Technology Explained

Are Cheap Laptops a Good Deal or Waste of Money?

Ben Stegner Updated 22-08-2018

Everyone wants to get more for less. This is true when it comes to groceries, gaming, and certainly when buying a new computer. Computers can be extremely expensive, which is why they’re one of the biggest areas where people strive to save money.


You might be tempted to buy a cheap laptop hoping to save some money up front, but the lack of quality could cause problems in the future.

Let’s look at situations in which cheap laptops shine and where they fall flat. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to decide whether or not you should shell out the extra cash for a higher-end machine.

What Are You Buying the Laptop For?

This probably won’t surprise you, but people buy laptops for a variety of reasons. Some people buy Macs no matter the cost because they value the Apple experience. Others might just need to access email on the go. Still others buy a machine with a touchscreen so they can create drawings easily.

Many people who spend the least money possible on a laptop What's the Cheapest Laptop I Can Get Away With? What's the cheapest laptop you can get away with? $100. A Benjamin gets you bottom-of-the-barrel hardware with enough horsepower to cover basic computing tasks. But don't expect anything approaching quality. Read More do so because they don’t have the money for something more expensive. Or they might not see a more expensive model as worth the cost.


Thus, we need to ask what you need out of your machine first. If you just need basic internet access for email and news, a cheap Chromebook will get you by just fine How to Decide If a Chromebook Is Right For You Is a Chromebook for everyone? In a word: No. There is a time and a place for a Chromebook. If you are contemplating this laptop replacement, there are a few things you should consider first. Read More . Conversely, if your profession requires editing HD video every day, a Chromebook won’t do for you at all. Keep that in mind while you’re shopping for a new laptop.

The Downsides of a Cheap Laptop

Chances are, your needs probably fall somewhere between the above extremes. You don’t need the most powerful machine ever, but you need something beyond the basics.

Let’s explore the computer aspects that are commonly sub-par when you buy a cheap laptop. This will help you better understand what you’re paying for.


A screen’s resolution dictates how many pixels it can show at once, and thus how clear the picture is. For reference, 1080p is 1920×1080 while 4K is 4096×2160. A lot of cheap computers display in 1366×768, which isn’t great. Everything you do on your PC, from editing spreadsheets to watching videos, looks worse on a cheap screen.


Another way that the screen suffers is overall size. If you don’t hook your laptop up to an external monitor and the screen is only 11 inches, you won’t have much room to work with.

Hard Drive

Your computer’s hard drive is where all of your data gets saved. With cheap machines, you can run into two storage problems.

The first is low disk space. While even many cheap laptops now include a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD), space is still a concern. The average cheap laptop ships with an SSD as small as 32GB or 64GB drives. After you account for Windows installation files, that’s barely anything for you to use.

If you want to keep lots of programs and files on your system, you” run out of space in no time. You can always purchase an external hard drive (or SD card) to get more space, but that’s an additional cost.


The second big problem occurs if you don’t get an SSD. The traditional HDDs often found in cheap machines are much slower than newer SSDs. With a cheaper laptop, you won’t get the faster boot times, app launching, and file transfer speed that come with an SSD.


Random access memory, or RAM, temporarily holds open programs on your computer. We’ve explained everything about how RAM works if you’re interested. Suffice it to say here that with a lack of RAM, you’re going to notice a huge decrease in performance.

Most cheap laptops on Amazon have 4GB of RAM, which is passable but not enough for running lots of programs in tandem. If you have ten programs running in the background while you have twelve Chrome tabs open and are streaming from Spotify while working in Adobe Premiere, 4GB of RAM isn’t going to cut it.

You can only use so much RAM, but having 8GB or more will give you a lot more breathing room than a basic 4GB machine. Memory cleaners like CleanMem are snake oil, so don’t expect to use one to compensate for lack of RAM.


