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Saturday, May 15, 2021

You don't have to spend more than $600 to get a quality laptop


In recent years, the best laptops under $600 have come a long way. No longer do you have to choose between quality and affordability, and many of the biggest names in PC manufacturing have devices with modern hardware and a ton of features. Even some of the best Windows laptops are in the sub-$600 category, including the Surface Laptop Go. It's our top pick in this range thanks to a premium build, excellent display, and modest performance. There are also a bunch of other great options, which we've included here.

Best Overall: Surface Laptop Go

Microsoft's Surface lineup is known to be one of the best around in terms of build quality and display, so it's no surprise that there are two Surface PCs in this roundup. Our top overall pick is the Surface Laptop Go, a 12.45-inch notebook PC that's fun to use. It's essentially a smaller version of the Surface Laptop 4 for those who need something compact to travel with.

The touch display has a 1536x1024 resolution, which is lower than other Surface products. However, it still looks sharp at this size. Brightness hits 400 nits to combat glare, and you get 99% sRGB color reproduction. Bezels are thin, and the 3:2 aspect ratio gives you a tall screen with more room for productivity.

Build quality is high, as expected, with an aluminum and polycarbonate body available in three different colors. Ports include USB-C, USB-A, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a Surface Connect port. If that's not enough connectivity for you, consider grabbing one of the best USB-C adapters and hubs for Surface Laptop 4, as they will work here as well.

Performance hardware includes a 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor (CPU) for modest performance. It's much better than the Core m3 chip in the Surface Go 2, important for anyone with heavier multitasking in mind. Pair it with up to 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM and a 256GB SSD. Expect around eight hours of battery life from a charge.


  • Excellent hardware and design
  • Core i5 has decent power
  • Good battery life
  • Color-accurate and bright display


  • Resolution could be higher
  • No keyboard backlight

Best Overall

Surface Laptop Go

From $550 at Microsoft

$560 at Amazon

From $550 at Best Buy

Surface Laptop Go is a smaller and more affordable Surface Laptop, and it nails all the fundamentals to deliver a surprisingly delightful computing experience. With decent battery life and compact size, this lil' laptop is perfect for the couch, class, or boardroom.

Powered by AMD: Acer Aspire 5

Those of you looking to get your hands on AMD Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs will no doubt be interested in the Acer Aspire 5 A515-45 with Ryzen 5 5500U CPU, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and a massive 512GB M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD). This laptop is going to absolutely blaze through most home and office work, and the AMD Radeon integrated GPU will even be able to handle some light gaming.

The body is a blend of magnesium with plastic around the display. It's not as premium as the Surface line, but it's still a well-built PC for the asking price. And there's lots of room for ports, including three USB-A, USB-C, HDMI, RJ45 Ethernet, and 3.5mm audio. Just don't expect Thunderbolt.

The 15.6-inch display has an FHD resolution, which is as low as you want to go with a screen this size. A fingerprint reader adds some extra security, and the battery should get you through most of a workday.


  • High-end performance from AMD Ryzen
  • 15.6-inch FHD display
  • 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
  • Decent port selection


  • Lots of plastic
  • No Wi-Fi 6
  • No Thunderbolt

Powered by AMD

Acer Aspire 5

$530 at Newegg

With the latest AMD Ryzen mobile CPU, 15.6-inch FHD display, full keyboard, and decent port selection, this laptop is going to crush productivity work and will even handle some very light gaming thanks to the AMD Radeon graphics.

Best 2-in-1: Surface Go 2

The Surface Go 2 is the best option in this list if you're looking at a 2-in-1 small enough to take with you wherever you go. It's primarily a tablet with a stand on the back, allowing you to prop it up for easier viewing. But you can also attach a Type Cover with keyboard and touchpad for a full notebook experience. The Go 2 is even compatible with Surface Pen for high-quality inking. The 10.5-inch display has a boxy 3:2 aspect ratio and crisp 1920x1280 resolution. You get about 400 nits brightness with 100% sRGB color reproduction.

Baseline models start with an Intel Pentium 4425Y CPU with OK performance, but the Intel Core m3 chip is a much better bet. Especially if you can find a model on sale since Core m3 configs start at about $630. That same model has 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, so you do get quite a bit of PC for the price.

