Best cheap laptops of 2022 for quality on a budget
When shopping for a laptop, it’s easy to let your spending get out of control. Those beautiful Apple, Dell or HP machines that are honed from single pieces of aluminium, are impossibly thin and light, yet as powerful as desktop workstations can be extremely tempting. And also extremely expensive.
You won’t find them here. Instead we’ve gone to the other end of the market, finding machines that offer fantastic value for money even if they are a touch thicker and heavier than the market leaders. Specs tend to be a little lower at the cheaper end, and macOS and Windows are joined by ChromeOS, Google’s browser-based operating system that’s perfectly happy on hardware other operating systems would run extremely slowly on.
It’s even possible to buy a laptop with no OS installed (such as these on box.com), on which you can install a variety of Linux, such as Ubuntu 22.04 LTS - a free operating system that can do anything Windows can, even if some of the apps have different names.
Unfortunately, a worldwide electronic component shortage has pushed prices up, but frequent sales and discounts can still push laptop prices below £300. Refurbished or ex-display models are another option for pushing prices down.
Whatever you choose, the cheap laptops available today are going to be great for web browsing, media watching, and office work. You might not be able to edit 4K video or play the latest games on them, but just about anything else should be in reach.
Asus Vivobook E410
Lower-powered laptops are a staple of this market segment, and the Asus Vivobook does a really good job of incorporating a dual-core Celeron processor from 2019 into a 14in laptop.
The screen may only have a resolution of 1366x768 (a Full HD 1080p model is also available, but more expensive) but this works for a low-power laptop as there are fewer pixels to push. The other drawback is that this model comes with Windows 10 in S mode, which limits you to apps installed from the Microsoft Store and generally makes things feel a bit more like a tablet rather than a laptop. Luckily, if it doesn’t suit you, there's an option in the Settings app to switch to full Windows 10 (though once you’ve switched, you can’t switch back), from where you can upgrade to Windows 11.
If you can work around this, there's a lot to like here: the shell is plastic, which makes it light, and there's a good range of ports including full-size HDMI, micro SD (essential as the built-in storage is only 64GB, though a model with 128GB is also available) and some fast USB ports. You get a year’s subscription to Microsoft 365, which bundles Microsoft Office with 1TB of cloud storage, so in many ways you can treat this laptop like a Chromebook, and its 12-hour battery life is certainly very Chromebook-like.
A couple of strange design decisions stand out: the choice of a bright yellow border on the Return key, and that the outer casing (available in four colours) is covered in segments of the Asus logo, a little like Egyptian hieroglyphics. If you can put up with looking like a massive Asus fan, this is a solid cheap laptop well worth considering.
Buy now £292.00, Amazon
Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook
Lenovo is a name that’s going to come up a lot in this list, because the China-based manufacturer knows how to put together a good budget laptop.
Take this Chromebook. It’s cheap partly because its eight-core CPU (MediaTek’s P60T) is an Arm design instead of the AMD or Intel usually found in PCs, and would be more at home in a smartphone or tablet from 2018. This doesn’t matter a bit, as ChromeOS still runs well on it, its web-based nature more reliant on a good internet connection than blistering processor speeds. The CPU is backed by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of local storage, and you get a single USB-C port for charging and expansion.
Essentially, this is a tablet, so all the electronics are built into the back of the 10in touchscreen, which has a nice HD resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. The keyboard and trackpad are therefore a flimsy affair, much like the keyboard covers sold with tablets, but its great virtue is that it pops on and off using magnets. A proper two-in-one for this price is a bargain, especially when you factor in ChromeOS’s ability to un Android apps (as well as Linux via a virtual machine, if you want to get complicated).
As well as being particularly light, under a kilo even with keyboard and case attached, it’s battery life that’s the IdeaPad Duet’s greatest feature, with the ability to keep going for 21 hours on a single charge. The energy-efficient nature of Arm CPU architecture is now being exploited by Apple in its M1 series, but you can get in on the action too without paying Apple prices.
Buy now £280.00, Amazon
HP Chromebook 11a
We’ve seen this discounted as low as £114, which is a ridiculous price for a fully functional laptop. The list of cut corners is extensive, ranging from the 11.6in 1366 x 768 screen (LED backlit but still quite dim at 220 nits), 4GB of RAM and a mere 16GB of built-in storage, but then this is a Chromebook, and it’s designed to run web apps and make use of cloud storage, not store large amounts of data locally.
It doesn’t have a touchscreen, the dual-core Celeron N3350 CPU is from 2016 and doesn’t support hyper-threading, and its integrated GPU is weak. However, there's no fan so the laptop runs silently. It has a USB port and a Micro SD card slot to expand the storage if you need it. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and a full-size HDMI port to connect an external monitor. And the battery life is quoted at 12.5 hours.
There's a lot to like about a laptop this cheap. You can use it for all your browsing, writing, email and chat needs, it comes with a year’s subscription to HP’s music service, and it weighs just 1.36kg, perfect for fitting in a bag when you’re going out.
