The laptop market doesn’t move as quickly as, say, smartphones. But because most people keep their computer for several years at least, it often looks unrecognizable when you’re ready to shop again. How much should you spend when you’re ready to get a new Windows-powered laptop?
Naturally, there isn’t really a single answer, unless it’s “whatever you can afford,” or “whatever you’re willing to spend.” Deciding on a laptop in terms of budget is all about managing expectations and choosing which features are important to you—ultimately, if you’re willing to compromise a little, you don’t have to spend a lot. While a few features are endemic of certain price ranges—you won’t find a discrete graphics card in a laptop that costs less than $500, for example—you can usually manage some trade-offs to try and get a better deal.
So let’s break down some of the broad ranges of price, what you can typically expect at each one, and a few choices for the best Windows laptops at each bracket. If you’re looking for a new laptop and you have a specific budget, odds are that you’ll find something that fits your needs here.
Under $500: The Ultra-Budget Wasteland
If your budget for a new Windows laptop is under $500 … um, maybe consider something that isn’t a Windows laptop. That might sound kind of callous, but depending on what you plan to do with your computer, a Chromebook or an iPad might be a better choice.
A Chromebook can do almost everything a Windows laptop can, but performs better on cheaper hardware. And an iPad is much easier and smoother to use for pretty much everything except writing or media productions. Both of them are available at under $400.
But if you absolutely need a Windows machine at this price, prepare to deal with something with a fairly slow processor, low memory, a hard drive or a teeny-tiny SSD, and an inexpensive plastic body. You probably won’t get any bells or whistles like a touchscreen or USB-C charging.
Here are our picks for the below $500 level:
Asus Vivobook 15
This larger laptop comes with 8GB of RAM and a 10th-gen Core i3 processor, which should yield surprising power (once you get the computer out of S-mode). It has a couple of surprises in terms of hardware,like a backlit keyboard and fingerprint reader, and even a USB-C port … though you can’t charge the laptop through it.
Acer Aspire 5
While this laptop has only half the RAM of the Asus model above, its AMD Ryzen 3000 processor should provide better speed and a small edge in graphics. It also has a dedicated Ethernet port, making it a better choice for a home office, though you’ll have to drop the USB-C port to get it.
Acer Aspire 5
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6 inches Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10 in S Mode, A515-43-R19L, Silver
This laptop is an incredible value, especially considering its Ryzen processor.
HP Stream 11
Thin-and-light laptops can’t be found at this price, but if you’re looking for a laptop that can fit almost anywhere, this tiny little guy is it. Don’t expect premium materials or blazing speed, especially with its Celeron processor, but it’s small enough to fit in almost any bag. It includes everything you need to run most Windows programs (slowly), plus HDMI output if you need something bigger than its 11.6-inch screen.
$500-800: A Bargain Hunter’s Paradise
Between the levels of $500 and $800, you’ll find some of the best-selling laptops out there, because it opens up some of the hardware where Windows really shines in terms of value. Specifically, these laptops are now frequently coming with 8GB of RAM, which we would consider the minimum to run Windows well.
For those in this budget, you can sometimes find laptops in this range that feature a 2-in-1 form factor, a svelte “ultrabook” design, or (very rarely) a dedicated graphics card. As of 2020, most of them will be available with full HD screens and USB-C charging, too, and most manufacturers have made the switch from slower hard drives to super-fast SSDs.
At this price point, you won’t find the flashiest designs or the most powerful processors. But bargain-hunters might like them anyway, because a lot of these laptops can be opened, allowing for cheap storage and memory upgrades.
Here are our favorite picks in this price range:
Acer Swift 3
This thin-and-light 14-inch has everything you’d want from a standard laptop, at a price on the lower range of this category. It’s running AMD’s Ryzen platform, which enables surprising graphical power, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of flash storage. It’s easily the best value on this list.
Lenovo Yoga C740
If you want a 2-in-1, this one has an insane bang-to-buck ratio. The 14-inch touchscreen is full HD, and underneath is a 10th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. The Yoga has surprisingly good speakers for a laptop and a backlit keyboard with an integrated fingerprint reader, plus handy USB-C charging.
