With the vast number of laptop models appearing recently, from both renowned and well-established companies and fresh starters, it’s becoming an increasingly difficult task to find the perfect model for yourself. It may seem like a paradox, considering this variety, but the problem is that it’s not simply a matter of numbers. It’s a problem of quality first and foremost. If you just go and pick the first device that seems appealing, you may have the unpleasant surprise of low-quality components, uncomfortable user interface, unexpected breakdowns at critical times, and an overall bad performance. This holds especially true for laptops under $400, which are right on the border between low-budget items and mid-rangers.
We’ve prepared for you a practical list, which includes models that are most popular among buyers and seemed to us like an excellent deal. Here’s what we liked:
Top Rated $400 or Less Laptops
1. HP 15-AY191MS Touchscreen
Our #1 model has the best overall components in this price range and enjoys some excellent reviews from its buyers. It features a 10-finger multitouch display, which is quite a rare occurrence for a classic laptop in this price range, and it has the slim design with rounded lines we can often see on HP laptops, contrasting with the sharper lines of Lenovo and Acer.
This model is powered by a latest-generation Intel Core i3-7100U, dual-core, 2.4GHz, 3MB cache, with the integrated video chip Intel HD Graphics 620. While the RAM is DDR3L, which is only the third best by today’s standard, it’s also 8GB, which is quite impressive. Add a decent 1TB HDD and one of the best sound systems on a budget laptop and we’re sure you understand why pretty much anyone would buy this.
2. Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM
A shockingly good deal for less than $400, this model from Acer is unquestionably the best-reviewed on Amazon among all similarly-priced devices, in spite of certain modes having perhaps one or two better components. Like all E5-series models, it features a black plastic and aluminum frame, with classic lines, and all the necessary ports, including the new USB 3.0 Type C. What’s more, the screen is an excellent 15.6” FHD widescreen, which is really neat for something cheaper than $500.
This Aspire E15 contains the exact same processor as our nr.1, an Intel Core i3-7100U. It’s a low-voltage component, but nonetheless has excellent performance. It has 4GB DDR4, the most efficient type of RAM to date, and it’s also user upgradable up to 32GB. The storage is a satisfying 1TB HDD, which is enough for all practical purposes. In spite of being a full-fledged laptop with an FHD screen and such, the battery life can go up to 12 hours, which is more than impressive for this price range.
3. Acer Aspire ES1 15
Another model from Acer, this laptop made our top list by sheer brute strength. Its design is more like our nr.1 HP than our other Aspire model, with slightly rounded lines and an overall slimmer appearance, but the Acer design is still clearly recognizable in its keyboard, touchpad, and so on.
The processor on this one is the strongest in our list, a 6th generation i5-6200U, dual-core, 2.3GHz and up to 2.8GHz with Intel Turbo Boost, with Intel HD Graphics 520. It features 6GB DDR3L, which is not the least bit bad, as well as a 1TB HDD.
4. Lenovo IdeaPad 17
The biggest model on our list, this laptop features an HD+ (1600×900) 17.3” widescreen LED display. It has a rather plain design, but that doesn’t prevent it from looking business enough for such a large model. There are all the ports you need, including USB 2.0 and 3.0, VGA, HDMI, RJ-45, and 3.5mm audio combo, as well as a DVD-RW and an SD card reader.
This IdeaPad is powered by an Intel i3-6100U, 2.3GHz, 3MB cache, with Intel HD Graphics 520. It only has 4GB DDR3L, but it can be upgraded to 16GB. The hard drive is not as big as the others either, at only 500GB, but it’s still big enough for all practical purposes. All in all, this model is great if you prefer comfort over portability and watching movies is one of your favorite things.
5. Dell Inspiron I3558-0954BLK
Our nr.5 is not quite as amazing as our top 3 choices, but it’s still worth the money if you prefer Dell, especially considering it’s also a tad bit cheaper than the others as well. There’s not much to say about its design, but it’s not ugly either, and it fits well within the limits of a classic laptop at 4.85lbs (2.2kg).
