For many of us, when we start our creative journey, we might have all the passion and imagination in the world, but one thing we may lack is the money to have the best technology to make our dreams a reality.
We started to reminisce about those early days and wanted to give you, our loyal reader some assistance in getting the best tech available for your budget and still keep your drive & business growing.
When we started building our list of the Best Budget Laptops for Designers and Creatives in 2020, we tried to consider the things that we would look for when buying a new laptop.
So let’s start there shall we?
- 17 Essential Tools for Designers
- Best laptops for designers
- Best laptops for programmers / coders
- Best Chromebooks for designers
- Best Macbooks for designers
- Best laptops for video editing
- Best computers for designers
- Best printers for designers
- Best monitors for designers
- Best tablets for designers
- Best mouse for designers
- Best earphones for music-lovers
- Best cameras for designers
- Best microphones for designers
- Best office chairs for designers
- Best external hard drives for designers
- Best monitor calibrators for designers
- Best pens for creatives
7 Things to Look For When Buying A Budget Laptop
When you’re serious about your craft and want to make sure that the work you’re putting out there is the best that it can be, you want to make sure that the tech you’re using does what you need it to.
Without the right gear, your work can suffer. Now while we know you might be on a budget, there can be many things you need to know and look for when buying a laptop. If nothing else, we wanted to make sure you don’t go in uninformed.
Let’s dive right in.
1. Set A Budget
We’ve all been there. You head to the store, see the newest and brightest tech available and get excited. Then reality sets back in and you realize that you have a budget, but can you get a good laptop on a tight budget? Let’s break it down a little bit.
- $150 to $350
While these are the least expensive laptops out there, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t quality options out there for you to choose from. Chromebooks run the Google Operating system, might not have all the bells and whistles of some more expensive options, but can still be a quality choice when you’re first starting out. See our post on the best Chromebooks for designers.
- $350 to $600
You can buy a quality laptop with an Intel Core i5 or even an AMD A8 CPU plus 4 to 8GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive for less than $600 these days. While these specs are impressive, for the price, they can come with some exclusions such as an SSD, FullHD display or long battery life. There are exceptions to this though such as the Acer Aspire E 15 or the Asus Vivobook which can be upgraded to an SSD.
- $600 to $900
At this point, many manufacturers will start to put features on the laptop that won’t appear on those with lower price points such as a metal finish, SSDs or even high-resolution displays. Finding a quality laptop with the features you need without breaking the bank is very doable in this price range.
2. Operating System
Other than price, many people will end up choosing a laptop because of the operating system that the laptop runs on. Whether its personal preference because of familiarity or recommendations from a colleague, laptops are generally available with three different OS:
The laptops that Apple manufacturers are packaged with MacOS. While functionally similar to Windows 10, there are subtle differences such as an Apps dock instead of a Start menu. Mac users also have Siri instead of Cortana for voice assistance. While many people tout the ease of use that comes with Apple’s operating system, the biggest downside is that the laptops that have this OS can be quite expensive. An entry point for a cheap Mac would be considering a renewed older model.
- Windows 10
With its appearance on many more laptops than both MacOS and ChromeOS, Windows is considered to be the most flexible operating system out there. Appearing on a wide range of laptops from those costing $150 to thousands of dollars, the variety of features that Windows offers can make it an enticing choice. Since its release in July 2015, the improvements that have been added to Windows have made it a very popular choice for designers and creatives.
A simple and secure operating system, the ChromeOS from Google is found on Chromebooks. While the interface is reminiscent of Windows with an app menu, desktop, and ability to drag windows around, the main browser is Google’s own Chrome browser. A downside to using the ChromeOS is that some web applications don’t work all that well offline. That is changing however as newer, high-end versions of the Chromebook are now able to run Android applications.
3. Traditional laptop or 2-in-1
These days, laptops will fall into two main categories: standard notebook style and 2-in-1 hybrids that come in two different variations. A hinged version that allows you to put the device in many different configurations and a detachable that come off the keyboard entirely.
Many of these tend to provide a better experience one way instead of the other with bend-back laptops being a laptop first while detachable offers a superior tablet experience. If you don’t see having a tablet in any form as a necessity, stick with a traditional laptop as you’ll usually get better performance for the money you will spend.