Acer Nitro 5
It’s pretty hard to find a gaming laptop for under a grand, but Acer managed it with the Nitro 5. The combination of a 10th-gen Core i5 and a midrange GTX 1650 graphics card won’t blow you away, but it should play the latest games if you turn down the settings a bit—which is fine, as the 15.6-inch screen is “only” 1920 x 1080 and 60hz.
$800-1200: The Laptop Sweet Spot
If your budget can stretch to this range, you’re in for a treat: Some of the best-loved laptop series are in this range. These include Dell’s XPS 13, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3, and the Lenovo ThinkPad T-series.
These laptops tend to come with all of the usual creature comforts like USB-C charging, premium keyboards and touchpads, aluminum or magnesium bodies, smooth glass trackpads, and high-quality webcams. Some of them also have fingerprint readers or infrared sensors for Windows Hello face scanning, and these models tend to get the newest generation of processors.
If you’re looking for power over portability, this range is where you can find the first entry-level gaming laptops with discrete graphics cards. They won’t be top-of-the-line, but they will be able to play most 3D games on medium settings or better. This price range also includes some larger 15-inch laptops, a few of which include screens with 4K resolution.
Here are our selections for the best laptops in this price range:
Dell XPS 13
The XPS 13 has been one of the best-reviewed Windows laptops for years in any category. It’s easy to see why, with its tiny size and exquisite aluminum-and-carbon fiber construction. The base model of the 2020 version starts at the lower half of this category with 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 10th-gen Core i5, though you’ll have to pay more if you want a touchscreen.
Surface Laptop 3
The Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s only hardware design with a conventional hinge, though its gorgeous 3:2 screen is touch-enabled. The 3rd gen comes in 13.5 and 15-inch flavors and various soft colors, with a surprisingly clean and spare design. The base 13.5-inch model uses a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. The 15-inch starter model (which just barely fits in this category) swaps out Intel for an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, with better graphics. Both models include an IR camera for Windows Hello login.
Lenovo ThinkPad T14
The ThinkPad T-series is a legend for business users. The latest generation packs a 10th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM ,and 128Gb of storage pace, though the base model’s low-res screen and lack of fingerprint reader is enough reason to upgrade it a bit. While it’s not the prettiest belle at the laptop ball, the ThinkPad keyboard is unbeatable in terms of typing comfort.
$1200-1600: Premium Upgrades
The laptops in this price zone tend to be the same models in the last one, with upgraded specs. With a little more budget you can boost RAM, storage, and processor, and maybe step up to a brighter and sharper screen. Gaming laptops start to get a lot faster in here.
Alternately, you can upgrade to a bigger more premium machine, or one that features a 2-in-1 form factor. Dell’s XPS series is a good example: You can find an XPS 13 for as little as $800, but at the $1500 level you can pack an XPS 15 or an XPS 13 2-in-1 with some serious hardware.
At this price level, conventional laptops can be loaded up with some really great extras like a terabyte or two or storage. You also start to see some exotic form factors, like Microsoft’s Surface Book with its detachable reversible keyboard.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
It’s the XPS 13, plus a convertible form factor. That’s about it, and that’s all it needs to be. In this price range, you can afford a machine with the latest 10th-gen Core i7, 156GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM—a powerful little laptop in anybody’s book.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Lenovo’s top-of-the-line X1 series hosts this beautiful ultraportable made out of magnesium and carbon fiber. It’s got incredible battery life and recharges quickly, though it goes for a fingerprint reader instead of an IR camera. With this price range we’d recommend the Core i5, 16GB RAM, and 512GB SSD combo.
Razer Blade 15 Base Edition
If you want to play some games, this laptop has the graphical oomph without sacrificing portability. The Base Edition includes a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and GTX 1660 Ti discrete graphics card at the top of this price range. Best of all, it has a 144hz 15-inch screen, so you’ll get good gaming performance across the board.
