October 15, 2020

Buying a good laptop doesn’t have to mean shelling out over a thousand dollars. There have been many advancements in microprocessor nodes, and we have tons of budget options from both AMD and Intel.

You can now get a laptop with both excellent performance and battery life at a relatively cheap price.

Our top pick in the sub-400 dollar price range is the Acer Aspire 5 model A515-43-R19L with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor. Read on to learn more about this laptop and others.

Here is our list of 7 best laptop under 400 dollars price range:

Good performance, good battery life, good display, and a good keyboard. This laptop is the ideal choice for students, small business owners, and pretty much anyone who wants a good laptop under 400 bucks. It doesn’t excel in any particular field; it is just a “good” laptop and that’s fine because it costs so little.

The Ryzen 3 3200U is a dual core processor based on the Zen+ core and has SMT enabled, which means it packs a total of 4 logical threads. That comes in handy if you’re trying to multitask, such as running an antivirus scan while you’re on a Zoom call with a bunch of Youtube tabs opened in Chrome. The base and boost clocks are pretty decent too, enabling this cheap APU to outperform 5th and 6th generation Intel Core i5 processors with ease. It even beats out some 7th generation ultra low power i7 chips.

Pros

  • AMD Ryzen 3 3200U processor with 2 cores and 4 threads, most other laptops at this price range pack Intel Celeron chips that are much slower
  • 4GB of DDR4 RAM, which can be upgraded
  • Vega 3 integrated graphics can play some older games and newer indie titles
  • 128GB NVMe storage, unlike competing laptops which either use eMMC flash memory or spinning disk drives
  • Full HD 1080p IPS display, blows everything else out of the water at this price range

Cons

  • Windows 10 S mode by default
  • Mediocre webcam
  • Trackpad feels wobbly on some units

While the 1366x768 display resolution and cheap looking plastic body might put off some potential buyers, rest assured- this is actually a really decent machine for the price. HP is known for making quality products that the masses can afford, and if you just want a simple 15.6” notebook for conference calls, studies, taking notes, etc. this is it.

It is fast enough for daily tasks like social media, light gaming, web browsing, etc. while also packing 7+ hours of battery life. Which means you can carry it around all day without having to worry about charging. And even though the chassis feels kind of creaky when you press down on it, it is actually reinforced underneath to take falls from 3 to 4 feet and survive.

Pros

  • Intel quad core Pentium N5000 processor (hey, at least it isn’t an Atom and has 4 physical threads which is plenty for what most people will do with this laptop)
  • 4GB of DDR4 2400MHz memory, upgradeable by user
  • UHD 605 integrated graphics
  • The webcam and trackpad are both quite good considering this is a budget laptop
  • Good speakers, crisp highs and a tiny bit of bass which is more than we expect from a laptop of this caliber
  • Good selection of ports

Cons

  • 768p display
  • Windows 10 in S-mode (you can switch it to normal Windows 10 for free)

Yeah, this is a Chromebook which means it runs Chrome OS instead of Windows 10. But you know what, a lot of people actually want a basic laptop under 400 dollars for taking notes or writing blogs. And Chrome OS is more than sufficient for that, plus you can run all Android apps on this laptop. Think of it as a large smartphone with a 14” display and physical keyboard.

It is slim with 8+ hours of battery life, has excellent top-firing speakers that can get quite loud without losing clarity. And the build quality is actually better than most Windows laptops at this price. The display is unfortunately not full HD and only 1366 x 768 which means it isn’t the best choice for watching movies. But hey, if you just want to run basic word processing/ spreadsheet software and occasionally make social media posts- this Chromebook is perfect.

Pros

  • Slim, minimalistic design with great battery life
  • Solid top-firing speakers with great volume and detail in both the low as well as high frequency ranges
  • Has USB Type A and Type C ports
  • Thin bezel display for maximizing screen to body ratio
  • Supports Google Play Store and all Android apps in it
  • Micro SD reader and 3.5mm microphone/ headphone combo jack (bet your new phone doesn’t even have a 3.5mm jack)

Cons

  • 1366 x 768 display resolution
  • Anemic dual core Celeron N4000 processor

Oh, you haven’t heard of “VUCATIMES” before? Well, no need to worry- it seems to be a new Chinese laptop manufacturer and has good reviews online. Although we believe they simply rebadge existing models instead of actually making the laptops. It doesn’t matter that much for the end user what badge is on the laptop, especially at this budget where you buy based on functionality and build quality.

