Shopping for a budget laptop is more complicated than you think. Firstly, you have a ton of different models, many of them being quite close one to another, specs-wise. Next, you will find a lot of devices from unknown brands that sound too good to be true at this price point, with user reviews often confirming these reservations. And even when you find a couple of models that tick all the boxes, they might come with hidden drawbacks, such as a poor screen or short battery life. This is why we created this list featuring the best laptops under $400.
If you’re looking for a cheap laptop, read on and find our favorites. They are mostly Windows 10 laptops, but we also included several Chromebooks, even one Apple laptop. The Apple device sells as refurbished, but for less than $400, it’s worth a look. Before we list the first model, let’s talk about unreasonable expectations or what to expect and what not to expect from a budget laptop.
Curb your expectations when shopping for a budget laptop
In the world of notebooks, more money equals better specs and also a better overall user experience. And while budget mobile PCs are miles better today than what they were half a decade ago, you still shouldn’t expect wonders both under and above the hood.
First of all, these notebooks pack relatively weak CPUs that aren’t made for complex multithreaded workloads. They’re perfectly fine for browsing the web, watching YouTube, or using other video streaming services, as well as working in Word, G-Suite, or Excel. However, they will show their deficiencies when pitched against a complex Blender render, a high-def video in Premiere, or an extended video encoding in Handbrake. The lack of RAM (you should expect 4Gb-8Gb in this price range) also won’t help during complex workloads.
Next, forget about AAA gaming. If you like playing indie 2D games, such as all those Metroidvanias or stuff like Slay the Spire, Grindstone, or Celeste, you’ll be fine. But trying to run 3D titles, even 2D games that can sweat the CPU or the integrated graphics chip (like RimWorld), will make these convertibles sweat their soul and cough it out in like ten frames per second. It would be best if you also forgot about using these notebooks for serious photo or video editing. First of all, their hardware is too humble to tackle complex editing projects.
Next, screens found in budget notebooks aren’t made for color-critical work. They’re also often not bright and sharp enough, especially when compared to flagship devices or standalone monitors. Also, you shouldn’t expect a high-def audio experience. Speakers on these computers are made to work while being as cheap as possible to make, not to sound good.
Finally, many of the budget notebooks come with Windows 10 working in S mode by default. The S mode limits users to Windows Store apps and Microsoft Edge when it comes to the browser. Luckily, you can return to the regular Windows 10 experience relatively simple. And yeah, while webcams are awful on most laptops, they’re extra terrible on the budget devices. Okay, now let’s show you our picks for the best laptops under $400.
3× USB-A, 1× USB-C, HDMI, Card Reader, Headphone Jack
Let’s start with the best overall pick in the sub $400 market, the VivoBook 15 from ASUS. This variant comes with the Intel i3-1005G1 CPU, eight gigs of memory, and a 15.6” 1080p display, which are great specs for the price. What we also like is the inclusion of a 128GB SSD instead of offering slower eMMC storage.
The best thing about this convertible is its premium design and build quality, making it look twice as expensive than it is. ASUS coupled excellent build quality with an excellent selection of ports. You get three USB ports (one of which is USB 3.1), one USB-C port, a combo audio jack, a full-size HDMI port, and a microSD card slot.
As for the CPU, it’s a dual-core model that’s relatively slow. As we already noted in the introduction, web browsing and working in the Office suite work great, but any attempt at complex multithreaded workloads will see the VivoBook 15 chugging through at a snail’s pace. The screen is dim, with washed-out colors, and is far from being great. The speakers are weak and without any punch, as expected.
The keyboard here is a bit mushy but overall, not that bad. At least you get a full experience thanks to the inclusion of the number pad. As for the touchpad, it’s precise and of adequate size, but the overall experience is lacking thanks to too much flex and mushy clicks. Finally, the battery is also below par.
