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Computers, love them or hate them, they are an integral part of our modern lives. And with today’s mobile lifestyles, the laptop is a must have for many people.
But they can get pricey. So, what can you expect to get in a laptop that costs less than $400? Well, we did the research and present our findings below for your convenience.
No Time to Read the Detailed List?
In a hurry? No problem. If you want the best overall laptop for less than $400, then look at this Lenovo IdeaPad. It is powerful and the screen is a good size for a laptop used for a variety of different tasks. You can even play some games on it.
If you have a laptop on your shoulder often, you want something light and should consider the ASUS VivoBook L203MA-DS04. It is lightweight and the battery lasts a long time.
For an interesting Windows alternative, the ASUS Chromebook C523NA-DH02 keeps you connected and working on those shared documents. It is a fast and easy way to get business done or take notes. Without a Microsoft OS.
Need the transformer of the laptop world? The versatile Lenovo Chromebook C330 convertible laptop comes with a touch screen and can be folded into a tablet, or other configurations.
There are a lot of laptops for under $400. But which ones will work for you? Well, we compiled the list below to help you answer that question. We also include some tips at the end to help with all the technical jargon and finer points of buying a new laptop.
Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode︱Screen Size: 15.6 in.︱ Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U︱ Memory: 8 GB︱Storage: 256GB SSD︱Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 3︱Weight: 4.1 lbs
This Ideapad from Lenovo is a great choice for business travelers, students, or movie fans. The laptop has plenty of power to get you online. Or check emails, edit documents, take notes, socialize, stream shows, etc. all while on the go.
The design brings users a good balance of components. The screen is large enough to binge watch Netflix. And the processor and graphics chipset are quite powerful for a laptop in this price range. You can even play some games on this machine.
Plus, the 256GB solid state drive is sufficiently large for most users. Dump your phone pictures when away from home and store all your documents. To make those dumps even easier, you will find a built in media reader for most memory cards.
Laptops under $400 often have 4GB of RAM, but this machine comes with 8GB. While 4GB works, you do see better performance with the 8GB in this laptop. Combined with the speedy SSD and processor, this computer powers through your tasks.
The keyboard is large and even includes a full sized numeric pad. Typing on this laptop is better than many of the competing products. And if you do a lot with numbers, you will enjoy having a numeric keypad not usually found on laptops.
Lenovo went with a 15.6 inch display. It is large enough for streaming, without being too bulky to carry around. It’s a nice compromise.
The overall design is also slim. The Ideapad’s thin form factor makes this laptop surprisingly portable, even at 4.1 pounds. But thin also means no DVD drive.
Also, it does have a built in cam with a microphone. But be warned, the cam is only 0.3MP. So, you could make video calls, but your resolution will be poor.
The form factor combined with computing power make this laptop a workhorse for those on the move. Excluding hard core gamers, most people will find this product a nice mix of features and performance for the price.
Operating System: Windows 10 in S Mode︱Screen Size: 11.6 in.︱ Processor: Celeron N4000︱ Memory: 4GB︱Storage: 64GB flash︱Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600︱Weight: 2.2 lbs
Students and business people use laptops often. Plus, they need to work on documents, communicate, and other routine tasks wherever they are. They need to be connected on the go.
Portability is everything to some, so small and light are key selling features in a laptop design. This ASUS VivoBook ticks both boxes coming in at a mere 2.2 pounds and its footprint is smaller than a sheet of A4 paper.
The battery power is enough to keep you working from the road. This laptop claims an impressive 10 hours of battery life. This may come as a shock to some, but based on actual user experiences, it is not over exaggerated.
For those who use accessories, Bluetooth 4.1 comes installed on this laptop. You can use ear buds, wireless locks, smart pens or watches with this computer.
Asus also includes 1 year of Microsoft Office 365. This is not only useful, there is real value in having this service for 12 months free. But keep in mind, you will have to pay after the first year if you want to keep it.
Another interesting feature, the hinge has a 180 degree range. You can lay this laptop “flat” so that you can share what is on your screen with others.
