Looking for the best budget laptop you can find for home working and photo editing? When it comes to choosing a new laptop, the sky's the limit. If you're after the best photo-editing laptop there's no shortage of stunning machines that go large on tech and performance. Trouble is, they also go large on price as a result, often costing as much as a decent second-hand car.
Fortunately it is possible to bag a capable laptop that's got enough oomph for some serious photo editing, home working, or even light gaming, and all for around the $500-$800 mark. At this price point don't expect the latest and greatest Octa-core processors or a large-capacity internal SSD, but you'd be surprised what you can still find.
In this guide we're focusing on a laptop's screen specs above all else, as these can make or break a laptop's photo editing ability. Firstly, consider screen size. Laptops can be had in a range of screen sizes from around 11.6-inches up to 17-inches. The smaller sizes may be great for portability, but soon get tiresome when used for extended periods. We're assuming you're more likely to use your laptop mostly from home, where a 15-15.6" screen size makes most sense and is commonly available.
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Then there's screen quality. Laptop screens primarily use two types of LCD technology: TN, and IPS. TN is the cheaper variety and is characterized by restrictive contrast and viewing angles, requiring you to tilt the screen up or down to choose whether highlight or shadow detail in an image is visible - not great for viewing images, let alone editing them. IPS screen tech has no such issues, and is a must if you want to do justice to your photos. Finally, there's screen resolution. At 15.6 inches, a Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution is what you should look for, as anything less will leave you with a pixelated, low-resolution viewing experience that'll soon get uncomfortable.
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As for the rest of the laptop specs, temporary storage, known as RAM, is vital - consider 8GB a minimum. Long term storage is likely to come in the form of a conventional hard disk drive - not the fastest technology, but adequate on a budget, and it'll give you a healthy 1TB+ capacity. It is possible to get a faster SSD-based storage drive instead, but capacity will be low - usually around 256GB.
As for the central processor - the laptop's 'engine' - the minefield of processor model numbers from manufacturers Intel and AMD is all but undecipherable. Basically, anything with four cores should see you through reasonably intensive photo editing and work, and the faster the Gigahertz (GHz) rating, the better.
The best budget laptops in 2021
The ThinkBook 15 is a thin and light laptop just 18.9mm thick and tipping the scales at a very reasonable 1.7kg. The external aesthetic is subtle and corporate, making it an ideal machine for use at home or work.
In an age where physical connection ports are in short supply, Lenovo has given the ThinkBook 15 a refreshing well stocked selection of connections. There are three USB 3.1 Gen 1 (including 2 Type-A and 1 Type-C), a super-fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C port, a hidden USB 2.0 port, plus headphone/mic, HDMI and an SD card reader.
Battery life is respectable at up to 9 hours, partly due to the power-efficient Intel Core i5-1035G1 quad-core processor. It won't set any speed records, but will be enough for some light Photoshop work. The 8GB of RAM is also up to the job, as is the 256GB SSD.
More than just adequate is the Full HD 1920x1080 screen. It's IPS-based, so you can be assured of top quality viewing angles and reliable colour and contrast - a rarity in the budget laptop sector.
Rather than running Windows or Mac OS, this budget laptop is based on Google's ChromeOS operating system. It's designed to be super-simple to use and runs apps from Google's Play Store, just like an Android phone or tablet. As such you won't be able to use Windows software, notably Adobe Photoshop, but there are alternatives like Lightroom Mobile, and Google's own Snapseed.
Despite its low, low price, this is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy right now, with its standout feature being its 14-inch Full HD 1080p screen. It's an IPS panel, so you needn't worry about restricted viewing angles or weak contrast. Be sure you go for this Full HD (FHD) version of the HP Chromebook 14 though, as other models are available with lesser screens, and we don't reckon the marginally lower price is worth the significant reduction in display quality.
Of course, a laptop this cheap is never going be an image-editing powerhouse, and the Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB onboard storage all represent the minimum of what you can get away with for web browsing, image viewing and HD YouTube viewing. But the payoff for having such power-efficient hardware is up to 11 hours battery life from a device just 33.7 x 22.6 x 1.83 cm large and a mere 1.54kg light.