While this might sound disappointing, the VivoBook 15 is an excellent choice in the sub $400 segment. First of all, you get amazing build quality for this price. Next, eight gigs of ram and a 128GB SSD are great to have. And while the CPU is slow compared to the best mobile processors, it’s still snappy enough for regular use and some lightweight work. If your workflow includes two dozen Chrome tabs combined with an opened Word document or an Excel sheet, you’ll be fine.
Do note that this particular model is very popular, so it might be hard to get it for less than $400 since it gets regularly sold out at that price. So, if you want to get it for less than $400, you have to be patient and wait for restocks. If you can’t wait, you can get it for about 15 percent north of $400. If you want an alternative pick that comes with eight gigs of RAM, check out this HP 14 notebook. It’s cheaper than the ASUS, but it also comes with a slower CPU and only 64GB of much slower eMMC storage.
The latest, 2021 version, of the Acer Aspire 5 has the same price point as the ASUS VivoBook 15, but here you get the newer, 11th gen Core i3 CPU instead of a 10th gen Core i3 and Wi-Fi 6, which should allow you to get faster internet speed if your router supports Wi-Fi 6. The quick (for this price point) 128GB NVMe SSD is another positive for the Aspire 5. What we don’t like is only four gigs of memory instead of eight.
Again, this CPU is more than enough for regular usage and some light workloads. If you work with dozens of Chrome tabs open, though, get the ASUS VivoBook 15 instead, since four gigs of RAM might be too low for this kind of workload.
As for the other pros and cons of the Aspire 5, it comes with solid build quality, an excellent keyboard and touchpad for the price, as well as a rich selection of ports. You have two full-size USB 3.2 ports, one USB 2.0 port, one USB-C port, a full-size HDMI port, and an Ethernet port, which isn’t found on the ASUS model. On the flipside, you don’t have a card reader here. The Aspire 5 also includes a fingerprint reader, which you can also find on the VivoBook 15.
The list of cons is what you’d expect at this price point. You have a very dim 1080p display with washed-out colors and below-average speakers. The Aspire 5 also has below-average battery life, expected at this price point. Overall, the inclusion of the newest Core i3 CPU and Wi-Fi 6 is a plus, but the weak screen is a jarring downside, especially since the last year’s model has a much better screen and a very comparable CPU. This is probably why it’s still more expensive than this year’s Aspire 5.
If this model doesn’t tick your boxes, you have the Ryzen-equipped variant that’s only five percent more expensive than the 2021 Core i3 Aspire 5. For the money, you get a much, much better CPU and a faster iGPU. You can also get the VivoBook variant with 4GB of RAM that’s a bit cheaper. Finally, you can pick the 2021 HP Pavilion variant with a 4-core Pentium CPU but also only a 768p display.
1× USB-C, 1× micro USB, HDMI, Card Reader, Headphone Jack
If you’re in the market for a budget convertible, you don’t have to limit yourself to the common form factor. There’s a couple of 2-in-1s that offer solid specs for the money. The best choice is the VivoBook Flip 14 from ASUS. The CPU comes with a low-power Pentium Silver N5030 CPU, which packs four cores and should be enough for regular usage that includes YouTube, Netflix, Reddit, and light work (Microsoft Office, emails, video conferencing over Skype or Zoom).
The 14-inch 1080p display isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a bit dim, colors aren’t great, but the touch response is pretty good. We like that you get a fingerprint sensor and that the device comes with 128GB of storage. It’s a slower eMMC storage, but at least you get 128GB instead of 64GB. As for the keyboard and the touchpad, they’re decent for the price, nothing spectacular.
We like that this budget 2-in-1 comes with a USB-C, micro HDMI, and a full-sized SD card slot. You also get one micro-USB port. It’s dated, and we would like another USB-C instead, but that won’t happen at this price. The overall build quality is solid. The screen is a bit wobbly, and the body is relatively easy to bend. Overall, this is an attractive budget choice for media consumption, Office use, and browsing. If you’re looking for a laptop/tablet hybrid, this one’s the best offering for less than $400. The only proper alternative is the Lenovo 300e, which is pricier, comes with a slower CPU, 64GB of storage, and a smaller, 11.6-inch 720p screen.