Those are some of the advantages offered by the VivoBook. And small is right at the top of the list. But small comes with sacrifices.
For starters, you will notice the absent optical drive. If you want to go old school and watch an old DVD, you will need to carry an external player to plug into a USB port. Not a big deal to people who stream everything.
We have to also mention the screen. It is about as small as you would want to go. This is a display that you will be looking at for hours on end. It might be too small for some.
Then there is the elephant in the room. You only get 64GB of flash memory. That is small. However, you can add a SD card in the built-in microSD slot to add more memory. So, out of the box this is not a good option to start dumping vids and pics.
For most road warriors and students, this little laptop is a great choice if you add some memory. It is powerful and easy to carry around.
Operating System: Windows 10 Home 64︱Screen Size: 17.3 in.︱ Processor: AMD A9-9425 Dual-Core︱ Memory: 8GB︱Storage: 1TB HDD︱Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 500︱Weight: 5.63 lbs
With laptops, it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy to find the smallest and lightest machine. But then you run into someone who has trouble seeing the smaller screens. Or there are people who just like to stream and watch movies on their laptop.
For that, you want a big screen. The HP 17z laptop gives you that with a 17.3 display and 1600 x 900 resolution. Dual speakers round out the entertainment experience.
Sure you can stream to that nice screen and speakers. But the 17z also has a DVD writer. Today, that is a bit old fashioned, but some of us have DVDs we still like to watch every now and then. And you can burn a disk, even if just for the fun of it these days.
This laptop is also a good choice for heavy social media users. The large screen allows you to open multiple windows and share as much as you desire. And we almost forgot, there is an HD cam for video calls. Connecting with others is easy on the 17z.
For those with Bluetooth devices, this laptop comes equipped with version 4.2. The wifi is compatible with 802.11b/g/n/ac.
You also get a good battery life with this selection. HO claims 9 hours, but for watching movies you will get less. Expect around 6 hours.
So, what about business? Well, a big 1TB hard drive can store enough files for most people, even for heavy users. And the 8GB of RAM along with a dual core processor can handle most business chores without breaking a sweat.
Plus, for those number oriented jobs, this large keyboard has a numeric pad. No hunting and pecking to enter data into the cells of a spreadsheet. Writers will also appreciate the large easy to use keyboard.
You can also use the large screen to present. Nothing gets your point across like a visual demonstration. With the 17z, no projector is needed for smaller groups. You can just use the laptop screen.
The downside for business users, the size makes it less portable than other options. At 5.63 pounds, this laptop is heavy and you will likely get tired fast if you lug it around often.
In summary, the big screen is for those who like to enjoy entertainment on their laptop. Or business people who may use the laptop to present a video or slideshow. But you will be less mobile with a bigger, heavier laptop, so this is not for road warriors.
Operating System: Chrome OS︱Screen Size: 15.6in.︱ Processor: Intel Dual-Core Celeron N3350︱ Memory: 4GB︱Storage: 32GB Flash︱Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 500︱Weight: 3.1 lbs
Like it or not, Windows has become a standard in the workplace. Many of us just assume that it will be the operating system on most laptops under $400 (sorry Apple!).
But there is another, Google Chrome. Yes, this ASUS C523 laptop runs on the Google Chrome OS. So, what does that mean?
Well, in general Chromebooks are great for students, business people, or homeowners. They have enough computing power to write letters, take lecture notes, or run presentations like a pro.
Plus, Windows boots up slow and often makes you wait while working. Chrome boots faster and doesn’t bog down with age, like Windows does. Those who hate waiting on Windows will like the speed and ease of the Chrome OS.
In addition, Chromebooks come with built-in virus protection. And it updates automatically, without the annoying interruptions Windows users suffer when an update is needed.
Also, you have access to all the apps in the Google Play store with a Chromebook. That means you can use the same tools as found on your Android phone. The ones you probably already know how to use.
However, Microsoft Office 365 will not run a Chromebook. So, if you are locked onto 365, this is not your laptop. But, you do have access to apps like Google Docs and Sheets. The Google Suite of apps can import and export Office file formats.
