12D1S-U/BLK/G/AS 12x:
$114.99 (Amazon)
$114.99 (B&H – International Shipping)

LG BE14NU40 14x:
$106.50 (Amazon)
$119.99 (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, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you, to discuss with you the laptop that you’re planning to buy and answer your questions.

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 .