GROUP TEST: Budget laptops
Williams and Marie The choice is huge e ven if you have less than £300 to spend. Andrew also runs Android Brewis test five of the cheapest Windows machines, one of which
We like a bargain, especially when we’re spending our own money and while a laptop might be an essential device to have around, you probably don’t want to be eating into any savings on it and risk not being able to afford that holiday you’ve been dreaming of.
The situation is better than it has been in terms of what you can get for your money. With the rise of smartphone and particularly tablets, laptops have become more affordable and with better specs to tempt consumers. You’re still not going to get anything mind-blowing but it’s amazing what you can find for under £300 or even £200.
Chances are you’re looking for a budget laptop for a specific task. Typically, it’s hard to get something that is capable of demanding tasks such as video editing or gaming within a tight budget and we’ll explain why.
Which specs are important depend on what you want to do with your laptop. Some users may need tonnes of storage over everything else, while others will need as much power for the money as possible. Below we’ve outlined what you should expect and look for in each area of a budget laptop.
Starting with the screen, you firstly need to decide on a size. Most laptops will be 12- to 15in, which will be a happy medium for most, but you can also go smaller or larger if you want something even more portable or if it rarely needs to move at 11- or 17in.
Remember that the size of the screen will have an impact on things such as the weight of the laptop and other things including the keyboard and even how many ports can be fitted.
It’s typical to find a budget laptop with an unexciting resolution of 1366x768, but if you can find higher, then you’ll be much better off. You’re unlikely to find a matt finish, but it’s preferable to glossy, which reflects lights all too easily and even yourself when you’re trying to work or watch a film.
As you know, the processor is the heart of the computer and which chip sits at the core of a laptop is going to have a large impact on how smoothly it runs. You might well find many with an Intel Celeron or similar and these are to be avoided unless your workload is going to be very light. Think email, word processing and web browsing.
You’re better off looking for either an AMD A-series or Intel Core i3 processor if you can – and some of the laptops at this price do offer this. The most powerful and efficient chips are currently Intel generations codenamed Haswell, Broadwell and Skylake, and can be found in some budget laptops.
Go for the best you can find within your budget, especially if you’re aiming to do demanding tasks like edit video. Don’t worry too much about clock speed, although higher is better for getting things done quickly. It’s worth noting that manufacturers and retailers will often advertise the Turbo speed rather than the regular.
We run various benchmarks on every laptop to make sure you read the full review to see the results and what they mean for daily usage. The processor will also have an impact on battery life, something else that we test, and you can find results and analysis in the individual reviews.
Storage and memory
Don’t get confused between storage and memory. The latter is simply space to store applications and files, while the latter is temporarily storing information when you’re doing things.
In both cases, it’s better to have as much as possible. A lot of budget laptops will come with a decent 1TB of traditional storage via a hard drive but only come with 4GB or even 2GB of RAM (memory). You’re unlikely to find an SSD (solid-state drive) or more than 8GB of RAM but these are things you might be able to upgrade yourself – the latter being easier to DIY if there is a spare slot. However, some machines offer a limited amount of solid-state storage: you’re trading off capacity for speed here.
When buying a budget laptop make sure it’s got exactly what you need (as well as the best specs possible as outlined above).
Depending on what you need it for, you might need to make sure it has an optical drive for playing or burning CDs/DVDs. Also make sure it’s got the right ports such as HDMI, Ethernet and USB.
Try and get the best wireless tech, too, with the latest being 11ac. Better Wi-Fi will help for streaming content such as music and video over the internet. If you want to watch or listen, also make sure the speakers are decent unless you’re happy to use headphones.
All current budget laptops now come with Windows 10 Home, and one even dual-boots Windows and Android. If you’re tempted by a Chromebook, remember that they’re designed for online use.
I can’t find this laptop
At the time of writing every one of the laptops listed here is available to buy in the UK. However, the budget laptop market is extremely volatile, and retailers tend to secure limited stock of any model, so there’s a chance it can go out of stock or end of life without us noticing – we were told by each manufacturer that the laptops here will be available to buy for a good while yet.
Also remember that laptop makers will make many slight variations/models of the same laptop, with subtly different product codes. These are called SKUs and although the laptop looks the same, the specs are different, so one might have a better hard drive or processor. We can’t choose what model we’re sent, so when you’re browsing retailers it might vary. If you want the exact model we tested, we’ve quoted the part number on the features table on page 60.