Rounding out the features are dual webcams and an IR camera for Windows Hello, optional LTE connectivity, Wi-Fi 6, and dual speakers with solid audio. Ports include USB-C, 3.5mm audio, a microSD card reader, and Surface Connect. Check out our comparison of the Surface Laptop Go vs. Surface Go 2 for more info.


  • High-res 10.5-inch display
  • Wi-Fi 6 and optional LTE
  • Good battery life
  • Premium design


  • Might not have enough performance for some

Best 2-in-1

Surface Go 2

From $400 at Microsoft

From $509 at Amazon

From $400 at Best Buy

Surface Go 2 gets a much-improved processor that finally delivers on speed without making battery life worse. The touch display is beautiful, and it can be used as a tablet or with an attachable Type Cover.

Great Features: Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15

Lenovo's IdeaPad lineup has been shaping up over the last few years, making the list of the overall best Lenovo laptops around. If you're searching for a 15.6-inch notebook with an excellent feature set, the IdeaPad 5 15 might be the one. A webcam shutter for the HD camera, aluminum body, fingerprint reader, Wi-Fi 6, and a beefy 57Wh battery are key here.

The 15.6-inch display has an FHD resolution, touch functionality, and about 300 nits brightness. It also has a narrow chin to go along with the thin bezel around sides and top. And between the display and keyboard are dual top-firing 2W speakers with Dolby Audio tuning. Ports include two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 1), USB-C, HDMI 1.4b, an SD card reader, and a 3.5mm audio jack.

The IdeaPad 5 uses AMD's Ryzen 5 4500U CPU with six cores, accompanied by 8GB of DDR4-3200MHz RAM and a large 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD. If you'd like a svelte PC with an impressive feature set, this one is a great option.


  • AMD Ryzen 4000 CPUs
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Webcam shutter and fingerprint reader
  • Aluminum build
  • Decent port selection


  • No Thunderbolt
  • Display could be brighter

Great Features

Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15

$583 at Lenovo

$583 at Newegg

The IdeaPad 5 15 has an aluminum body, FHD display, full keyboard, and excellent performance from Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs. If you're looking for a bunch of great features, including Wi-Fi 6 and a webcam shutter, give this one a look.

Best Convertible: HP Pavilion x360 14

HP's sub-brands have come a long way, and the Pavilion x360 lineup is no doubt quite attractive for anyone who wants a budget convertible. This 14-inch option starts at $600 and has an 11th Gen Intel Core i3-11154G4 CPU, 8GB of DDR4-3200MHz RAM, and 128GB M.2 PCIe SSD. There's plenty of opportunity for upgrades if you have the budget, including up to a Core i7 CPU with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB SSD.

The 14-inch touch display comes in two flavors, both with an FHD resolution. The first (in this baseline model) has about 250 nits brightness, while the other option cranks it up to about 400 nits brightness. In both cases the display can rotate around 360 degrees to be used as a tablet or somewhere in between.

If you're typing all day you will likely enjoy the comfy keyboard, and the sizable Precision touchpad makes for easy pointing. Ports include USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, and an SD card reader. You also get Wi-Fi 6 for modern and reliable wireless connectivity.


  • 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs
  • Comfy keyboard and big touchpad
  • Decent port selection
  • Quality convertible build


  • Baseline display is dim
  • Core i3 CPU might not be enough

Best Convertible

HP Pavilion x360 14

From $600 at HP

$546 at Amazon

If you want a laptop that can convert into a tablet, check out HP's Pavilion x360 14 with 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs and a whole bunch of other great features.

If we're making some suggestions

You don't need to spend more than $600 to get your hands on a quality Windows laptop these days. There are many options out there, but our favorite is Microsoft's Surface Laptop Go. It delivers the best mix of premium quality build, color-accurate and bright display, comfortable keyboard and touchpad, and performance.

It's the perfect size at about 12.45 inches to go with you wherever you travel, but it's also big enough that you can use it for daily productivity work. And the 10th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU will be able to keep up with office tasks, with a battery that should last most of a workday on a single charge.

If none of the above devices are what you're looking for, check out our list of the best cheap laptops as well as the overall best Windows laptops.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Cale Hunt is a staff writer at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on PC, laptop, accessory coverage, and the emerging world of VR. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

Daniel Rubino is the executive editor of Windows Central. He has been covering Microsoft since 2009, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Surface, HoloLens, Xbox, and future computing visions. Follow him on Twitter: @daniel_rubino.

via May 14, 2021 at 10:03AM by Cale Hunt, Khareem Sudlow,