Touchpad, Keyboard, and More

The three above components are the biggest hangups on cheap laptops, but there are several more items to watch out for. On a low-quality machine, you might find a touchpad that’s too small, or difficult to click. The keyboard might have an awkward layout or sticky buttons, and the built-in speakers probably aren’t great.

Batteries are another common component often sacrificed to cut costs. A budget laptop isn’t going to feature an all-day battery, so you may have to perform some shenanigans to squeeze more battery life out of a charge How to Optimize Windows 10 for Battery Life Battery life is a pretty important factor for mobile devices. While Windows 10 does offer new features to manage power settings, the defaults are not necessarily contributing to optimal battery life. Time to change that. Read More .

Is a Cheap Laptop Right for You? Considerations

We’ve discussed the needs of different folks, and the aspects of cheap machines that can cause problems. The best way to decide for yourself if you should buy a cheap laptop is to consider how much time you spend on your computer.

If you only hop on your laptop for twenty minutes a day to check email and browse social media, you don’t need much more than the bare minimum. You’ll have to deal with slow boot times and a lackluster display, but since you won’t use it much, it’s not worth $300 more to avoid these nuisances.

However, if you spend hours every day on your computer, it’s a different story. When you use your PC as an entertainment hub or working, a slow machine can drastically worsen your experience. Squinting over a tiny screen while you wait for your computer to unfreeze is simply miserable.

We’re all about getting the most for your money, but this doesn’t always mean refusing to spend. Rather, it’s worth spending a little more money on the items you’re going to use all the time. An extra $20 for a more comfortable pair of shoes that you wear every day? Worth it—and the same is true of a laptop.

Future-proofing an infrequently used laptop is a waste, but suffering from slow performance on a machine you use every day is counterproductive and will stress you out. Would you rather spend $400 on a laptop that you scrap after a year, or buy a better laptop for $700 that lasts three years?

But if you’re budget-restricted, here are some great cheap laptops to consider. For even cheaper options, check out these $100 laptops The 5 Best 100 Dollar Laptops in 2019 If you're looking for a low cost laptop that won't break the bank, then one of these 100 dollar laptops may just be right for you. Read More .

Best Cheap Gaming Laptop: Acer Aspire E 15

Aspire E

Acer Aspire E 15 Laptop, 15.6" Full HD, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8250U, GeForce MX150, 8GB RAM Memory, 256GB SSD, E5-576G-5762 Acer Aspire E 15 Laptop, 15.6" Full HD, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8250U, GeForce MX150, 8GB RAM Memory, 256GB SSD, E5-576G-5762 Buy Now On Amazon $1,199.77

You can spend a fortune on gaming laptops compared to ones for general use, so we’ve raised the price ceiling on “cheap” in this case. But if you want to play games on a budget, you can’t do much better than the Acer Aspire E.

This machine features a big 15.6″ screen with a 1080p resolution. You also get a Core i5 eight-generation processor from Intel, along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. On the graphics side, this packs a GeForce MX150 with 2GB of video RAM. That’s nothing crazy, but it’s enough to handle modern games at modest graphics settings.

And while it’s a rarity these days, this laptop has easily accessible compartments for you to upgrade the drive and memory, meaning this should serve you well for a while. Remember that you might be able to get a better value by building a cheap gaming PC yourself instead, though.

Best Cheap Laptop for Students: Acer Swift 1

Swift 1

Acer Swift 13.3" Full HD Intel Quad Core N4200 2.5GHz 4GB 64GB eMMC Webcam Bluetooth Fingerprint Reader Windows 10 Pure Silver Acer Swift 13.3" Full HD Intel Quad Core N4200 2.5GHz 4GB 64GB eMMC Webcam Bluetooth Fingerprint Reader Windows 10 Pure Silver Buy Now On Amazon $335.00

If you’re a student on a budget, the Acer Swift 1 represents a great buy. It’s amazing to find a laptop at this price point with a 1080p screen, but this one packs it into its 13.3″ frame. The machine even features a fingerprint reader for securely locking your account.

