By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
A consumer looking for a new laptop on a budget is blessed with many choices these days. But with so many configurations out there and expert reviewers focused mostly on pricier machines, it's hard to zero in on a single computer as a good value. The three budget laptops below have garnered enough positive feedback to be featured on Cheapism.com as top picks for $400 or less. They may not have the chops for things like 3D gaming, but they're well-equipped for word processing, web surfing, and other everyday tasks.
Related: Top inexpensive desktop computersSee our top picks for $400 or less
The Dell Inspiron 15 (starting at $350) is part of Dell's basic laptop lineup, but reviewers assert that it doesn't feel like a low-end machine. The cheapest version comes with 4GB of memory, a 320GB hard drive, and a dual-core Intel Celeron processor. Experts recommend upgrading to an Intel Core i3 processor for the best performance on a budget. The faster model costs an extra $50 but also comes with a larger 500GB hard drive. Both versions include a DVD drive, an HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, two speedier USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth support, and a media card reader. The 15.6-inch screen has 1366x768 resolution, high enough to watch 720p HD video.
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The Lenovo G500 (starting at $349) also comes with a very basic Intel Celeron processor but can be found with a more powerful Intel Core i3 for around $400. The entry-level model comes standard with 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive -- typical of a top budget laptop. It features a 15.6-inch HD screen, an HDMI port, a media card reader, a DVD-RW drive, and two USB 3.0 ports for transferring files between devices faster. Lenovo has earned a reputation for making dependable products, and reviews suggest this laptop is no exception.
The Samsung Chromebook (starting at $248) is one version of Google's take on the laptop; another was just released by HP. While most inexpensive laptops use the Windows 8 operating system and store software and files locally on a hard drive, a Chromebook uses Google's Chrome OS and associated apps and stores files in the cloud. In other words, this laptop needs an Internet connection to be fully functional, although many activities can be done in offline mode, as well, and synced later. It's an interesting twist in a day and age when Wi-Fi is common, but reviewers caution it's not for everyone. At the same time, the sleek Samsung Chromebook is the best-selling laptop on Amazon, with thousands of positive reviews, and has won over many experts, a number of whom consider it a better value than the newest HP model.
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In addition to the features mentioned above, a laptop's weight and battery life are important to consider if you plan to carry it in a backpack or briefcase regularly. The Dell Inspiron 15 weighs 4.96 pounds and Lenovo's G500 totals 5.73 pounds. The Samsung Chromebook takes the cake in this regard, at only 2.5 pounds. This has a lot to do with its screen size: 11.6 inches compared with 15.6 inches on
the traditional laptops. (If you favor screen size over portability, the 17-inch model in Dell's Inspiron line has picked up multiple editors' choice awards and starts at $400.) Battery life depends on a variety of factors, but users can expect the six-cell battery in the Lenovo G500 to last longer than the four-cell battery in a Dell Inspiron 15 with similar hardware. The Chromebook gets the best battery life of the three: at least six hours and change.
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