The processor is an Intel I3-5005U, dual-core, 2GHz, 3MB cache, with the Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics. It features 6GB DDR3 RAM for smooth and dependable multitasking, and there’s a 1TB HDD to fill with the content of your choice.
6. Asus X540LA-SI30205P
The Asus model on our list is in the same price range as the Inspiron, being a great alternative to it. It has probably the best design on this list, appearing slim and light in spite of being actually a bit heavier than all the other 15.6” models. Just like the Inspiron model, it features a 1366×768 HD screen, but it has the advantage when it comes to ports with the USB 3.0 Type C (Thunderbolt).
This model has an Intel i3-5020U, 2.2GHz, 3MB cache, and 4GB DDR3L SDRAM, which is enough for all practical purposes. It also has a 1TB HDD, which is standard for this price range.
You could say, of course, that the laptop’s specs don’t matter because you’ll just use it for day-to-day tasks and anything will do. And you’d be completely wrong to say that. You’ll be able to browse the Internet on every single $400 model, but what do you do when you open 5 Chrome tabs and the program stops responding? What do you do when you’ve written a 6-page essay due tomorrow and you get the blue screen of death? What do you do if you write a lot, every day, and the keyboard is so uncomfortable that you’re actually considering buying a USB one?
In order to account for all these possible issues, you must first think well about what you’re going to do with your laptop. If you write a lot, you need something with a comfortable keyboard, such as the AccuType offered by some Lenovo models. If you surf the Internet a lot, you’ll need plenty of RAM, so that you can open as many browser tabs as necessary without it crashing. If you watch a lot of movies and listen to a lot of music, you’ll need something with a high-resolution screen and good-quality speakers. If you do office chores and the likes, you’ll probably want the additional numeric keypad. If you travel a lot, you will want to use your budget on a slim and light laptop with as much battery life as you can get.
After you carefully think about these possibilities, here’s what a laptop under $400 will come with:
1. The CPU
Unlike laptops under $300, which are already considered low-budget, you can realistically hope to find a laptop with an Intel Core i3 of the latest three generations, as well as an i5, if you’re really lucky. Of course, you could even find an i7 on a refurbished laptop, but we don’t recommend second-hand electronics due to various reasons related to performance and warranty, not to mention looks. At any rate, you have no reason to go for a lower-performance Intel Celeron, unless there are other more important features to you (portability, for instance). You can also get an AMD-powered model, though we don’t really advise that either. It’s not that AMD processors are bad, but they tend to heat up really fast and they don’t offer the exact performance you can get from an Intel.
There’s no discrete video card. Just don’t think about gaming on a laptop under $400. Unless you play Candy Crush, in which case it will totally work.
The more RAM, the better. You can usually find at least 4GB DDR3, so you can take that as a minimum starting point. There are even 6GB models, which is neat.
For this money, it’s hard to think you can find an SSD or even hybrid storage. What you can get is a pretty big hard drive, at least 500GB but usually above 1TB, or a 64GB eMMC, which is somewhere between HDD and SSD in terms of speed. You’ll have to consider whether you prefer size or speed, as the difference is quite significant. At any rate, the bigger the numbers, the better.
3. Screen, keyboard, ports
The standard resolution for this kind of laptops is 1366×768, regardless of the actual screen size. You should consider yourself lucky if you find an FHD screen, but also not be satisfied with anything below HD. After all, even laptops under $200 come with an HD display, so accept no less.
The keyboard is an issue for those who type a lot and, unfortunately, it’s really difficult to assess how well it’s going to work just by looking at a picture. All you can do is read the reviews and ask questions about the particular model you’re interested in. Do NOT ignore this, in particular if you’re going to do a lot of writing; a poor keyboard can even result in medical problems and it’s really not worth skimping on it.
The more ports, the better. You can always get a USB host with 4-12 ports, but why go the extra mile when you don’t really need to? Try to find a laptop with at least 3 USB ports, an HDMI, an RJ-45 (Ethernet), a 3.5 audio combo, and maybe also a VGA and so on. You just never know when you’re going to need them.
These are the things you should take into account when purchasing a laptop under $400.