Now might be the most necessary time to buy a cheap laptop, with millions of us working or schooling from home, but it's not necessarily the best time to buy a cheap laptop.
Just before Christmas and during the Black Friday sales, we were seeing laptops with Intel Core i3 processors, Full HD screens, 4GB of memory and either 128GB solid-state drives or 1TB hard drives retailing below £300. Right now, the best deals you'll find at this price are Chromebooks or slower Intel Celeron/Pentium-powered Windows laptops.
Still, needs must, and many of us simply cannot wait until later in the year to purchase a cheap laptop. If your budget does stretch just a little bit higher, we'd recommend you look to our best budget (sub-£500) laptops chart; otherwise, here is a selection of models below £300 that will suffice for casual tasks and get you out of a tight spot.
If you are willing to buy a refurbished model, Laptop Outlet stocks several Core i3 models below £300.
1. Asus E410 (w/ Office 365)
Now: £229 (£20 off)
Our favourite budget laptop of 2021 (as of August), the Asus E410 comes with money off and a year's worth of Microsoft Office 365 in this latest AO deal.
2. Acer 314 Chromebook
Now: £269.99 (with free Acer laptop bag and mouse)
This offer from Argos bundles in additional accessories with the Acer 314, all for £269.99. The The Acer 314 Chomebook received 4/5 stars in our review.
3. Asus C523NA Chromebook
Now: £229 (£70.99 off)
This Chromebook has basic specs, but it's a bargain if you only have less than £250 to spend on a laptop.
4. Asus VivoBook L410 (w/ Office 365)
Now: £199.99 (£50 off)
If you need a laptop for under £200 then you're unlikely to find a better deal. This VivoBook has modest specs but can get the basics done, plus includes a one-year Microsoft Office 365 subscription, worth £59.99.
5. Lenovo IdeaPad S145
Now: £299.95 (£130.04 off)
Lenovo's IdeaPad S145 comes with a 15.6in HD display, 4GB RAM, a 128GB SSD and runs on an Intel Pentium 5405U. This DealBuyer discount shaves off a sizeable chunk from the original RRP.
How to find a great deal on a budget laptop
We review budget laptops all year round, and our favourite model right now is the Asus E410, which offers a great all-round experience, despite anticipated weaknesses such as poor maximum display brightness. While the most affordable SKU can be picked up direct from Asus for £229.99, a more powerful version can be had from the likes of Currys, running on Intel Pentium silicon, instead of a Celeron chipset.
The very fact that various SKUs exist of most laptop lines means you need to be careful of what you're buying: that laptop you just read about in that glowing review may not necessarily be the same laptop you've just found at a bargain price. Check for things like screen size and resolution, processor model, and amount and type of RAM and storage.
For many people, those cheaper options will be more than enough for their needs, but it always helps to have some idea of what to look out for in the first place. This way, if you see a great laptop deal we haven't mentioned here, you'll be able to work out whether or not it's a good buy.
Key things to look out for are the processor, memory and both type of storage and amount of storage. At under £300, you're unlikely to find anything higher than an Intel Core i3/AMD A-series or Ryzen 3 processor; if you do find a Core i5, snap up that laptop right away. You won't find a better deal.
You'll also see Intel Pentium and Celeron processors listed, and these are less powerful options often found in older models and Chromebooks/CloudBooks, but still more than capable if your needs are basic. By that we mean you're looking for something that's good for homework, replying to emails, browsing the web or social media, and watching the odd video.
These setups come with integrated graphics, and you shouldn't expect to find a dedicated graphics card at this price. Your laptop will be more than capable of playing YouTube and movies, plus some casual games, but if you're really after something capable of higher-fidelity gaming we'd recommend upping your budget to £500+ and going for a Core i5 as the bare minimum. We've got some more options on slightly pricier laptop deals here.
At this price, you're most likely to find 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, although at the budget end of the market you often find solid-state storage is swapped out for a traditional mechanical hard drive. The upside to this is more storage space; the downside is they are slower, a little noisier and more fragile.
The size of the screen and the overall design of a laptop are going to be purely personal choices. You'll find everything from 11in to 15.6in screens at this price point; a handful with Full HD (1080p) displays but most with HD (720p) screens. Smaller laptops are typically going to be more readily portable, but it's easier to get stuff done on a larger screen; especially if you're wanting to watch videos, play casual games or work with spreadsheets.
Don't overlook Chromebooks, with which your children may well be familiar from school. The difference between these and traditional Windows laptops is the operating system that's installed on them; with Chromebooks instead using Chrome OS. You'll also find CloudBooks, which run Microsoft's pared-back Windows 10 S.