Top 5 Best Laptops Under $400 [2020 Edition]

Portable laptop computers are available in a dizzying array of configurations and price points. In many cases, you don’t actually need to spend very much to get a great machine.

By staying on the lower end of the price range, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars and still find excellent hardware specs.

But what exactly should you be looking for? We’ve rounded up five contenders for the best laptop under $400 that will work for anyone’s needs!

Picking the best budget laptop under $400

To stay at this price without going into the $400 – $600 range, you need to take careful stock of exactly how you intend to use a laptop. How often do you use your computer, and what sort of programs do you rely on every day?

Are you more interested in watching YouTube clips and browsing Facebook? Do you use spreadsheets and docs daily?

The specific usage will determine whether you need a larger hard drive, a faster processor, or a touch screen. These options can all vary significantly between models, so you will need to mix and match to find your perfect system.

Whether you want a lightweight system for carrying around or a huge desktop replacement, we’ve got you covered.

Below we examine five different contenders for the best laptop and take stock of what real world buyers thought of each model.

Verdict: Editor’s Choice

HP EliteBook 840 G2 (Refurbished)

2018 HP EliteBook 840 G2In 2020, two portable computers stand head and shoulders above the competition without going above $399. The first up is an absolutely killer refurbished unit from HP — the EliteBook G2.

For well under $400, this bad boy gives you a full 8GB of RAM, an i5 processor, and a solid state drive. For those who prefer a new unit over going refurbished, the 2018 Dell Inspiron 3000 will instead be your best bet.

The contenders for best basic use laptop under $400

1. HP EliteBook 840 G2 (Refurbished)

  • Fast processor
  • More RAM than many models at the same price
  • Solid state drive
  • Pre-owned and refurbished
  • Smaller screen size

Should this be your choice?

Looking for a solid computer with fast speeds and loads of memory straight out of the box? This should be your pick if you want to spend a few hundred dollars less than normal!

Refurbished EliteBooks often top our lists of best cheap laptops, and for very good reason. You end up with a far better machine by spending several hundred dollars less than normal.

Not familiar with refurbished products? These are older devices fixed by a technician and then upgraded to Windows 10.

You get better specs than similar priced devices, but there are a few pitfalls to be aware of first. First off, you lose out on a few modern conveniences.

For instance, refurbished models often don’t have a touch screen or fingerprint scanner. Those are both becoming standard features on newer laptops, even at the lower price ranges.

So why go with a pre-owned machine that’s missing those features? 8GB of RAM and an SSD make this model worth any potential headaches from buying a used machine.

We talk about solid state drives a lot in our roundups of the best laptop at each price point. It’s worth reiterating again here — SSDs are just flat out faster than HDDs.

Yes, you get less overall storage space than with a HDD. That doesn’t really matter anymore though, do to the prevalence of external storage and online data backup solutions.

As with most refurbished models of older machines, always double check what’s being offered when going through a third party seller.

Many buyers have gone the used route on Amazon and ended up getting the EliteBook G1 instead of the G2, which has lower specs. When buying refurbished through a third party, its worth emailing them first to verify the model number and specs ahead of time.

Hardware specifications for 2018 HP EliteBook 840 G2 (Refurbished)
ProcessorIntel Core i5-5200U (2.70GHz)
Storage180GB SSD
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 5500
Display14-Inch HD SVA Display, 1366 x 768 Pixels Resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Pro 64 Bit
Battery Life5 hours
Weight3.4 lbs

2. Dell Inspiron 3000

  • More hard drive space
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Slow HDD instead of faster SSD
  • Low battery life

Should this be your choice?

Need a high end computer with the ability to upgrade even further? If you want a completely new laptop instead of buying a refurbished machine, this should be your pick!

The Dell Inspiron features similar specs to the EliteBook listed above, with a couple of key differences. Most notably, this is a completely new model instead of refurbished.
This unit also features the full 15-inch screen you are probably used to seeing, instead of the smaller 14 inch option.

You start with the Home edition of Windows 10 with this model, rather than Pro. For most people, that honestly won’t make a difference.

The Inspiron sports significantly more storage space for your files than the EliteBook. On the flip side, it uses the slower HDD tech instead of a solid state drive.

Booting up Windows will take slightly longer due to the HDD. In nearly all other respects, this model has very similar performance to the EliteBook without having to buy a refurbished model.