If you would like to share your screen, this laptop has a 180 degree hinge. You can lay it flat for a group of people to see. The 15.6 inch screen is large enough to use flat and let everyone see.
But the screen is also great for those times when you want to watch a movie. Or binge Netflix. It is not too big to be mobile, but big enough to present a good entertainment experience.
As for typing, the keyboard is large and easy to use. So, you could write a book, work your social media, or just check email. However, it does lack a numeric pad for the heavy number crunchers out there.
But that is not all. The battery provides up to 10 hours of work or note taking. Of course, that would be less for streaming movies. But it is enough to reduce your time spent hunting for an outlet to charge up.
If you go with this option, you need to add file storage. The included 32GB flash drive is simply too small. You can add a USB thumb drive or use a SD memory card in the included multi-format reader.
The cost to feature ratio makes the C523 laptop versatile for a number of different users in the classroom, business, or home. While not for gamers, this machine is a good Windows alternative that those who use Android phones will like.
Operating System: Windows 10 in S Mode︱Screen Size: 14 in.︱ Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3.5GHz︱ Memory: 4GB︱Storage: 128GB SSD︱Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 3︱Weight: 3.2 lbs
You may have noticed a common theme, for less than $400, you should not expect to get high end graphics and blistering processing speeds. But this HP includes a strong processor and an interesting graphics card.
So, the graphics chipset on this machine puts a nice image on a 14 inch 1366 x 768 display. And it can handle being pushed a little. There is even a YouTube video of a gamer playing Resident Evil 2 on a laptop with this processor and graphics package.
To augment the nice graphics, HP includes built-in stereo speakers. It also has an HDMI port if you want to hook up to a larger display. And if you have Bluetooth accessories, this comes equipped with Bluetooth 4.2.
Let’s be clear, this is not a true gaming laptop. Under $400, you should not expect heavy gaming on any machine. However, you will find certain laptops, like this HP 7MO80UA, that will run some of your favorite games at low or medium settings.
As you might guess, this laptop also makes your movies and favorite TV series look great. For entertainment purposes, this is a good laptop to have. With one exception.
That would be the 4GB of RAM, which is low. You may find it a bit laggy. And if you “push” this laptop, you will definitely need to add more RAM.
The 128GB solid state drive (“SSD”) is a plus. SSDs are fast and durable. But 128G fills up fast when you start saving pictures and videos. You can add more storage via the included multi format SD card reader or with a thumb drive, but it adds cost.
Of course, you can always dump files to the cloud, too. The integral WiFi 802.11ac lets you get online easily when a network is available. So while the SSD may be small for some, there are multiple options to deal with the issue.
For keeping up with work documents, or even social media, this laptop is more than capable for those tasks. It includes a webcam and has plenty of computing power for writing, taking notes, or creating a spreadsheet.
In summary, there is a lot to like with this laptop. If you are into your entertainment, this laptop should get a serious look. But the low RAM is a head scratcher and you should plan on adding some memory if you want to push this machine.
Operating System: Windows 10 in S mode︱Screen Size: 15.6 in.︱ Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U︱ Memory: 4GB︱Storage: 128GB SSD︱Graphics: AMD Vega 3︱Weight: 3.97 lbs
If the specs for this Acer Aspire 5 look familiar, yes they are similar to a couple of other products on our list. And for good reason, it provides a ton of computing power at a low price.
Acer puts its own spin on things, though. The most obvious feature is the back lit keyboard. You heard that right, for less than $400, you get power and a full sized keyboard, back lit, with a number pad.
You can run a number of games on this laptop and most video formats run without dropping frames. This processor and graphics chipset work well together.
But like some of its competitors, you will find that the 4GB of RAM is not enough and it does slow it down. To unlock the full power or this laptop, you will need to add another 4GB of RAM.
The 15.6 inch screen has a 1920 x 1080 IPS backlit LED resolution. Yeah, that is a mouthful but it does mean you get full HD with bright, vivid colors. It is a nice display. The only knock is not quite as bright as some other displays.
