I review more than 100 laptops each year, but this is the $250 laptop I own

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As PCMag’s hardware analyst, Tom Brant spends a lot of time with computers. He personally tests more than 10 different laptops every month, sussing out everything from processing speed to picture quality. But when it comes time for him to go home at night, this is the laptop he personally owns: the Asus VivoBook with a Ryzen 3 processor and SSD (he has the 2019 edition, but this is the latest version of the ASUS VivoBook with Ryzen 3250U processor ($649 on Amazon). “The performance is very good,” he adds, noting that it’s “great for my needs” (catching up on emails and doing work at night). And the price is also right (he says he paid about $250 for his, and the new one is $649 on Amazon). 


Though Brant loves his laptop, he notes that if he was going to buy a new one today, he’d opt for a laptop and tablet in one: the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 ($705 from Lenovo). “It’s a 2-in-1, so the screen rotates 360 degrees for you to use it as a tablet or prop it up like a tent on your desk. Has a comfortable keyboard, too,” he says. It too has a Ryzen processor, which helps with performance, and boasts a long battery life and fingerprint scanner.


That said, what laptop you pick depends on your specific needs, and Brant notes that, first, you should consider whether a) you want a simple laptop you can use for work and to do things like check email, or b) whether you want a laptop for gaming. If it’s in the first category, he says you can find a good laptop for roughly $500-$600 and notes that you should look for a laptop that has an SSD that’s at least 120GB, a full HD screen that’s 1080P, and ideally either a Ryzen or Intel Core processor. Here are three of the best-reviewed budget laptops:

  • Lenovo Chromebook ($310 on Amazon)
    This is Wirecutter’s pick for the best Chromebook under $500, with the site noting that it offers “excellent performance for its low price, a great keyboard and trackpad, and a compact, light body.”

  • Gateway Ultra Slim Notebook ($587 on Walmart) This landed on Consumer Reports list of best laptops under $600, with the publication noting that some of its perks include 10 hours of battery life and a display that “gets good marks, with accurate colors and adequate viewing angles.”

  • Asus VivoBook 15 ($400 on Amazon)
    This thin and light laptop landed on CNET’s picks of best laptops under $500, and PCMag gives it an excellent rating. It boasts the latest 10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 CPU, an ergonomic backlit keyboard with fingerprint sensor and more.

If you’re a gamer, Brant says you will probably need to spend a bit more to get a laptop that meets your needs, as they can cost upwards of $1,000 or $1,500. “Gamers will probably want a Nvidia GeForce RTX-class graphics card if they can find one, but a GTX-class one or an earlier-generation RTX would do for budget models. They might also consider a screen with a higher refresh rate than the standard 60Hz, especially if they’re into e-sports games, since higher refresh rates combined with powerful GPUs will translate to silky smooth action.”A

Also see: How to save up to $200 on a quality laptop right now

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