And the VucaBook 14 is definitely well-built, its hinges and lid feel sturdy despite being made out of plastic. And the slim chassis with angular edges gives this cheap notebook a cool look. It stands out from the crowd for sure, and not in a bad way at all. The processor is a Celeron J3455, it uses Apollo Lake cores and has 4 of them clocked at 1.5Ghz (boosts up to 2.3Ghz).

Pros

  • Quad core Celeron (better than having a dual-core Celeron)
  • Actually surprised to see this laptop has 6GB of RAM
  • 128GB SSD, user upgradeable
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2
  • 37Wh battery combined with an energy efficient CPU gives this laptop a battery life of 8+ hours
  • Innovative light-up trackpad which also has a built in numpad (cool little party trick in such a cheap notebook)
  • Fanless design so it is completely silent
  • 1080P IPS display (amazing at the price!)

Cons

  • CPU is power and thermal limited, so don’t try gaming
  • No backlit keyboard

Another laptop brand you might have never heard of before, these Chinese companies seem to be popping up by the dozens lately. But the actual product itself is solid, even though you might be a little hard pressed to find a support center nearby if something goes wrong. The BMAX X15 is extremely slim, just 20mm (at the thinnest point) and weighs only 4.4lbs or 2 kilos.

The ultra slim design doesn’t compromise on performance or battery life, even though most other machines at this price are either tablets or netbooks with 32GB of eMMC flash storage. However this is an actual laptop with Windows 10, an Intel Gemini Lake N4100 quad core processor, and a whopping 8GB of DDR4 memory (how?). Oh, and the display? That’s full HD (1080p), and supports touch input. Try to beat that with a similarly priced laptop from some name brand company like Dell or Acer.

Pros

  • Amazing specs for the money (quad core processor, 1080p IPS touch display, M.2 SSD, 8GB of RAM)
  • Very slim at just 20mm thick and weighs only 4.4lbs
  • Windows 10 Home 64-bit preinstalled (none of that S-mode nonsense)
  • 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0
  • Micro HDMI, 3.5mm combo jack, SD card reader, and USB Type A 3.0 port
  • UHD 600 onboard graphics
  • Edge to edge keyboard and thin bezel display
  • Large trackpad

Cons

  • No Type C port
  • Battery life could have been better

Nothing about it really stands out, it’s just another budget 14 incher from HP with decent everything and exceptional at nothing. The speakers  are alright, the body doesn’t flex or creak too much, and the keyboard is okay for casual typing and general work. But the CPU isn’t exactly that fast and only has 2 cores which is the main weakness of this machine compared to alternatives at a similar price.

You could go with a cheap Chinese machine that has better specs, a higher resolution display, and superior battery life. Or you could go with something that millions around the world trust and know A laptop for which you are guaranteed to find an authorized service center nearby your home. Plus, the processor isn’t that slow, it’s good enough for basic stuff like word processing, movies, indie games, etc.

Pros

  • Good build quality
  • Crisp feeling keyboard
  • Precise trackpad
  • Onboard audio is decent considering this is a budget laptop
  • Okay-ish webcam, better than most other laptops at this price
  • RAM can be upgraded
  • 128GB SSD, instead of eMMC flash memory which is both slower and unreliable

Cons

  • Battery life should be higher considering this laptop runs a low power dual core processor
  • Windows 10 comes in S mode

A nifty little 2-in-1 for people on a tight budget. The Spin 311 is a great alternative to ultra cheap Windows 10 machines that can barely do anything other than browse the web or Word documents. It can run apps from the Google Play Store which further adds to its already versatile nature, and this is a 2-in-1 so you can use it in tablet mode for drawing or taking notes.

