A new laptop is a big investment, one that you’ll likely need to make every few years to keep up with ever-changing technology. But shopping for one can get overwhelming fast once you see just how pricey new laptops can be (on top of the sheer number of options out there).
The good news is you don’t always need to break the bank to get a suitable laptop — there are plenty of affordable models out there for less than $300. (We’re of the firm belief that your laptop shouldn’t need to cost more than your rent.) And if you just need another device to check email, do some basic word processing, or browse YouTube — not all of us are gaming or editing the next Oscar-winning film, after all — maybe a budget laptop is all you need.
Cheaper laptops may not have all the features of top-of-the-line computers, but for a couple hundred bucks, you can still get a reliable machine with all the basic features you’ll be using every day.
How do you choose a good laptop?
Different people will need different specs — it all depends on what kinds of things you’re hoping to do with your new laptop. Perhaps you’re someone who wants a portable notebook they can take to the coffee shop, or maybe you’re a student who needs a long-lasting laptop that’ll get you through a day of classes. If you’re someone who likes watching Netflix on their laptop, find one with a larger screen. And if you need a place to store a bunch of photos and documents, look for one with a decent amount of storage space.
Think about the main purpose your laptop will serve, and start your shopping search from there.
What am I losing by getting a cheap laptop?
Full disclosure: Laptops in the $300-or-below price range are not going to be good for PC gaming. You’re priced out of a 4K resolution display or a refresh rate higher than 60Hz, and your RAM is going to max out at around 8GB. (Not bad, but not spectacular, either.) You’re also unlikely to get more than 500GB of storage space out of a cheap laptop.
Screen-wise, most of the best laptops under $300 are on the smaller end. Manufacturers are starting to make more in the 14- to 15.6-inch range, but most clock in around 11.6 inches. Bells and whistles like touchscreens and backlit displays are available on some machines in this price range, but they’re few and far between.
You’re mostly going to be looking at entry-level, pared-down laptops that are best for light tasks like browsing the web, writing and editing documents, video calls, and streaming — which again, may really be all you need. Basic isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But are cheap laptops worth it?
You know the drill: You get what you pay for. But when it comes to newer cheap laptops, you can at least expect a reliable machine that’ll last you a few good years.
Not sure where to begin? Keep reading to check out our favorite laptops under $300 — whether you need one for school, work, or fun, you’ve got options.