Battery life is good. Acer claims 7.5 hours of performance and many users find about 6.5 hours of real world use.
You will also notice that this laptop looks good. The top is metal and the bottom is plastic to color match to the silver metal. It is a modern, sleek appearance.
For those who work in dimly lit areas, you will love the back lit keyboard. But most will just love the sleek appearance that hides plenty of power inside. It is not the lightest and borders on being too heavy for frequent travelers, but it can perform a slew of tasks.
Operating System: Chrome OS︱Screen Size: 11.6 in. Touch Enabled︱ Processor: MediaTek MT8173C︱ Memory: 4GB︱Storage: 64GB Flash︱Graphics: PowerVR GX6250︱Weight: 2.64 lbs
Most laptops on our list are workhorses for tasks like writing letters and taking notes. Plus you can watch movies on them. But the laptops under $400 often lack a touch screen. Those who like to draw, or use touch mode, are left out.
But the Lenovo Chromebook C330 solves that problem. You get a touch screen on a laptop that can be folded 360 degrees into a tablet.
The artists out there know what that means. Get your styli out and start creating. But don’t expect the high end resolution found on more expensive graphics tablets.
This also means you can select or navigate using the touchscreen. You are not just limited to the included touchpad on the keyboard. That comes in handy with things like starting and pausing video streams.
Lenovo’s C330 also comes with a 720p cam and a microphone. Video call whoever you want to stay connected. Or record a video to post on YouTube.
The hinge also allows you to “tent” the laptop. In this arrangement, you have a self supporting screen with no keyboard in sight. This makes watching your favorite shows convenient and it just feels more like a viewing experience.
Flex the hinge again, and you can lay the keyboard flat. This is great for showing your screen to multiple people when collaborating.
In a more conventional configuration, you have a standard laptop. It presents you with a keyboard and touchpad that are serviceable. The keyboard is a bit small which may frustrate some and there is zero chance of finding a numeric pad on a laptop this small.
But in laptop mode, the C330 is powerful enough to work on shared documents and check email. Or you can easily take notes during a lecture. With a battery life up to 10 hours, you can get a lot done.
Lenovo ships the C330 with 4GB of RAM, which is low. But this laptop is not intended for gaming or other demanding applications. For basic tasks, this is an adequate amount of RAM.
If you plan on adding more memory after buying this convertible, think again. The RAM is not upgradeable.
The 64GB flash hard drive is larger than other flash drives found at this price point. But it is still on the small side if you use your laptop to dump large amounts of data or pictures.
On the other hand, Google intends for people to use this device in conjunction with the cloud. So, they give you an extra 100GB of space on Google Drive, free, with your purchase. If you have easy access to a wireless network, this may work for you.
Remember this is a Chromebook. The virus protection is built-in and your updates happen automatically and seamlessly. But if you are already locked into MS 365, the Chrome OS could be a deal breaker for you.
With this bundled version, you also get a protective sleeve. It is top loading with a zipper, making your laptop ready for travel. Along with the included 100GB of Google Drive space, the accessories included with this deal are significant.
In the classroom, office, or your home, the C330 is versatile and fills many needs. All those basic tasks you do everyday are handled by this Chromebook. But what stands out is the touch screen that can be used in multiple modes.
Technical jargon dominates the descriptions when evaluating computers. That is also true with laptops that cost less than $400. But it gets even worse when you add in all the sales pitches.
So, let’s take a quick look at what you should look for when reading up on different computer choices
We all know about Windows and the need to have an operating system (“OS”). But there are a couple of things to look for.
First, Windows comes in different versions. But the two you will most likely run into are the Pro and Home versions.
The Home version is a basic operating system geared for the “average” user. Sometimes you will also see it referred to as the OS for consumers.
And as you would expect, Pro includes all the home features, plus more advanced options for business users.
But there is another thing that has appeared recently. The S mode for Windows. While it is geared to help with security, speed, and stability, it does limit the apps you have access to. Plus, you must use Microsoft’s Edge browser, which some users will not like.