On the downside, this computer only has 4GB of RAM and a paltry 64GB storage drive. However, you can buy an SD card to alleviate the former. If you don’t plan to do much with your computer other than check email and use Microsoft Office and don’t want a Chromebook, this should serve you well. It’s under three pounds, which makes it easy to carry around all day.

Best Cheap Chromebook: Acer Chromebook 14

Acer 14

Acer Chromebook 14, Aluminum, 14-inch Full HD, Intel Celeron N3160, 4GB LPDDR3, 32GB, Chrome, Gold, CB3-431-C0AK Acer Chromebook 14, Aluminum, 14-inch Full HD, Intel Celeron N3160, 4GB LPDDR3, 32GB, Chrome, Gold, CB3-431-C0AK Buy Now On Amazon $425.00

You don’t have to stick with a Windows machine if you want a cheap laptop. Chromebooks provide good value for the money if you’re a light user. The Acer Chromebook 14 one is about as good as Chromebooks come, with a 14″ screen that’s full 1920×1080 resolution. It includes 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD, which is standard for a Chromebook.

There’s no SD card slot, so you’ll need to rely on Google Drive cloud storage for additional space. This model also features an all-metal finish, lending it a premium air.

Best Cheap Laptop for General Use: HP 15 Series

HP 15

HP 15.6 inch HD Laptop Computer with SSD (2018 Newest Edition), AMD A6-9220 Dual-Core, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, DVD +/-RW, Bluetooth, USB 3.1, HDMI, Windows 10 Home (Jet Black) HP 15.6 inch HD Laptop Computer with SSD (2018 Newest Edition), AMD A6-9220 Dual-Core, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, DVD +/-RW, Bluetooth, USB 3.1, HDMI, Windows 10 Home (Jet Black) Buy Now On Amazon

For the price, the HP 15 Series is a solid laptop for all-around use. It includes 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, so you have a decent amount of storage and enough RAM for normal use. It also features an SD card reader if you want to expand the storage.

The screen is a large 15.6 inches, but unfortunately is only 1366×768 resolution (this machine’s only major shortcoming). Elsewhere, you can expect three USB ports (two of them USB 3.1), a number pad on the keyboard, and even a DVD drive if you still need that.

Improving Performance on a Cheap Laptop

It’s wise to think ahead when it comes to buying a new PC. It might sting to pay more money now than you were expecting, but a one-time cost for something you use every day for years is a worthwhile investment.

If your current computer is still hanging on, check out our tips for speeding up an older computer Speed Up Windows With 10 Tricks and Hacks Looking to speed up your computer without spending a lot of time? Here are 10 tweaks to make Windows faster that take 10 minutes or less. Read More so you can continue saving for a new one.

Related topics: Buying Tips, Save Money.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Mike Walsh
    September 15, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Y'know, I love the way you guys kinda assume everybody MUST be on Windows 10.....and write everything accordingly. Okay, I ain't used Windows for years.....but a 64 GB drive 'barely big enough to contain Windows'?


    My 'daily driver', 'Puppy' Linux, uses around 450 MB. I could fit 10 years-worth of backups on a 64 GB drive..... What on EARTH does Windows DO with all that space, huh?

  2. TPB
    September 4, 2018 at 6:25 am

    While the Acer E15 might be your pick for "Best Cheap Gaming Laptop," it's also the best specs for $600 or less and the one that will take the longest amount of time before it becomes obsolete. Also: battery does last a long time, it has a DVD player, a backlit keyboard (if that matters to you) and the keyboard is very nice. How do I know?

    I bought one in January 2018.

  3. Zhong
    August 29, 2018 at 1:16 am

    I'm running Vostro 1400 model PC that I've upgraded the CPU to T9300, add 2GB of RAM totaled 4GB and this came out in the year of 2008, the FreeBSD system works fine as well as normal browsing usage. The scenario here is that you'll be able to play old games and it serves the purpose that you'll do on most PCs nowadays if you're not a poweruser.

