Rather than asking, “what is the best laptop?” the majority of people want to know, “what is the best laptop I can buy for the cheapest price?” It's a great question, and one we’re about to answer. Here we present to you the 24 best budget laptops of 2014.
Best budget laptops 2014: What to look out for when buying a budget laptop
Slowly but surely, the design and features of budget laptops are starting to reflect the wider changes that have taken place in the PC industry over the past year or so. See also: How to choose a budget laptop
We were a little disappointed to find that performance has not improved noticeably since our last round-up of budget laptops but, in contrast, battery life has improved significantly and four to five hours is now quite common even amongst the cheapest laptops, with some of the better models even nudging six hours. See also: Best laptops 2014
Last year’s arrival of Windows 8 has also had an effect, and touchscreen controls are now commonplace rather than only found on the most expensive models. In fact, you can now get a touchscreen laptop for as little as £269 in the form of the Advent Tacto. But while touchscreen controls can be a nice bonus, it’s more important to ensure that basic screen quality is up to scratch. Many of the laptops reviewed here suffer from restricted viewing angles, so it’s a good idea to check a prospective purchase’s display in a shop before you buy. See also: all laptop reviews
The choice of processor is still important, of course, and our tests suggest that the low-cost AMD processors used in many budget laptops such as the Lenovo Flex 15D and the Toshiba Satellite C55D provide slower performance than Intel’s Core i3 and i5 processors. Often, much slower. They’ll handle basic tasks such as web browsing, streaming video and word processing well enough, but will struggle with more demanding tasks such as photo- or video-editing.
But processor performance isn’t the only factor to worry about. Thankfully, all the laptops reviewed here include at least 4GB of memory – a good starting point to run Windows 8 efficiently. However, most budget laptops still rely on conventional hard disks – and these disks are the single biggest bottleneck to overall performance. There are some exceptions, though, such as Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Lite, which uses a higher-speed solid-state drive in conjunction with an AMD processor for decent results.
All these laptops are intentionally pared down in various ways and built with low-cost components in order to hit a particular price point. But it’s also possible to pick up some bargains when older models come down in price. The HP Pavilion 15 TouchSmart is actually a middle-order laptop that recently had a £200 price cut by its maker to £529. Not only does it include an up-to-date Intel Core i5 processor that provides strong performance and battery life, but it even manages to include an nVidia GeForce GT 740M graphics processor. It’s still not a gaming rig, but it can handle casual action gaming that brings most of its low-cost rivals to their knees.
Performance is easy to measure, but there are other, less tangible design features that are also worth considering. Most budget laptops use 15.6in screen panels and tend to tip the scales at well over 2kg. But if portability is more important to you there are still sleek, slimline designs such as the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Lite available if you hunt around.
Best budget laptops 2014: Conclusion
If you’re on a really tight budget, the Advent Tacto provides a usable entry-level laptop for just £270. Its performance may be modest but it can handle web browsing and other simple tasks without problems, and the quality of the 11.6in screen proved a pleasant surprise given that low price tag. The four-hour battery life could be better, but a weight of just under 1.5kg ensures that it’s both portable and productive.
But if you can stretch right up to £500, then it’s Samsung’s Ativ Book 9 Lite that wins our Recommended award for the best ultra-portable budget laptop. Its AMD processor isn’t a great performer, but it’s rescued by the inclusion of a speedy solid-state drive that boosts overall performance to more respectable levels. It’s a little heavier than many ultraportables, but 1.6kg is still no hardship to carry around. We really like its slimline design, too, but the real clincher is the six-and-a-half-hour battery, which left most of its low?cost rivals trailing in its wake.
Ultimately, though, for sheer value-for-money it’s HP’s Pavilion 15 TouchSmart that wins hands-down. It’s pretty heavy, but packs a mid-range Intel Core i5 processor and nVidia graphics to good advantage; it only made it into this group test thanks to a recent price cut. If you’re looking for a capable all-round laptop that can handle everything from web browsing to video-editing, then the Pavilion 15 TouchSmart is our clear choice for Best Buy.