Those looking for a highly affordable laptop should check the Acer Aspire 1. The 2020 model comes with a 15.6-inch 1080p screen, 64GB of eMMC storage, four gigs of RAM, and a surprisingly slick design for this cheap device.
Let’s start with the pros. Aside from the excellent design, the Aspire 1 also offers a pretty good keyboard with the number pad and a precise, if a bit smaller, touchpad. The battery life, which is close to 10 hours, is also great. The CPU isn’t powerful, but it can handle browsing, media consumption, and Office work without issues.
The biggest downside of this laptop, aside from its dim display with narrow viewing angles, is the eMMC storage. You can’t expand it, and the Windows installation and pre-installed apps take almost 42GB of storage. You’re left with only about 20 gigs of storage, which is extremely low even for a budget notebook.
As for the expansion ports, the unit includes three USB ports, one full-size HDMI port, a combo audio jack, and an Ethernet port. Excellent expansion options with only an SD card reader missing for calling it a complete package. Overall, this is a perfect choice for people in need of a cheap device to watch movies and TV shows, browse the web and social networks, and do some light work.
The Aspire 1 is also probably the best laptop for school, at least for cheap Windows laptops. The ASUS L410 packs almost identical specs aside from the smaller, 14-inch 1080p display for a bit higher price if you want an alternative. Then you have the HP Stream 14. The 2021 model is noticeably pricier and comes with a 14-inch 720p screen. On the flip side, the HP comes with 128GB of expandable storage.
The older model is more expensive than the Aspire 1 while offering the same specs and a worse screen. Both HP models come with 12 months of Office 365, which could be valuable to some users. Finally, if you want an even cheaper device, the ASUS L210 packs the same CPU and has the same amount of storage and memory, but it also comes with an 11.6 720p display.
Best Chromebook and Best 2-in-1 Chromebook under $400
1× USB-A, 2× USB-C, 1× SD Card Reader, Headphone Jack
There are lots of sub $400 Chromebooks, but the Lenovo Flex is the best one. And since it features a 2-in-1 form factor, it’s also the best 2-in-1 Chromebook that costs less than $400. Where others equipped their Chromebooks with either Celerons, low-power Pentiums, or mobile chipsets, Lenovo equipped the Flex 5 with a Core i3-10110U CPU. While not a powerhouse, this processor is an excellent choice in the sub $400 market.
It’s great for regular usage. It’s also great for media consumption, working with a ton of Chrome tabs in combination with Word or Google Docs, and for both casual and tab-heavy browsing. 4 gigs of RAM is not perfect, but on Chrome OS that’s more than enough. Finally, the 64GB of eMMC storage should be enough on Chrome OS.
The positives continue with the excellent keyboard, more than decent speakers, and seven and a half-hour battery life. You also get superb build quality with the body made of metal and a quality hinge that keeps the screen in place when you use the device in tablet mode. The expansion ports include one USB-A, two USB-C ports, a combo audio jack, and a microSD card reader. The only major downside is the dim display that covers only 66 percent of sRGB color space, but that’s something you should expect in a sub $400 notebook.
Overall, the Lenovo Flex 5 is an excellent buy for less than $400. It has plenty of power for a Chromebook, and the build quality is on par with devices that sell for double the price of the Flex 5. When it comes to alternate 2-in-1 devices, there’s the HP Chromebook x360. The x360 sports a lower price but also comes with less storage and a weaker CPU.
You also have the Acer Chromebook Spin 311. This one’s available in four different flavors, each being cheaper than the Flex 5 and sporting a slower CPU. Finally, you have the Samsung Chromebook Plus V2, that’s just a bit cheaper. But, again, this model comes with a slower CPU and a smaller, 12.2-inch screen.
