There are many people who roll their eyes backwards when they hear “budget item”. It’s true: most often, budget items are not good quality, to say the least. Even more so in the case of electronics. However, we must consider a very important fact: regardless of all the other considerations, including performance, endurance, and so on, the budget is ultimately the deciding factor in whether we buy something or not. We may want a high-end gaming laptop or workstation because they will undoubtedly perform exactly the way we need them too, but the problem is that such machines often cost upwards of $2000. Can most people afford such a laptop? Nope.
You can get sufficient performance from a $500-600 laptop as well – enough, in fact, to play a couple of games and do 3D graphic design, if that’s what you want. But what if it’s not? In fact, what most people want from a laptop is to be able to perform average multimedia and office tasks: playing a couple of no-brainer games like Candy Crush, watching movies, reading, writing, making presentations, browsing the Web, and other similar things. And for that, you don’t even need to pay $5-600, even if you can afford it; all you need is something you can get for half that amount of money, at $200-300. In fact, there are some great picks for even less than $200 as well, including a vast range of Chromebooks and so on. You also have the choice of getting a used or refurbished laptop. However, we do not recommend that you get a second-hand laptop or any other second-hand electronics for that matter. They are quite sensitive pieces of equipment, and you never know how they were treated before you bought them – it’s enough that a drop of water made its way into the motherboard and you’ll end up with rust where you don’t want it. You will also have absolutely no warranty, so if it malfunctions… well, tough luck. Certified refurbished laptops can be OK, but they mostly don’t have very good specs, nor are they particularly good looking. What’s more, the warranty will probably not be as good as the original manufacturer or seller’s warranty. As such, all the laptops we introduce here (as well as in every other article) are brand new, and their price is not discounted, as a discount may disappear at any time.
These are pretty much the things you should consider when you buy a laptop for less than $300. There are a couple of other factors as well, but they’re mostly details that should only be considered after the functionality criteria described above are fulfilled. We have a couple of actual recommendations as well, so you can see what we mean when we say “budget laptops”. You can always go for our suggestions or use them as starting point for your shopping. The list includes both Windows laptops and Chromebooks. Here we go:
- 1 1. Asus VivoBook X 15
- 2 2. Asus Eebook 14 (2017 model)
- 3 3. Lenovo IdeaPad 110 15
- 4 4. Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02
- 5 5. HP 14-AN013NR
- 6 6. HP Pavilion 15
- 7 7. Asus E402MA 14
- 8 8. Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US
- 9 9. Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ
- 10 1. CPU/APU
- 11 2. RAM
- 12 3. Storage
- 13 4. Screen
- 14 5. Battery life
- 15 6. Connectivity
1. Asus VivoBook X 15
The top choice on our list is an actual full-size laptop, compared to the 14” or smaller notebooks you can usually find in this price range. Asus probably has the largest share of the low-budget laptop market, and this situation is reflected in this list as well, with more Asus models than anything else. This particular model has surprisingly good specs for a less-than-$300 laptop, and it’s good enough for all practical purposes, including office tasks, multimedia use, online shopping, and whatever non-demanding task you can think of.
The laptop is based on an Intel Pentium N3700 processor, quad-core, 1.6-2.4GHz, built on the energy-efficient 14nm lithography. It has 4GB DDR3L SDRAM, and it offers the possibility to upgrade to 8GB if you want to. It has enough room for things in the 500GB HDD and a decent HD display. It also has good connectivity, featuring Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 3.0 ports, as well as the very necessary HDMI and VGA. A pleasant laptop overall, with good reviews, for less than $300.
2. Asus Eebook 14 (2017 model)
Our second pick is a truly portable laptop and an example of pretty good specs under the $300 budget. It’s a nice design coming from Asus, which is not necessarily renowned for how pretty the products are, and the reviews show that it doesn’t lack in the performance area either, for a low-budget item. It’s also almost a full-size laptop, at 14”, so you won’t be bothered by the keyboard for ants you find on an 11-incher.
This model is only 20mm thick and 1.45kg heavy, which makes it more portable than your average textbook. It features an Intel Celeron dual-core N3060, 1.6GHz, overclocked up to 2.48GHz, 4GB DDR3 RAM, and 32GB internal flash storage. Don’t feel discouraged by the relatively small size of the SSD, as it also has an SD card reader which you can use as a secondary storage port and plug in a 128GB SD card for extra space. It runs Win10 smoothly and is one of the best budget laptops around.
3. Lenovo IdeaPad 110 15
One of the best-rated laptops in this list, the IdeaPad 110 is yet another successful model from Lenovo. One of its good points, for instance, is the relative lack of bloatware – Asus, by comparison, generally installs plenty of useless software you’ll have to deal with later. It also seems to have one of the best keyboards around, which is something Lenovo offers.