    There might be good prices on Ebay that people are selling PCs that has missing HDDs and it's functioning for a bargain. Let me know in the comments if Ebay is the savior on saving some bucks on a PC that you don't use for heavy tasks.

  4. John IL
    August 26, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Trouble with cheap is many buy on price rather then buying what they really need for how they use a PC. So they end up complaining about the PC when in fact they should have bought something better. I see this a lot with people buying PC 's to game on when in fact they are not really gaming PC's. So then the complaints roll in that it doesn't play a game it was never designed to play. I think cheaper PC's have their place in the market, for people who don't use them in a way that makes them perform poorly. Such as running many tabs in a browser, or trying to do task that require a lot more CPU or graphics power. I personally think its better to over buy then under buy performance. Otherwise a under performing PC will only frustrate a user sooner and make you consider replacing it much sooner. In general the cheap PC's will tend to leave users wanting more.

  5. JB
    August 24, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Yesterday I had had enough of my cheapo Asus T100. A worse pile of S**T was never produced. I gripped it in both hands and smashed it on the side of my table (damaging the table a little). Then I used pliers to bend the holy s**t out of it. (That wasn't absolutely necessary, but it felt good.)

    • MD
      August 25, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      Now I don't feel so bad after partially destroying my Xbox controller the other day after a bad gaming episode.

  6. dragonmouth
    August 22, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    You need to distiguish between "cheap" as in "shoddily made" and "cheap" as In "inexpensive". Unless, of course, you mean to paint anything inexpensive as shoddy.

    I will take a refurbished IBM/Lenovo T40 or T60 Thinkpad over a similarly priced Chromebook. Chromebooks are nothing more than netbooks V.2, disposable laptops with limited software. while the Thinkpads are honest to goodness laptops with upgrade abilities. Thinkpads are "inexpensive" while CHromebooks are "shoddy".

    • John IL
      August 26, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      You can buy some really well made Chromebooks these days. But yes a $200 Chromebook isn't any better then a $200 Windows PC. But I would argue some refurbished are older hardware with many hours on a hard drive and battery and may not have any longer longevity but may offer slightly better performance.

      • dragonmouth
        August 27, 2018 at 9:32 pm

        "You can buy some really well made Chromebooks these days."
        No matter how well a Chromebook is made, it still has one major flaw - it is forever attached to Mothership Google. If you don't mind Google supervising all your activities...................

        • Col. Panek
          August 30, 2018 at 3:39 pm

          Untrue! I bought a 4 year old Chromebook Pixel for the price of a new Chromebook or a reeeeeal cheapo Windows laptop. I got a solid build with a hi-res touch screen, and I put GalliumOS on it (a spin of Ubuntu with drivers made for Chromebook). I can install any Linux app on it, and I save data to an SD card.

          I had a bottom of the line HP and learned my lesson.

    • likefunbutnot
      August 26, 2018 at 11:56 pm

      A T40 or T60 is rather long in tooth at this point, but a T420 with an SSD is still a very nice laptop for $100 or less.

      I'd also like to say that inexpensive Acer notebooks are extremely poorly constructed. They tend to have good specs for the money but they make up for it by being very easy to damage. I have a very hard time recommending Acer notebooks for that reason. The best buys for cheap notebooks are unquestionably lease-returned business machines rather than today's back to school specials.

      ... But I actually like my Chromebook. I'm perfectly willing to use it it preference to either my personal or work-assigned Thinkpads, my Surface Pro, Dell Venue or the MacBook Pro I have. Here's why: it'll run for a solid 12 hours before I charge it. It weighs 2lbs and doesn't get warm at all. It has a far nicer keyboard than either of my Windows tablets. If I'm doing real work, I'm always going to be on a remote session to a bigger computer anyway, and from a remote session, it doesn't even matter what the local system is doing.

      I wouldn't use one as my only computing device but I adore it for handling a lot of common tasks.