$1600-2000: Now You’re Playing with Power
In this super-premium segment, you’ll find most of the top-of-the-line machines from Windows laptop manufacturers. You can max out an $800 utilitarian machine, or get a couple of upgrades on a $1500 machine like a boosted storage drive or even an LTE radio. Pretty much all of these laptops will be gorgeous, with premium materials and extras.
This is also where we start to see some seriously powerful gaming laptops, which can also double as media-production machines. High-end gaming laptops and similar machines both begin around here, though upgrading them might quickly stretch beyond your budget. Many of them are equipped with camera card readers, user-accessible RAM and storage, and high-speed screens.
If you’re looking for a “future-proof laptop” (i.e. one that will still be able to run the latest programs and games in five years or more), this might be a reasonable investment.
MSI GS66 Stealth
This popular gaming laptop combines sleek looks with massive power. For a surprisingly good price, you get the latest Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and an RTX 2060 GPU—enough to run the latest games at high settings. If you trim them back a bit, you might even hit the 15-inch screen’s insanely-fast 240Hz refresh rate, too.
Surface Book 3
Those who want a premium 2-in-1 in this range should check out the Surface Book 3, which can run as a fully detached Windows tablet. It’s offered in 13.5-inch and 15-inch varieties, and can be placed on its keyboard base backwards for easy media viewing. In this price range, you can get a Core i5 processor and an 8GB/256GB combo, or upgrade to an i7 and double them both.
Dell XPS 15
The XPS 15 is a plus-sized version of the XPS 13. The latest version of Dell’s big beauty can be had at well below this price range, but if you splurge a little it’ll get a 10th-gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a discrete GTX 1650 Ti graphics card. It’s an excellent choice for users who want a big screen (that isn’t touch-enabled).
$2000 or More: The Sky’s the Limit
If your budget extends beyond two grand, there’s not much that’s outside of your range. Top-of-the-line ultrabooks can be maxed out with the fastest processors and most capacious memory and RAM, larger machines can be filled with more power and capability than most desktops, and gaming machines have screens at 300 hertz (and GPUs that can actually hit that).
Honestly, this amount of money is more laptop than most people can use, unless you specifically need something specialized for media creation or an ultra-rugged model. You might consider settling for a less powerful or glamorous machine and getting some accessories instead, like a nice monitor or a high-quality laptop bag.
But if you’re ready to put your money down, these are the models we recommend for the biggest budgets:
Razer Blade Pro 17
This is one of the most powerful machines on the market, with a gigantic 17-inch screen that can be configured for 4K resolution, 120Hz speed, and touch … all at once. Alternately, you can get a full HD screen with an insane 300Hz refresh rate. GPUs start with the RTX 2070, and only get more expensive, though all configurations use the same 15GB of RAM and Core i7 processor.
Asus Zenbook Pro Duo
If you want a laptop that’ll turn heads, the double screens on this ASUS model will do it. The secondary screen (above the keyboard and beneath the hinge) is ideal for creatives and multitaskers. For all that, it’s surprisingly compact at 15.6 inches. The base model uses a 4K touchscreen, a Core i7 processor, and 16GB of RAM with a 1TB SSD, but you can boost it even more with a Core i9 option.
ThinkPad X1 Extreme
This all-out laptop blew us away in our official review. It uses Lenovo’s understated ThinkPad looks (and wonderful keyboard), but the showstopper is the 4K OLED screen, brighter and more vibrant than almost anything else on the market. Configurations go up to a Core i9 processor, 64GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage (with another 2TB if you want!), and it comes with a GTX 1650Ti discrete graphics card. But one of the nice things about this design is that you can pop the bottom off and swap out all that storage and RAM yourself. The combination of screen and performance is almost unbelievable.
Note that most of the laptops in this article can be customized to one degree or another, especially in terms of processor, RAM, and storage. Larger laptops might offer discrete graphics cards, too. So if one of the laptops in a lower tier is what you really want, and you have the budget to go bigger, you can generally find one with boosted specs or a configuration tool on the manufacturer’s online store.