The laptop is powered by an N3060, just like our nr.2, and it has the same amount and type of RAM. It’s not a 14” notebook, though, but a full 15.6” laptop, numeric keyboard and all. It’s only 23mm thick, which is not bad at all for its dimensions, and 2.2kg heavy. Admittedly, it’s not the most portable budget mode, but it’s not particularly heavy either.
4. Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02
As expected from the all-over-the-market Asus, it also takes the cake when it comes to Chromebooks. Featuring Google’s proprietary OS instead of the usual Windows, Linux, or MacOS, this series of laptops is made for average day-to-day tasks like reading, writing, and surfing the web. This particular model is also designed to endure some pretty hardcore environments – it has easy-grip handles, reinforced rubber guards, and a nice spill-resistant keyboard that can even survive in a 5th-grade classroom no problem.
It’s exactly as powerful as our nr.2 and 3, with the same Intel Celeron N3060 and 4GB DDR3 RAM. At 11.6”, it has a satisfying HD resolution and weighs exactly 1kg. It has only 16GB storage, but that’s not a problem as it also offers an SD reader and, as every other Chromebook, the possibility of more cloud storage than you could need.
5. HP 14-AN013NR
Following close behind our nr.1 and 2 regarding performance, this laptop is proof that HP is also pretty strong on the budget laptop market. It’s a good alternative to the Eebook 14, being only a little bit thicker and heavier (unnoticeable, really). It has a very nice FHD screen and, according to reviews, the battery life is excellent, around 7 hours or so, which is very good for a Windows laptop in general.
The heart of this laptop is, interestingly enough, an AMD E2-7110QC, quad-core, clocked at 1.8GHz. It seems that AMD processors are better at multitasking than their Intel counterparts, in spite of not being so strong individually. It also has 4GB DDR3 SDRAM and 32GB flash storage. Unfortunately, it’s one of the laptops that don’t have an SD reader, which is a bit of a disadvantage, but it’s otherwise a good model and has some excellent reviews on Amazon.com.
6. HP Pavilion 15
At 15.6” and a pleasant HD display, this laptop seems to prove once more that Hp tends to rely on AMD processors in their lower-end models. It’s not that bad a choice, considering AMD is all about multi-threading and multi-tasking, and that’s probably what you’re going to do with such a laptop: browse the internet, write your report and listen to music, all while playing some light computer game like Chicken Invaders.
This model belongs to the most well-known HP series, the Pavilion, and it has an AMD A6-5200 processor, quad-core, 2GHz, coupled with matching AMD Radeon R4 integrated graphics up to 2048MB. It has 4GB DDR3 SDRAM and a 500GB HDD, as well as one of the best displays around, according to reviews. An alternative to our nr.1 pick, this goes for about the same price.
7. Asus E402MA 14
Another 14-incher from Asus, this laptop has one of the best designs for the budget, in our opinion. It’s a dark blue machine that you won’t be ashamed to carry around with you as it does not look the least bit cheap.
This model is powered by an Intel N2840, dual-core, 2.16GHz and up to 2.58GHz Intel Burst, with integrated Intel HD graphics that deal with the HD display. It’s not a powerhouse, but it’s still fast enough, with 2GB DDR3 and a 32GB flash storage. It has an SD card reader, but not a DVD reader. Like the #3 Lenovo, it also has a great keyboard and also probably the best cooling capabilities among the budget laptops.
8. Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US
While Samsung models generally can’t be called “budget items”, this particular laptop respects the Chromebook principle of being cheap and takes the cake for being the cheapest model on this list, and there’s a 4GB DDR3 version and a 2GB DDR3 one.
The processor is, just like with the Asus Chromebook, an Intel N3060, and it has the same 11.6” display you can find on around half the Chromebooks on the market. A really neat feature is that the keyboard is waterproof, a particularly useful thing if you like to travel around a lot and tend to expose your computer to harsh environments. It also has the best battery life around, reaching 11 hours in ideal conditions and just a bit less with moderate use.
9. Acer Chromebook CB3-131-C3SZ
The third Chromebook in our list and the first Acer model, this tiny 11.6” has all the necessary features to make you a more successful student, traveler, movie watcher, Internet shopper, and average technology user. It’s not exactly as powerful as the #4 Asus Chromebook, but it’s not far either.
The CB3-131-C3SZ is powered by an Intel N2840 and 2GB DDR3L SDRAM, much like our nr.7, but it offers better performance due to its smaller size. It has only 16GB internal storage, choosing to rely on cloud storage instead, and for that purpose, it also features the modern Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac instead of the previous b/g/n, which allows for dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi. Its battery life is also one of the best around, hitting the 9-hour mark with moderate use.
