The smartphone may be the hub of our digital lives, but the computer still plays a key role. In fact, there's still plenty that's far easier to do on a laptop than on anything else, while tablets aren't yet fully capable of replacing them. That's especially true if you're getting a laptop for work, home, or school.
It used to be that if you want a laptop with power and features, you would need to spend more than $1,000. That's still the case, but today's budget laptops are now plenty capable of doing what most people need — word processing, web browsing, and emailing — thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.
Of course, this is not to say all budget laptops are great — some are definitely better than average, while others aren't worth your hard-earned cash — so you need to consider a few key things before you purchase:
Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You're probably most familiar with Windows, as it's by far the most-used operating system, but there's also Apple's macOS, which is found on the company's Mac computers (we didn't include any Macs because they didn't meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there's Google's Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google's web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).
Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop's components perform; for example, Google's Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.
The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.
Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That's handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.
Then, of course, there's cost. For this guide, we consider a "budget" laptop to be a laptop that costs about $800 or less — we aimed to recommend those that fall below $600. However, if you can afford to spend more than that, you will be able to get something more powerful and arguably better than the computers on this list.
Here are the best cheap laptops:
Updated on 10/31/2019 by Monica Chin: Added new picks and what else to consider. Updated formatting and adjusted prices.