The best budget sub $400 Chromebook is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. This device sports a 10.1-inch, 16:10 screen with a 1920×1200 resolution. This gives you more usable space, and we always like to see a 16:10 screen on a convertible. The screen isn’t great, but it’s more than decent for the (meager) price you’ll pay for this device.
As for the chipset, it’s a Mediatek Helio P60T. It’s not very powerful but enough for basic usage and light work (Google Docs, simple photo editing, etc.). 4 gigs of RAM is enough for Chrome OS, and 64GB of storage should also be enough unless you install a ton of apps. The Chromebook Duet works excellent in tablet mode since you can detach it from the keyboard and use it as a regular tablet. The said keyboard is great to use, but some keys are hard to hit due to the limited size.
The small touchpad is more than usable, with the only downside of the detachable keyboard being that it doesn’t come with a fancy magnetic lock mechanism. The speakers are surprisingly loud, and the webcam is better than on much more expensive devices. You also get the second 8MP camera on the back that’s usable for taking photos during the day. Overall, the Chromebook Duet is a fantastic offering. It’s dirt cheap, but it does come with lots of positives. The keyboard is a bit cramped, and you only get one USB-C port without a headphone jack. Everything else is excellent for the price.
Our alternate choice is the HP Chromebook 11. This device is a bit cheaper than the Duet. It doesn’t feature a 2-in-1 form factor, packs a slower CPU, and comes with 32GB of storage. On the other hand, you get much better expandability options, with one USB-A port, one USB-C, a headphone jack, and a MicroSD card reader.
If you don’t want the cheapest Chromebook around but don’t have the money for the Chromebook Duet, the Samsung Chromebook 4 looks like the best choice. While it lacks 2-in-1 features, including a touchscreen, this is a solid device considering its price. You get a pretty good keyboard, a lightweight body with reliable build quality, and more than stable battery life (about 11 hours).
On the flip side, the TN screen is pretty bad with horrendous viewing angles and 720p resolution. As for the CPU, it is decent for everyday use and light workloads. You also get six gigs of RAM, which is plenty for the Chrome OS. The Chromebook 4 also comes with a nice selection of ports on the sides (one USB-A, one USB-C, MicroSD card reader, headphone jack). You also get 64 gigabytes of eMMC storage. While an SSD would make the system faster, eMMC is fast enough to make the Chrome OS snappy and responsive. After all, it is more or less a browser-based operating system.
Overall, this is a cheap but not the most inexpensive Chromebook, perfect for everyday use and light work. It’s among the best Chromebooks for school. It has enough power for schoolwork, online classes, watching YouTube, and browsing the web. If six gigs of memory are too much for you, you can get the version with 4GB of RAM, which’s about 20 percent cheaper than the version with 6GB of memory or, you could get the HP Chromebook 14 instead. It comes with similar specs but only 32GB of storage.
Last but not least, we have a refurbished MacBook Air. This means you only get a 90-day Amazon Warranty, but you also get a MacBook Air for less than $400. The specs here are great for the price. The CPU (dual-core Core i5-4250U) is too slow for heavy workloads but is great for everyday use and light work. The laptop also comes with four gigs of RAM and a 256GB SSD, more than any other notebook featured on this list.
Since this is an older version of the MacBook Air, the screen features 1440×900 resolution, but it’s taller than the displays seen on most other devices. This means more usable space and a better experience when working in word processing apps. The MacBook Air screen is also much better than what you’d expect from a budget laptop, with higher brightness and better colors.
Finally, the design holds well even to this day. The Air is extremely thin and light, with a quality chassis made of metal. In other words, it looks like it costs much, much more. Other positives include the excellent keyboard and touchpad, as well as more than decent speakers. Now, remember that this is a refurbished device. Its battery might have some wear and tear, and the body might have some minor scratches. In other words, the battery will not last as long as on new MacBook Air devices, and it even might need a replacement after a while. But, for the price, this is an unbeatable offering and the only way to get a relatively modern Apple notebook for less than $400.