8GB of RAM is fantastic for this price range, but you don’t have to stop there. It’s fairly easy to expand to 16GB if you have extra money to spend a few months after the initial purchase.

Buyers frequently mention preferring the full sized keyboard design with the 10 key segment. Many other models rearrange the keys to save space, but this Inspiron ditches the cramped layout.

There’s one big issue to look out for when buying this particular Inspiron online, and it can radically change your overall overall experience. Two different models are listed on the same page at Amazon!

Make sure you choose the option for the i3-7130U version. The other model is much heavier and has a slower processor.

Hardware specifications for 2018 Dell Inspiron 3000
ProcessorIntel Core i3-7130U (2.7GHz)
Storage1TB HDD
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 620
Display15.6-Inch Display, 1366 x 768 Pixels Resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64 Bit
Battery Life4 hours
Weight5.07 lbs

3. Lenovo Thinkpad T420 (Refurbished)

  • Full 8GB of RAM
  • Decent hard drive space
  • Bulky machine
  • No webcam
  • Refurbished unit

Should this be your choice?

Do you think function is more important than form and want the best specs, even if the machine looks older and less attractive? This should be your pick!

Going with this refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad model is a bit like picking a used car that looks dinged up but runs really well under the hood. It may not get as many “oohs” and “aahs,” but it will get you from point A to point B.

There’s no question this older model doesn’t look nearly as pretty as newer machines. Although it isn’t a particularly heavy unit (with a smaller 14 inch screen) the Thinkpad has a very bulky design.

You also lose out on some of the more modern conveniences that are taken for granted in many laptops these days. For instance, there’s no built-in webcam, and you don’t get an HDMI out port for connecting to an external display.

Why would you possibly go with this machine over any other contender, then? As it turns out, it easily beats them out in several other respects.

First and foremost, with a 3.50GHz processor and 8GB of RAM, this is an absolute workhorse of a machine. You get great specs for a very low price by getting an older unit that’s been refurbished and recertified.

The Thinkpad is also quite easy to upgrade, so you won’t need to buy a replacement laptop for years to come. Want an SSD and 16GB of RAM? Just pull off the bottom covers and pop them in.

Buyers frequently mention that the older batteries on these refurbished models die very quickly. You will save a bundle by going refurbished, but don’t forget you will likely need to factor in the cost of a replacement battery!

Hardware specifications for Lenovo Thinkpad T420 (Refurbished)
ProcessorIntel Dual-Core i7-2640M (3.50GHz)
Storage500GB HDD
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics
Display14-Inch HD Anti Glare Display, 1366 x 768 Pixels Resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64 Bit
Battery Life4 hours
Weight4.9 lbs

4. HP 15.6-Inch HD Touchscreen Laptop

  • Touch screen
  • Full size 15 inch screen
  • Slower processor
  • Less memory
  • No Bluetooth

Should this be your choice?

In the market for a cheap touch screen laptop? This one should be your choice if you don’t need Bluetooth or are willing to buy an external Bluetooth adapter.

You had to know we were eventually going to list a touch screen laptop, right? They are all the rage these days, and touch screens are becoming a more standard feature.

A couple of key features set this particular device apart from similar notebook computers. First off, you get touch input at the standard 15 inch screen and a full 10 key keyboard.

That alone is a huge plus, as most touch screens tend to be significantly smaller and more cramped.

Keep in mind this isn’t a hybrid 2-in-1 machine like smaller units, so it doesn’t lay flat or flip around to sit like a tablet.

There are some other trade offs to be made to get the full size touch screen, as well. HP’s touch screen laptop includes a slower processor and less RAM than our other contenders.

You are also stuck with the slower HDD here, which is only 500GB instead of the usual 1TB.

That may not be a problem if you intend to manually upgrade to an SSD on your own, however.

Otherwise, you get nearly everything you’d expect from a machine at this price point. A DVD-RW drive, card reader, and HDMI port are all included.

Although not intended to be a gaming machine, this also has one of the best integrated graphics options available without upgrading to a dedicated card.

One issue frequently bought up by reviewers is the lack of internal Bluetooth. Be prepared to buy an external Bluetooth USB adapter.

If you don’t use Bluetooth and want a cheap touch screen model, that issue can be easily overlooked.