4. Screen Size & Weight
While all the power under the hood is great to have, if all that power causes you to lug around a huge laptop, it might not be worth the money. Laptops are generally categorized by the size of their display:
- 11 to 12 inches
These will generally be the thinnest and lightest laptop that you can find. The screen is between 11 and 12 inches and only weighs around 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.
- 13 to 14 inches
Laptops of this size will provide the best combination of portability and usability. This is especially true if you find a laptop that weighs less than 4 pounds.
- 15 inches
Usually weighing around 4.5 to 6.5 pounds, 15-inch laptops are the most popular choice for those who want a laptop with a larger screen but isn’t so heavy to be a burden when carrying it around
- 17 to 18 inches
If you have a laptop that stays primarily on your desk and isn’t carried around much, a laptop with a 17 or 18-inch screen can provide you with the processing power you need to do high-quality work without needing a desktop computer.
5. Keyboard & Touchpad
Having the best laptop in the world, no matter how much it costs, can mean absolutely nothing if the keyboard doesn’t fit your hands the right way. A good laptop keyboard should offer tactile feedback, enough space between the keys and when you press a key, it should move vertically enough to make it feel satisfying.
- See here for our list of top external keyboards.
The touchpad shouldn’t give you a jumpy cursor and also responds well to your movements as well as multitouch gestures like pinch and zoom. Some manufacturers still provide a pointing stick between the G and H keys. This can be helpful as it will allow you to navigate your laptop’s screen while keeping your fingers on the home row of the keyboard.
6. Specifications (What’s Inside)
When you look at the specs that a laptop has, it can be a little daunting at first. There are a lot of letters on display and it can be tough to know what each one of them means and what you should pick. While there can be some debate over the screen size you should choose, for designers and creatives, focusing more on three areas will help you choose a quality laptop in your price range.
- Storage size
Laptops will either come with an HDD (hard disk drive) or an SSD (solid state drive). You want to try and buy a laptop with the highest amount of storage that you can afford and should aim for at least 256GB to start. If you have many files and projects that you can’t keep saved on your laptop, you may want to also look at an external hard drive.
While there are some budget-friendly laptops that come with 2GB of RAM, you should strive for a laptop that starts with at least 8GB. 16GB would obviously be better if you can afford it, and anything higher might break your budget altogether.
The CPU is essentially your laptop’s brain and giving your laptop a strong brain can make doing your job much easier. The CPU can affect the performance of the laptop in both good and bad ways. In our opinion, if you don’t have any extra money to spend on other areas of the laptop, make sure you are getting a good processor for the money.
7. Battery Life
Some people who buy a laptop will only look at the specs that it may come with and overlook a very important factor: battery life. If you’re not going to be leaving your laptop on a desk, plugged in all day, you want to shoot for at least 7 hours of battery life, more is obviously better. Just because the manual says that it lasts for 10 hours isn’t always correct. Do your research and read third-party reviews of the laptops you are interested in to get an accurate idea of the battery life.
Top 10 Best Budget Laptops for Designers and Creatives in 2020
While it is true that there are many laptops available for you to purchase, finding the best budget laptops, especially for those who may be a designer or work in another creative field can be a bit tough. There are so many options out there for you to choose from.
What we decided to do was take our criteria of what to consider when buying a laptop and select those that most closely matched. This means that to us, the list below has the Best Budget Laptops for Designers and Creatives in 2020.
If you want to know more about any on our list, click a link below to get more information. However, if you want to know why we picked the ones we did, keep reading below.
- Asus Vivobook F510 UA($509) The Best All-Around Budget Laptop
- Lenovo Yoga 720 ($685) The Best Budget Laptop Under $800
- Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Renewed) ($375) The Best Budget MacBook Pro
- Dell i3567 Inspiron ($494) The Most Powerful Budget Laptop
- Acer Chromebook 14 – ($299) The Best Long-Life Battery Laptop
- Acer Aspire E 15 – ($329) The Best Budget Laptop with an Optical Drive (CD/DVD)
- Microsoft Surface Go – ($428) The Best Budget Tablet Laptop
- HP Pavilion 15 – ($439) The Best Budget Laptop for Video Editors
- HP Pavilion X360 – ($457) The Best Budget-Friendly 2-in-1 Laptop
- Lenovo Chromebook C3300 – ($239) The Cheapest Chromebook
- Samsung Chromebook 3 – ($245) The Best Budget Laptop for Travel
Prices above are approximate. Live rates are below.