But for now, there is good news. You can remove S mode if you want. So, while it may not be for you, if S mode is on the machine you are considering you can simply remove it. But be warned, once you do, you cannot go back to S mode.
Random access memory (“RAM”) is one of the factors that determines how fast your computer runs. For laptops, 4GB is common in lower end machines. For basic tasks, that is enough.
But for more demanding programs and apps, 8GB is better in a laptop. If you have a decent graphics chipset and processor, your computer will be more responsive.
Also, do not assume you can always add more RAM to a particular machine. Some will allow it, some don’t. So, check if you intend to add memory before buying.
How well your display functions depends on the graphic chipset used in the laptop. While there are a variety of graphic “boards” you can find, in a $400 laptop the best test results seem to be found in computers using the AMD Radeon Vega 3.
That is not to say other chipsets are bad, they are not. But if you want to play games, or run other demanding programs, you may want to do some research to see how the computer you are considering performs.
The graphics package is more important than you might think. So, pay attention to what one is used in any computer you evaluate. Plus, don’t be afraid to do some research to make sure that it will do what you need.
The ability to keep your files and pictures with you makes laptops powerful. But not every machine can store the same amount of data. And not every drive is as fast. So, you need to pay attention to size and type of drive in any machine you consider.
Size depends on your needs. But as a rule of thumb, you don’t want less than 128GB and 256GB is better. By the time you load Windows and all your other programs, you will be short on space for your files with 128GB.
If you will be storing lots of pictures or videos, you will want 500GB or more. They are big files and need the space.
The drives themselves come in three main types; hard disks (“HDD”), solid state (“SDD”), and flash memory (“eMMC”). (There are also hybrid drives, but they are not common and not on our list, so we will not cover them.)
Now you can find more detailed articles on this subject, but in summary:
HDD: The conventional disk drive that has been around for a while. They are slower the solid state drives, and the moving parts inside them means they will wear out.
SDD: Fast and durable. They have no moving parts and are quiet. But they are more expensive than HDDs and you will generally find they have less GBs available.
eMMC: Commonly referred to as flash memory. These are inexpensive and usually have significantly less GBs. They are a little faster than HDDs but slower than SSDs.
One word of caution, some manufacturers represent eMMC as a SSD. Read the specs carefully and make sure you get the drive you need to handle your storage needs.
You stare at your computer’s screen for many, many hours. You want a display that you like. But everyone is different and there are a couple of things to think about.
First, how big a screen do you need? If you watch movies, you may want a 17 inch screen. But if you just need to keep up on email before boarding a plane, you need something easy to carry, like a 12 inch screen.
So, your needs will dictate the size. But if you want a compromise, many opt for a screen inthe 14 or 15 inch range.
Brightness and contrast can be important for some users (e.g. for outdoor use), so you may have to consider this as well.
Also, at $400 or less you will not find many units with a touchscreen. But they are out there and we have one on our list. So, if you want a touchscreen to draw or edit, you will have to make sure the laptop you buy comes with it.
How fast your computer runs is determined by a number of factors. But the processor (sometimes called the “CPU”) is an important one to evaluate.
In general, you want one with a high clock speed. All chip manufacturers note the speed (it is rated in GHz) and higher is better. But don’t get hung up on small differences, remember other components also dictate a computer’s speed.
If you can find test results on a site like CNET, they test the computers as a whole and can give a better idea of how fast a given computer will be.
This might seem like a no brainer, but heavy machines are often bigger. That’s the tradeoff.
This brings us to a conundrum, what is a good weight for you? Well, as you might guess, it depends on your needs.
If you are on the move every day, the weight of a bag with a heavy laptop is a problem after a while. It can feel like a thousand pounds on your shoulder after a while.
But if you are watching movies around the house, you want a big screen and can deal with a heavier machine for a quick move out onto the deck.
So, if you are a road warrior you might want a laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds. If you stream often and don’t need to transport the laptop everyday, you may not mind a machine that weighs over 5 pounds.
Bottom line is keep in mind how often you will be lugging the laptop versus how you will use it. Then match the weight to your needs.