There are a couple of things you need to watch out for when purchasing a budget laptop just as well as for a $4000 gaming rig. Even though you may not find these exact specifications in a budget laptop, try to get as close as possible when purchasing. This way, you’ll be sure to get the most out of your money. Here’s what we think you should check:
It’s honestly quite difficult to find an Intel Core i3 in an under-$300 laptop, not to mention an i5 or i7 (utterly impossible). Then again, in such a small laptop, which will never have a dedicated video card, the processor becomes even more important than it is in a gaming laptop where the graphics card does a large part of the job. As such, you should at least check that you get an Intel Celeron dual-core with as high clocking speed as possible. Celeron APUs are quite common in low-end budget laptops, and they’re not bad for common day-to-day tasks, though they really can’t compare with an i5 or even an i3. As an example, there is the Celeron N3050 model, dual-core, 1.6GHz and up to 2.16GHz with Turbo Boost. This is a relatively new model belonging to the Braswell generation, on 14nm micro-architecture. It’s quite small, fast, and energy-efficient, as well as having the Braswell HD Graphics which makes it able to handle 4K video acceleration and even older computer games. It’s very common in Chromebooks, along with its predecessor N2840 and its successor N3060.
As far as AMD processors are concerned, it’s true that they are a bit cheaper than their Intel counterparts. As such, they are a lot more common in laptops within the $100-700 price range than they are in the more expensive ranges, and they are most commonly found in laptops priced less than $500. However, what is also true is that the lower-end AMD processors are not as good as correspondingly low-end Intel processors. That is not to say that they’re not good at all, just not as good. Please read the review of an AMD CPU before buying it and check the comparisons that may be drawn between it and a corresponding Intel model. This will help you understand its actual performance before acquiring it.
The second position would belong to the GPU, but you won’t find any below $300. As such, the RAM is the second most important thing. As a rule of thumb, the more, the better. Don’t settle down for anything less than 4, though, as even under-$200 Chromebooks usually have 4GB.
As far as the type is concerned, you will probably find DDR3, DDR3L, and DDR4, the former being the weaker and the latter the stronger versions. The difference between DDR3 and DDR3L is mostly power consumption, while DDR4 is an overall improved version. If you can choose, choose the DDR4.
There’s nothing more annoying than not having enough memory for your files. Particularly if you’re the “collector” type who tends to have 15 games and 384 movies on a 100% full D: partition. However, a budget laptop under $300 won’t have that much storage available.
Chromebooks have either 16GB or 32GB flash storage. This is more than enough for the Chrome OS, which is a glorified version of Linux (like Ubuntu and whatnot) since you’ll keep most of your files on cloud storage anyway. The advantage of this type of memory is an amazing speed, surpassing a standard HDD by leaps and bounds. The problem, as you may have guessed, is the relatively low capacity.
If you want more capacity, you’ll have to get something with an HDD. If you get a Windows laptop, even a stripped-down version of Win10 will fill an SSD in no time. As such, make sure that the HDD is around 500GB or so – this way, you won’t complain later about the lack of room. The advantage of an HDD is sheer size, but it’s a lot slower than flash storage and more prone to errors.
You can’t buy another screen to your laptop, so you have to make sure the one it comes with is good. The most common resolution for full-size low-end laptops is 1366 x 768, but you can also find something that’s Full HD for $250-300. You can even get an FHD resolution on a small screen of 13.3” or less. Funnily enough, the smaller the screen, the bigger the chances of high resolution. As with everything else, the more, the better.
5. Battery life
The eternal problem of mobile electronics, battery life is something you should be concerned about, especially if you’re more on the travelling side. Luckily, this is a perk of low-end small laptops: modern low-end components use very little energy compared to their older versions AND their high-end counterparts. As such, these budget laptops will often have pretty amazing battery life, mostly beyond the 6-hour mark and very often also beyond the 8- and 10-hour milestones.
No, double the battery cells do not mean double the life. It does mean that the battery will last longer, though. The mAh rating is what shows you how much a battery lasts. For batteries with the same number of cells, the bigger the mAh rating, the better.
You will very often use your laptop not only by itself, but in combination with other devices such as USB flash memory sticks, smartphones, external displays, projectors, external HDDs, cameras, and a million and one other gadgets. As such, try to aim for the laptop with the most and the latest ports you can find. At least two USB 3.0 Type A ports and one Type C (if you can find one) an HDMI, an RJ-45, a VGA, a 3.5mm audio combo, and whatever else you can get. A card reader would also be a nice addition, especially for a notebook with less storage capacity.
There’s also the wireless Internet connection that interests you here. The latest Wi-Fi standard in use for personal computers is 802.11 ac, launched in early 2013, but the previous 802.11 b/g/n is still in use as well. It’s recommended that you get a laptop with the 802.11 ac standard, to achieve maximum Internet speed. Bluetooth 4.0 or later should also be a thing, as no laptop below the $300 mark has 4.1 or 4.2.