Can you afford more? See our post:
The Best Budget Laptops Compared
The Cheapest Laptops for Designers and Creatives in 2020
The term budget can mean many different things and doesn’t necessarily mean that if you are on a budget, that there isn’t a viable laptop option for you out there. In fact, we found eleven great options and even though we focused on these, there are so many more out there.
The choices on our list are the ones that right out of the box, you can turn it on and excel at whatever work you need to do. If you’re ready, keep reading.
The Best All-Around Budget Laptop
CPU: 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 | RAM: 8 GB DDR4 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | Storage: 1TB HDD | Weight: 3.7lbs | OS Windows 10 Home
Looking for the best all-around budget laptop for design? The Vivobook F510 UA from Asus is it. While priced as a budget laptop, anyone looking for a laptop no matter what their budget is should consider taking this one home. A 15.6″ WideView display with FHD resolution can make your projects stand out with the help of a 7th gen Core i5-7200U processor and 8GB of RAM which helps make multitasking as easy as can be. The 1TB hard drive will have more than enough room for all of your files but if you want a faster SSD drive (such as the Crucial MX300), you can upgrade it quite easily. With connection options including HDMI, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0, and a Type-c port, it’s not hard to see why this is the top laptop on our list.Learn More
- Powerful Intel Core i5 7200U 2.5GHz (Turbo up to 3.1GHz) processor
- 14.2 Inches wide, 0.8 Inches thin and portable footprint with 0.3 Inches NanoEdge bezel for a stunning 80% screen to body ratio
- 15.6 inches anti glare Full HD 1920x1080 WideView display with ASUS Splendid software enhancement
- 8GB DDR4 RAM and 1TB HDD; Ergonomic chiclet keyboard with fingerprint sensor
- Comprehensive connections including USB 3.1 Type C (Gen1), USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and HDMI; Lightning fast 802.11ac Wi Fi keeps you connected through any congestion or interference.Bluetooth 4.1
The Best Budget Laptop Under $900
CPU: Intel Core i5-i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB DDR4 | Weight: 2.65 lbs | OS: Windows 10 Home
While the Lenovo Yoga may not fit into everyone’s idea of budget, those who can afford this 2-in-1 will be impressed by the performance they receive from a high-quality laptop that doesn’t cost as much as the big boys. A full HD 15.6-inch display is helped by the Intel UHD Graphics 620 graphics card, making all of your design work look amazing. Perfect for those who are looking for a light, powerful 2-in-1 with an accurate touchscreen along with sufficient processing power for all of your needs.Learn More
- 7th Generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ Quad-Core Processor 2.8 GHz (max boost speed up to 3.8GHz) 6MB Cache, Intel HD Graphics 630
- 15.6-inch Full HD IPS 10-point multitouch screen, Full HD Higher resolution equals better picture quality
- Screens come in a range of resolutions (measured in pixels, horizontal x vertical)
The Best Budget Macbook Pro
CPU: 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 | RAM: 4 – 8GB | Storage: 500GB Mechanical | Weight: 4.54lbs | OS: MacOS
If you’re wanting to go the Apple route, like many creatives do, but just don’t have the funds to fork out for their newest products, getting a renewed older model Macbook Pro is a great alternative. The 13.3″ screen is a great middle ground, and the Intel HD Graphics 4000, while not outstanding, will do the job. It’s also important to consider that older MacBook Pro models come with mechanical hard drives VS the faster SSDs that come in modern day Macs. We recommend opting for the 8GB RAM model which is just $42 more.
See our guide to the best Macbooks for designers.Learn More
- Renewed products look and work like new. These pre-owned products have been inspected and tested by Amazon-qualified suppliers, which typically perform a full diagnostic test, replacement of any...