Hardware specifications for HP 15.6-Inch HD Touchscreen Laptop
ProcessorIntel Pentium N3710 (1.60 – 2.56GHz)
Storage500GB HDD
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 620
Display15.6-Inch HD Touch Screen Display,  1366 x 768 Pixels Resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64 Bit
Battery Life5 hours
Weight5.05 lbs

5. HP 17.3 Inch Flagship Laptop Computer (Refurbished)

  • Much bigger screen
  • Higher resolution display
  • Low price
  • Refurbished
  • Less RAM
  • Heavier

Should this be your choice?

Is screen size your biggest concern when buying a budget laptop? If you absolutely need a 17” laptop under $400, this should be your pick!

Usually available for around $340, this refurbished HP model is one of the cheapest options in our list of contenders.

Besides that lower price tag, the biggest draw is easily the screen size. While most laptops at this price point will run 14 – 15 inches, here you get a massive 17 inch desktop replacement.

When you absolutely need a bigger viewing area with a more clear resolution, you can’t go wrong here.

In exchange for that larger display and higher resolution, unfortunately you get less system memory than with many other models. If the larger screen size isn’t a requirement for you, then picking one of the contenders with more RAM is probably the way to go.

Buyers often mention that this particular HP lacks dedicated touchpad buttons. Instead, it featuring the seamless smooth pad design, which some users love and others hate.

Hardware specifications for HP 17.3 Inch Flagship Laptop Computer (Refurbished)
ProcessorAMD A8-7050 (1.80G – 3.0GHz)
Storage750GB HDD
GraphicsAMD Radeon R5
Display17.3-Inch HD BrightView Display, 1600 x 900 Pixels Resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64 Bit
Battery Life4 hours
Weight6.24 lbs

What are the minimum specs I should accept at this price range?

Three main hardware specs should always be the primary concerns when buying a basic use, non-gaming laptop. You want the best possible processor, the most RAM, and an SSD while staying under $400.

The newer the processor, the better. You won’t usually find 8th gen processors before bumping up the price, but 7th gen are sometimes available.

Why exactly do you want newer? More modern processors don’t just offer faster speeds, but also use less power. That means you typically get better battery life.

In general, if you are spending $399 you want a full 8GB of RAM. The only reason to accept 4GB in this price range is if you get something else in exchange that you absolutely need.

Unless you are getting a bigger display, a touch screen, or a dedicated graphics card, try to stick to 8GB whenever possible.

Finally, the hard drive size and style can make a big impact on whether a machine is worth the money. SSDs are always faster and more reliable, but they tend to increase the price while decreasing the storage space.

If you want to save some money, you can always get a 1TB HDD model and then swap it out with a 256GB SSD down the line.

What other features should I be looking out for?

Processor speed, hard drive style, and total amount of RAM will be your primary deciding factors on a laptop. Those shouldn’t be the only features you consider, however.

Many of the lesser-touted features can make or break a laptop. Everything from number of ports to overall battery life can radically change whether a computer meets your needs.

To figure out what you need, start by asking yourself a few questions. For instance, what kind of data do you typically store, and how do you prefer to transfer files?

Do you need a card reader for transfering photos off your camera’s SD card? Do you still need an optical drive for burning DVDs or transfering data off old CD installation discs?

How many USB ports will you need for external devices like a mouse, optical drive, or external monitor? Will you need to buy a USB hub to make sure you have enough ports?

Do you intended to be connected to an electrical outlet often, or will you be away from the plug for extended periods?

Answering all of these questions before you lay down a couple hundred dollars on a new laptop can save you big headaches later on.

Do I need a dedicated graphics card?

At this price point, you can’t usually expect to get a dedicated card unless you pick a refurbished model. In many cases, you may not need one anyway.

If you aren’t a serious gamer looking to run new games at high graphics settings, integrated Intel graphics will be all you need.

Without a dedicated graphics card, your laptop pulls directly from the RAM for video applications. Most of the time, this will be perfectly fine for work or school projects.

When you need to run high end video editing tools or other graphics-intensive programs, however, you should look at spending more to get a graphics card.

If you are indeed looking for a gaming laptop. Check out our best collection of gaming laptop in this range

Buying a great laptop while staying on a budget

Whether you need loads of hard drive space, a larger display, or the best possible speed, one of these five contenders will fit your budget and your needs.

What did you think of our five picks for the five best basic use laptops under $400? Be sure to throw us a line if you find any new models that should be added to the list!

Categories Reviews

Leave a Comment