Budget laptop buying guide: Processor
At the top end of price category, you should find a highly capable Intel Core i-series processor. It’s likely to be last year’s generation, currently Sandy Bridge with a ‘2’ leading the part number. Look for an Ivy Bridge (‘3’ numbered) if you’d like to try playing games, as the HD 4000 Graphics are a notch above. See Laptop Advisor.
The cheapest cheap laptops fit AMD or Intel Centrino processors, with poorer fuel economy and lower overall performance.
Budget laptop buying guide: Memory
Budget laptop buying guide: Storage
Hard disks are the norm at this price, rather than the sexier solid-state found in the next price band and up. Even a 250GB disk is enough for most people, unless you’re a video hoarder. In this case, look for 500GB or more - still in reach at this price.
Budget laptop buying guide: Wireless connectivity
Wi-Fi will be standard, but know that 11n is often in its pared-down single aerial version, capped at a nominal 150Mbps. Bluetooth is not a given at the price, but very useful for external peripherals, even if phone synching is rarely Bluetooth these days.
Budget laptop buying guide: Software
Windows is still preinstalled on most PCs, typically Windows 7 Home Premium. Expect to find plenty of other third-party apps, trials and toolbars, most of which only serve to annoy or slow the computer down.
Budget laptop buying guide: Chassis
The bodywork and the display are the main areas where costs are cut to hit budget. Expect creaky plastic bodies, bendy frames and faux-metal paint jobs. Keyboards and trackpads are also likely to feel cheap and erratic respectively.
Budget laptop buying guide: Display
Gloss screens hide low-grade LCDs image quality. The shine makes colours more vivid, but contrast may be poor. Look out for visibility at an angle – budget laptops use cheap panels that cannot be viewed more than a few degrees off-axis. Resolution will also be low – 1366x768 pixels is all too common for 15in models, which would benefit from 1440 or more pixels across.
Budget laptop buying guide: Battery
Recent CPUs help runtime, but manufacturers sometimes scrimp with smaller batteries. Look for the watt-hour rating – 48Wh or more is good.