The Most Powerful Budget Laptop
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 1TB HDD | Weight: 4.85lbs | OS: Windows 10
At first glance, the Dell i3567 Inspiron may not look like much, but trust us, it has a lot going on under the hood. With a Core i5-7200U CPU that has a processing speed of around 3 GHz with the use of the laptop’s turbo boost. Eight gigabytes of RAM makes multitasking easy while a hard drive of 1TB gives you more than enough room to save all of your work. A 15.6-inch display is backlit by LED’s which helps to produce almost perfect colors. While it may not appear as more than a simple laptop, the Dell i3657 Inspiron has muscle where it counts.Learn More
- 7th Generation Intel Core i5-7200U Processor (3MB Cache, up to 3.10 GHz)
- 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 up to 16GB (additional memory sold separately)
- 1TB 5400 RPM Hard Drive, Tray load DVD Drive (Reads and Writes to DVD/CD)
- 15.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) True-life LED-Backlit Display
- Windows 10 Home 64-bit English
The Best Long-Life Battery Laptop
CPU: 2.24 GHz Intel Celeron | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 16GB eMMC | Weight: 3.42lbs | OS: Chrome
For many, Acer has been a computer company that releases quality products at affordable prices and the Chromebook 14″ is no exception. Running Google’s own lightweight operating system, the Chromebook is powered by a quad-core Celeron chip plus 4GB of RAM as well as 16GB of eMMC storage. While not everyone is a fan of using a Chromebook, it can be a great first option, especially when you take into consideration the incredible battery life of 12 hours of normal use per charge.Learn More
- Chromebook runs on Chrome OS: An operating system by Google that is built for the way we live today. It comes with built in virus protection, updates automatically, boots up in seconds and continues...
- All the Google apps you know and love come standard on every Chromebook, which means you can edit, download, and convert Microsoft Office files in Google Docs, sheets and slides
- With the Google play store, you can access a rich library of apps, games, music, movies, TV, books, magazines, and more, All from your Chromebook
- Chromebooks come with built in storage for offline access to your most important files and an additional 100GB of Google Drive space to ensure that all of your files are backed up automatically
- Chromebook includes Intel Celeron N3160 Quad Core Processor, 14 inches (1920 x 1080) Full HD IPS Display, 4GB memory, 16GB eMMC, up to 12 hour battery life and included Sleeve. Battery Capacity 3920...
The Best Budget Laptop with an Optical Drive (CD/DVD)
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 1TB HDD | Weight: 5.27 lbs | OS: Windows 10
While not the lightest laptop on our list, the Acer Aspire E 15 has some features that other budget laptops don’t anymore. Namely an optical drive. In an age where the optical drive is becoming less and less common, Acer has packaged the Aspire with a 1TB HDD and an Intel HD Graphics 620 chip. While the large, 15.6-inch display is nice to look at, the Core i3 processor doesn’t move as quickly as some other options on our list. If you’re in need of an optical drive (CD/DVD drive) for your work or entertainment, the Aspire E 15 from Acer may be a great fit for you.Learn More
- 8th Generation Intel Core i3 8130U Processor 2.2 GHz (Up to 3.2GHz)
- 15.6 inches Full HD (1920 x 1080) widescreen LED lit Display
- 6GB Dual Channel Memory, 1TB HDD and 8x DVD
- Up to 13.5 Hours of battery life
- Windows 10 Home. Operating System Architecture 64-bit
The Best Budget Tablet Laptop
CPU: Pentium Gold 4415Y | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | Weight: 1.15lbs | OS: Chrome
Sometimes the best budget-friendly laptop is more than just a laptop. Case in point, the Microsoft Surface Go is designed to primarily be a tablet. But with the Type Pad accessory, it becomes a quite capable laptop that can be taken pretty much anywhere. With a battery life of around 9 hours, you can spend that time working on the 10-inch PixelSense display which will portray your work in vivid color. A 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM give you more than enough power and storage to handle any sketching you can do. While the added accessories can up the price a bit, the tablet alone can make for a great sketchpad. The only downfall is the 10″ screen size which may be too small for some.Learn More
No products found.
The Best Budget Laptop for Video Editors
CPU: AMD dual-core A9 APU – Intel Core i7 | RAM: 6GB – 16GB | Graphics: AMD Radeon R5 – Nvidia GTX 1050 | Storage: 512GB SSD – 1TB HDD | Weight: 5lbs | OS Windows 10
Anyone who tells you that sticker shock isn’t a real thing has never been shopping for a laptop. While there are many to choose from, it can be hard to find one with quality construction and won’t destroy any kind of budget you might have. With the Pavilion 15 from HP, you can check both boxes off.