Acer's Nitro 5 laptop range is all about offering maximum performance with minimal outlay. The focus is unashamedly on gaming, so the exterior is chunky and utilitarian, and you get frills like a glowing backlit keyboard of dubious aesthetic appeal. But see past the superficial gaming extras and the Nitro 5 has so much to offer non-gamers, too.
There are several Nitro 5 variants, but all but one sport a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS screen, so you needn't worry you might be tripped up by the specs lottery of some other manufacturers and end up with a lesser display.
We've selected the bottom of the range Nitro 5, but even this gives you a capable quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 2500U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard disk drive for plenty of file storage (other configurations with a smaller but faster SSD alternative are also available, and for minimal extra outlay).
Factor the included dedicated graphics card and even if you weren't previously a gamer, this laptop might just give you a new hobby!
Even if you're not a video gamer, don't ignore the gaming laptop sector. Gamers want fast performance and a high quality screen, which is exactly what we as photographers also value.
With this laptop get an impressively fast 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor and a healthy 8GB of RAM, along with speedy SSD storage for your files - albeit with only a 256GB capacity, so adding a higher-capacity external drive may be something to consider for the future.
Screen specs are well catered for by the quality 15.6-inch Full-HD IPS screen which will show off your photos in all their glory. The price even buys you a GeForce® GTX 1650 graphics card to give this laptop a genuine gaming ability, or it can be used to help speed up video rendering.
Factor that you get all this for such a keen price and the HP Pavilion Gaming 15-dk0010na is a genuinely stonking deal.
Fancy a laptop and tablet in one? The Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 offers an outstanding amount of versatility and features for a very reasonable price. The 14-inch Full HD screen can flip back and around to rest on the back of the machine, creating a tablet PC, albeit a thick one. The screen is touch-sensitive and can be used as a basic pen-enabled graphics tablet - a very rare trick in the budget sector. Dell hasn't forgotten about display quality either, as the panel uses IPS tech - great for photo quality.
Under the hood is a bang-up-to-date 10th generation Intel® Core™ i5-10210U quad-core CPU with a potent 1.6GHz base speed and up to 4.2GHz boost speed. Pair this with the 8GB of RAM and generous 512GB SSD and you've got very respectable all-round performance.
The only drawback here is the 14-inch screen size, which is noticeably smaller than a typical 15.6-inch laptop and can make for a slightly fiddly Photoshop workspace. But if you prioritize portability, this compromise may just be worth it.
The big attraction with this laptop is its low 1.69kg weight and sleek 35.85 x 24.2 x 1.79 cm dimensions. Factor the outstanding battery life of up to 10 hours 15 minutes and this is the laptop for you if you'll be spending prolonged periods off-grid.
The long battery life is made possible by an ultra-efficient quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor. It'll handle most photography apps, though its 1GHz base frequency is lower than average, so particularly intensive tasks can take a little longer.
Elsewhere, 8GB RAM is perfectly adequate, while the included 512GB SSD storage is particularly generous and fast for the price point. There's even a built-in SD card reader, too.
Also impressive is the 15.6-inch Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen, which is IPS-based so your photos will be displayed at their best.
Overall, if you need a slimmer and more efficient laptop, this is superb value for money.
Asus's VivoBook range is extensive, and rather confusing, but pay close attention to the specs and it is possible to grab a 15.6-inch model equipped with a high quality Full HD IPS screen with wide viewing angles and reliable contrast. There are various different VivoBook S15 model numbers that can get you this screen option, but the S530 is one of the safer bets.
Several processor options are available, but the quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U balances performance and cost the best. Elsewhere, the S530 is most often specced with a healthy 8GB of RAM and a small but fast 256GB SSD.
Measuring 361.4 x 243.5 x 18 mm and weighing in at 1.8kg, the VivoBook is also a svelte budget laptop, proving that low cost doesn't have to mean low style.
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