“Good laptops” and “inexpensive laptops” don’t always go together.
Assuming you need Windows 10 over the Web-centric (for now)
ways of a Chromebook, you generally have to drop around $750 to get a notebook that’s not compromised in some fundamental way. Something like the Asus Zenbook UX305UA works there.
Go below that, though, and you have to figure out which sacrifices you can live with. Anything in that more approachable $400-600 range will have problems somewhere — it’s just a matter of hoping you find a device at least lessens the blow.
Knowing what’ll actually do that, though, can be tricky. We’ve previously laid out what baseline of specs you should
accept in a cheap laptop, but as a quick PSA: This Acer Aspire has the core bases covered.
For $550, it checks about as many boxes as you could expect from a Windows 10 device. There’s a sharp 1080p display, an up-to-date and decently powerful Core i5 processor, a healthy 8GB of RAM, and a backlit keyboard. It supports 802.11ac, which means fast WiFi, and has good chunk of ports, including a more futureproof USB-C one.
There’s also a dedicated graphics processor from Nvidia — it’s not super strong, but it’s also not common, and it will allow for some moderate gaming.
Most notably, it has a 256GB solid state drive (SSD), which allows for noticeably faster performance than the usual hard disk drives (HDD) you almost always see in this range. The trade-off is that you get less space, but 256GB should be plenty of room for most people.
As always, there are still things you have to give away here. Its 15.6-inch screen is big, and at 5.3 pounds, the whole thing is on the heavier side. It’s not exactly good looking, either, and its keyboard and trackpad just aren’t on the level of what you’d get from a higher-grade machine. Same goes for the display (resolution aside). You can also expect some bloatware, which is always annoying.
But again, this is an example of weighing your options and taking what you can get. If you really can’t afford to pay up for a more premium machine, and you’re positive you won’t get by with a Chromebook, you’ll have a hard time finding anything else this steady.