If you're on a tight budget, shopping for a system for your kids or looking for a secondary PC, you can find a solution with a cheap laptop that costs less than $200. There are some good finds in this price range, but other notebooks suffer from poor build quality and usability issues that make them a bad deal.
To help you choose, we've ranked some of the leading cheap laptops from best to worst.
A great value, the 11.6-inch Chromebook 3 offers the brightest screen we've seen on any laptop in this price range, hitting a strong 259 nits on our light meter, where other sub-$200 systems struggle to reach 200 nits. That luminosity allows for wider viewing angles and a much better web-surfing and movie-watching experience. Thanks to its 4GB of RAM, the Chromebook 3 is also a multitasking champ, easily handling a huge array of tabs. Best of all, Samsung's laptop lasted over 9 hours on a charge, which is more than enough of a life span to get through a school day. Since, as its name suggests, this is a Chromebook, it's great for kids and anyone who lives online. However, if you need the flexibility of Windows, you'll have to look elsewhere. Key specs: Intel Celeron N3060 CPU; 11.6-inch/1366 x 768 screen; 4GB of RAM; 2.5 pounds
Intel Celeron N3060 CPU; 11.6-inch/1366 x 768 screen; 4GB of RAM; 2.5 pounds
It's not perfect, but the HP Stream 11 offers the best combination of performance and battery life we've seen from a sub-$200 Windows laptop. Because the Stream 11 has 4GB of RAM, it's able to handle multitasking or productivity better than competitors that come with only 2GB on board. HP's laptop also lasts a solid 8 hours and 23 minutes on our battery test. At just 2.5 pounds, HP's laptop is also a great size for kids. Its bright lavender or blue color scheme will appeal to children (or the inner child in all of us). This Stream's 11.6-inch display is its biggest weakness, as it is both dim (188 nits) and a bit washed out. The laptop's keyboard is decent, though a little shallow, with 1.2mm of travel. However, a sharp front lip could irritate your wrists if you try touch typing.
Intel Celeron N3060 CPU; 11.6-inch/1366 x 768 screen; 2GB of RAM; 2.4 pounds
Dell's 11.6-inch Windows laptop lasted an epic 13 hours and 39 minutes on our battery test, which is way above the ultraportable-laptop category average (8:15) and the times from other laptops in this price range. This Dell also comes in vibrant red or blue color schemes (there's a boring white option too), where the color is carried through the entire chassis, not just the lid. At 2.4 pounds, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is also light enough for anyone to carry, even a young child. The keyboard is shallow but provides a reasonable typing experience, and the touchpad is accurate, though a little stiff. The Inspiron 11 3000's main drawbacks are its relatively dim display and a mediocre multitasking experience with the 2GB of RAM you get on the base model. A 4GB configuration is well over $200, clocking in at $229.
Intel Celeron N3060 CPU; 1366 x 768/11.6-inch screen; 3.8 pounds; 2GB of RAM
While its 11-inch sibling, the Inspiron 11 3000, is a great sub-$200 laptop, Dell's 14-inch budget notebook has too many flaws for us to recommend it. The Inspiron 14 3000 suffers from the dimmest, dullest screen we've seen in a long time. Its panel managed a horrible 135 nits of brightness, 117 points below the 14-inch laptop category average. The Inspiron 14 3000 also has the worst performance of any sub-$200 laptop we've tested recently, as it showed lag even during simple tasks such as opening the start menu or launching YouTube videos. The machine's keyboard is remarkably shallow, offering only 0.8 millimeters of vertical travel (1.5 to 2mm is typical), 20 percent less than Dell's smaller laptop. We also saw evidence of poor build quality; the interior of the lid flexed under our touch.
Intel Atom x5-Z8350 CPU; 10.1-inch/1280 x 800 screen; 2GB of RAM; 1.26-pound weight
You don't find many 2-in-1s that cost less than $200, so at first glance, the iRulu Walknbook 2 looks like a great deal. However, this 10.1-inch detachable has a tiny keyboard that's so uncomfortable that it's practically unusable and an erratic touchpad that handles gestures unpredictably. This machine's low-end Intel Atom processor and 2GB of RAM give it awful performance. Even with just three tabs open in our browser, the Walknbook 2 choked.
Tips for Choosing a Sub-$200 Laptop
- Chromebook or Windows Laptop? Chromebooks are simple and secure, and they usually have long battery life. Windows 10 laptops run a lot more software and work better offline.
- Build quality matters most: Most laptops in this price range have similar specs, but little things like keyboard quality, screen color and brightness, and design are the key differentiators.
- Choose your size: Laptops with smaller, 11.6-inch screens are more portable and better for kids, while 13- and 14-inchers are better for adults.
- 2GB or 4GB of RAM? Most laptops in this price range have only 2GB of memory, which isn't great for multitasking. If you can get 4GB, that's a huge plus.
- Look for sales: During peak shopping times such as the holidays, some laptops that normally cost more may fall below $200.