While its overall weight could be a concern for anyone looking to own a lightweight laptop, the 15 houses some impressive tech to make the weight worth it. An Intel Core i7 processor is the brains behind the machine while 8GB of RAM as well and expandable hard drive from 512GB to 1TB gives you more than enough space. If you’re just starting out in video, you can’t start anywhere better in our opinion. See our post on the best laptops for video editors.Learn More
- Excellent multitasking power with a 7th Gen Intel Core i3-7100U; 2.40 GHz
- 8GB DDR4 SDRAM memory, and a spacious 1TB 5400 RPM SATA
- 15.6 in diagonal HD SVA WLED backlit touchscreen (1366 x 768), 10 finger multi touch support
- Multi format digital media card reader and a built in DVD drive
- Full sized island style keyboard with an integrated numeric pad and 1.5mm key travel
The Best Budget-Friendly 2-in-1 Laptop
CPU: 2.2 GHz Intel Core i3 | RAM: 500 SDRAM DDR4 | Graphics: Intel 620 chip | Storage: 1TB HDD | Weight: 6.61lbs | OS Windows
It can be hard to find a quality 2-in-1 laptop when you have a budget, most aren’t hanging around in the budget class of laptops but the HP Pavilion X360 has an affordable price and some of the style and features that might be found on some of the more popular options out there.
While the amount of memory is a bit lacking with just 4GB to start, the addition of 16GB of Intel Optane memory as a backup. A 15.6-inch FHD display makes a good size surface when in tablet mode and the digital pen is perfect for creatives who don’t want to buy more than one piece of tech.Learn More
No products found.
The Cheapest Chromebook
CPU: 2.1 GHz MediaTek_MT8127 | RAM: 4 GB LPDDR3 | Graphics: PowerVR SGX543 | Storage: 64 GB Flash Memory Solid State | Weight: 2.64lbs | OS: Chrome
While at first look, the Chromebook C3300 (11.6″) from Lenovo may look too small and light to fit onto our list, its those features that help cement it’s spot on our list in the first place. A MediaTek MT8174C processor powers the 2-in-1 and while it comes with a standard 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage help keep all of your important files.
The biggest value in this reasonably priced laptop is the flexibility that it has. With a 360-degree hinge, it can be put in a multitude of positions making getting work done much easier. With a USB-C and USB 3.0 ports included on the machine, you cannot go wrong choosing this one, especially for the price.Learn More
- Get high performance when you need it – The Chromebook C330 boots up in seconds and features easy-to-use Chrome OS, plenty of memory and storage, and so much more
- Sleek, stylish, and secure, this 360⁰ convertible laptop is less than 1-inch thin and about the weight of a hardback book, with an 11-inch touchscreen display that's perfect for day-to-day computing...
- The Lenovo Chromebook C330 is easy to use, offers built-in virus protection and keeps going with long battery life. No setup needed – Just login with a Google account so emails, maps, documents, and...
- Built to connect, this notebook computer includes a variety of USB ports for effortless connectivity. Plus, stay in touch with the built-in camera. Bluetooth 4.2
- Users love it; "High end features for a low price," says one happy reviewer. Another adds, "This Chromebook has far exceeded my expectations. The speed is snappy and the device responds quickly to...
The Best Budget Laptop for Travel (and the clumsy)
CPU: 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron | RAM: 4 GB ddr3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | Storage: 16 GB Flash Memory Solid State | Weight: 2.54lbs | OS Chrome
If you’ve ever had that moment where it’s too late to save the laptop you just spilled coffee all over, then you’ll be happy to meet the Chromebook 3 from Samsung. Running on a 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM, it may not be the fastest Chromebook out there but it still runs pretty smooth. An integrated Intel Graphics Card and 16GB SSD help you store and make your images pop on the 11.6-in screen.
Weighing only 2.54 pounds, it is extremely portable while its durable casing helps protect it from drops and spills, which can be all too common when you have a million things going on at once or trying to catch the subway.Learn More
- Up to 11 hours battery life on a single charge
- Built in security Features ensure you’re protected from viruses and Malware
- 11.6 inches HD anti reflective Display
- Spill resistant keyboard protects against accidental Damage
- Intel Celeron N3060 Processor with 4G Memory and 64GB storage; Bluetooth v4.0
Choosing the Best Budget Laptops for your Needs
Choosing a budget laptop can be tough especially when you see higher priced options with all the bells and whistles that you know you want. But if you look past the glitz and glamour, you’ll see on our list of the Best Budget Laptops for Designers and Creatives in 2020 many very capable and affordable laptops to help you get your work done.
We hope that we’ve inspired you to take a closer look at the many different options that you have out there and realize that just because you have a budget, it doesn’t mean that you cannot be successful.
Do you use a budget laptop that’s not on our list? Let us know about it in the comments below.
Photo credits: Golubovy & Stanislaw Mikulski on Shutterstock