Tent mode is ideal for sharing content with colleagues at work, and regular laptop mode is for when you need to do some long form typing (blogs, articles, etc.). Chrome OS has been criticized for its stability issues, but most of those are on cheaper Chromebooks running outdated software. The Spin 311 packs a Celeron N4020 dual core which is more powerful than a low end MediaTek chip.

Pros

  • Complete coverage of all your work needs with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
  • Can run any app from the Google Play Store
  • HD touch IPS display with great colors and viewing angles
  • 2-in-1, can be used as a regular laptop, tablet, or anything in between
  • Excellent battery life (10+ hours)

Cons

  • eMMC flash memory is slower and not as reliable compared to a regular SSD
  • Keyboard feels mushy and isn’t ideal for typing out really long blogs/ articles

It is hard to find the ideal combination of specs, build quality, and reliability at this price. Most of your options under 400 dollars are cheap netbooks, Chromebooks, or a machine from some Chinese brand you’ve never heard of. That Chinese brand might not even be around 2 to 3 years later, and you could be stuck with a really expensive paperweight if the motherboard/ display fails.

However, there are ways to get around these complications. Look for reviews, see what actual buyers say about the machine. Does it overheat? Is the battery life dropping significantly after a certain period of time? Do the hinges and lid feel solid? If you’re a student, look for a good keyboard and long battery life. Want something with a bit more oomph for light gaming? Get a laptop that has a quad core processor and more RAM. Memory and storage upgradeability is a huge deal as it lets you breathe new life into an otherwise outdated machine 2 to 3 years down the line.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is a touchscreen something I should look for?

A. It isn’t a necessity in a sub-400 dollar laptop, except for some niche use cases. An example- if you’re purchasing a laptop for your kid who is interested in learning drawing then a touch display is definitely great to have. Otherwise, stick to conventional displays. It is better to have a good traditional display instead of a cheap touchscreen which might break in 4 months.

Q. I see some laptops have 1366x768 display, how much worse is it compared to 1080p?

A. The difference is very noticeable at screens sized 15.6” and above. Honestly, this is not a very big deal unless you plan to watch a lot of media on your laptop. If you are getting a laptop for Netflix, Youtube, etc. make sure it has a 1080p display (preferably IPS too, instead of TN). While typing, characters look less jaggy on a higher resolution display and gaming is also better. But on a cheap 400 dollar laptop, you are going to have integrated graphics which can’t handle most games at 1080p anyways.

Q. Is a plastic body worse than a metal one?

A. Not necessarily, since a lot of high end laptops used plastic bodies. Look at all the Dell business machines and Lenovo Ideapads, those used plastic even on high end models until just a couple years ago. Good quality plastic will be just as durable as thin, cheap metal alloys. In fact, plastic will bounce back instead of deforming permanently like aluminum when you drop your laptop. And it allows manufacturers to keep costs down while investing the saved budget on more important areas like the processor.

Q. What is a passively cooled laptop?

A. Passive cooling means there is no fans inside the laptop, a very common design choice in ultra low power netbooks, tablets, and some 2-in-1s. This results in a completely silent laptop, at the expense of potential CPU throttling under demanding workloads like rendering, gaming, or video editing.

Q. What does the Wh figure mean on a laptop battery?

A. Wh is simply an abbreviation for Watt-hour, 1 Wh means the battery can supply an energy equivalent of 1 watt for up to one hour before running dry. Battery capacity is also measured in mAh or milli ampere hour (amount of current delivered per unit time). Higher Wh or mAh figures don’t always result in longer battery lives. It depends on a multitude of factors like the processor power draw, BIOS, the type of work you’re doing, etc. Gaming, movies, video/ photo editing will draw a lot more power than web browsing or word processing.

Conclusion

We hope this list gave you a nice idea of which sub-400 dollar laptop to purchase. And we made sure to include the latest models, many of these laptops were just released and have recent hardware inside. That means better battery life and more performance in all types of software. The top choice is without a doubt the Acer Aspire 5, it has the fastest processor of any laptop on this list and an excellent battery life. Plus, the display looks excellent and the build quality is unmatched. Finally, it’s a brand you can trust unlike some unknown Chinese brand that just popped up in the market.

About the author 

Saurav Rath

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