Back to School: 4 Top Picks for Best Budget Laptops

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

There used to be little to distinguish one budget laptop from the next — maybe a couple of gigabytes of RAM or a gimmicky interchangeable lid with a choice of colors. Now a few fundamentally different types of machines populate the sub-$500 price range. As students weigh their options for back to school, here are four top picks from

The Asus Transformer Book T100 (starting at $349) is a two-in-one device with a full-size keyboard that completely detaches from a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Reviewers say this convertible model excels as both a laptop and a tablet -- a rare feat. It weighs just 2.4 pounds and blows conventional laptops out of the water with battery life of 11-plus hours. (Where to buy)

ASUS Transformer Book T100 convertible notebook tabletAsus

The Acer Aspire E1-510P-2671 (starting at $448) is a traditional “clamshell” notebook, but it does have a touchscreen for taking full advantage of Windows 8. The large 15.6-inch display lends itself to sitting on a dorm room desk and perhaps even standing in for a TV. On the go, the battery lasts more than six hours in expert tests. This model comes with 8GB of memory for multitasking, twice the typical amount for a budget laptop. (Where to buy)

Byers Market Newsletter

Get breaking news and insider analysis on the rapidly changing world of media and technology right to your inbox.

The Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook (starting at $278) is one of the increasingly popular laptops with Google’s Chrome OS. Instead of using conventional PC software, Chromebooks rely on web apps such as Gmail and have limited offline functionality. Still, that shouldn’t faze students who spend all their time on campus Wi-Fi. Experts favor this Toshiba model, which combines a reasonably sized 13.3-inch display with a low price and sleek, portable design. (Where to buy)

The Asus K200MA (starting at $294) improves on the concept of netbooks, which have fallen out of favor in recent years. This 11.6-inch, 3-pound machine is cheap, compact, and highly portable. Yet it’s a full-fledged laptop equipped with Windows 8.1 and a touchscreen with the same HD resolution as other budget models. Reviewers say this laptop is ideal for travel and toting back and forth to class. (Where to buy)

These laptops won’t suit gamers, media gluttons, or even heavy users of productivity software. Still, they have plenty of processing power for basic, everyday tasks such as email, web browsing, social media, word processing, and streaming video.

Although a 500GB hard drive is the standard for a budget laptop, some devices now have a solid-state drive, or SSD, for faster performance. This costs the manufacturer a lot more than a hard drive, however, so don’t expect nearly as much storage. The Toshiba Chromebook has a 16GB SSD and the Asus Transformer Book T100 has 64GB built in. Both offer buyers free cloud storage on top of that: 100GB of Google Drive for two years with the Chromebook and unlimited Asus WebStorage for one year with the Transformer Book T100.

More from Cheapism:

— Kara Reinhardt,