Buy now £113.98, Laptops Direct
Designed for students and teachers, this is a nice looking laptop that comes with Windows 10 Pro and a 14in 1080p screen with an LED backlight. Unusually, in an arena dominated by low-end Intel processors, you’ll find an old AMD A6 chip at the heart of the 14w, with two cores and a boost speed of 2.7GHz. It will acquit itself quite well as long as you don’t try editing 4K video on it, but note it won’t support an upgrade to Windows 11.
You get 4GB of RAM (8GB is available), and 64GB of internal storage (a 128GB model is also out there), the latter of which can be expanded via the Micro SD card slot. There's an HDMI port, and a good scattering of USBs for hooking up wired peripherals. Oddly, it’s been drop-tested from 75cm and hits military-spec durability standards so can withstand heavy knocks and bumps.
Buy now £240.00, Laptops Direct
Acer Chromebook 314
This ticks all the Chromebook boxes. Intel dual-core Celeron processor? Tick. 4GB RAM? Tick. Low local storage? Tick. Poor screen? Tick. Often discounted? Tick.
Stretching a resolution of 1366 x 768 across 14 inches of screen diagonal is a bit of an ask, 1080p would be much better at this size, but these are the sort of things that don’t matter so much on a Chromebook, a laptop you’re unlikely to be playing games or editing video on.
For use as a basic media machine and for creating documents such as spreadsheets, this sort of thing is absolutely ok - though like anyone we’d jump at the chance to increase the resolution to 1080p if we could.
Elsewhere, you get a decent array of ports, including the essential micro SD card slot to supplement that low internal storage, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and there's a 3.5mm headphone socket if your budget doesn’t quite run to Bluetooth cans.
Battery life is perfectly reasonable, topping 12 hours on a charge, and the snappy nature of ChromeOS means this makes a great browsing machine.
Buy now £230.00, Amazon
Asus Vivobook E510MA
A 15in laptop with 128GB of storage and running Windows (in S mode, but there are ways around this) - this is the ideal machine for a lot of people, especially as it comes in under £250. The screen is 1080p, non-touch but with an LED backlight, and suffers from a brightness of 200 nits, which isn’t going to work well in bright sunlight but is a good size for media watching in a suitably darkened room.
With 4GB of RAM - the absolute minimum we’d recommend - and the popular dual-core Celeron N4020 CPU that boosts to 2.8GHz, this is a machine tailored for office work (a year’s subscription to Office 365 is included), writing, and perhaps a little light image-editing work. There's a good selection of ports to complement the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with some fast USBs (there’s no memory card slot, so storage can be expanded with a flash drive or USB hard drive as needed), a full-size HDMI, and a headphone jack.
A battery life of 14 hours is quoted, which is extremely good at this level, and at 18mm thick and weighing 1.63kg, this is a slim, light choice for students or those looking for a portable writing machine.
Buy now £239.00, Currys
It may not have a name that’s particularly easy to remember, but the 15s-fq2039na does come with a 15in screen and decent specs for almost exactly £300.
Inside, you get a dual-core 11th-gen Intel i3 processor, easily the most powerful in this list, with a burst speed of 4.1GHz. There's 128GB of SSD storage too, and Windows 10 Home (S-mode, unfortunately, but it’s easy enough to switch to full Windows). This is let down slightly by having only 4GB of RAM to play with, but the (non-touch) display is a full 1920 x 1080 pixels (the Intel UHD graphics chip should complement this nicely) and there's a good selection of ports, including an SD card reader, full-size HDMI, and fast USB-C.
The screen has a thin 6.5mm bezel around it for a modern look, and while it’s probably not going to win any design contests, the silver casing (including a left-aligned trackpad to take account of the full-size keyboard with numpad) keeps it light, at 1.68kg. Though the power button is, oddly, on the left rather than the right.
With a battery life of around seven hours (which can take a hit if you enable Performance mode), this is a laptop that gets the basics just about right, though we’d still be on the lookout for more RAM.
Buy now £300.00, Argos
Lenovo V14 IGL
An oddity, this one. Laptops have taken on the SSD - solid state drive, essentially a large, fast memory card - as standard, dumping the spinning hard drive as a thing of the past. This means the cheaper end of the market is dominated by machines with 128GB of storage or less. This laptop, by contrast, uses a hard drive, and so gives you a whole terabyte of storage. It’ll be slower, though.
It also dispenses with both Windows and ChromeOS, instead shipping with the text-based FreeDOS operating system installed. It’s not going to be right for everyone, so we’d be tempted to install the latest version of Ubuntu over the top, as this gives a more modern graphical desktop.
The 4GB of RAM and old-fashioned hard drive are going to hurt the machine’s performance in most tasks, though the Celeron CPU is quite nippy for browsing, but if your needs run to a laptop with a lot of storage, and you can’t stretch to one equipped with an SSD and Windows 11, then this is worth a look.
Buy now £250.00, ebuyer
You can’t expect a MacBook Pro at this price-point, and compromises are inevitable. However, a low-spec laptop released today can do a lot more than one released just five years ago, and with advances such as SSDs taking away the bottlenecks that once throttled performance, even the low-end CPUs can be unleashed to munch through office work, media watching, and even photo editing.
Chromebooks are particularly strong in this category, so our top machine, the Asus Vivobook E410, is one that combines the best of both worlds - a Windows machine that can act like a Chromebook, including having an enormous battery life.