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

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

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.

Dis­play

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.

Pro­ces­sor

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.

Other spec­i­fi­ca­tions

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.

Soft­ware

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.

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