The best budget laptops available to buy in the UK in 2014/2015. Best budget laptops reviews. Want a cheap laptop? Read our best cheap laptops reviews and laptop buying advice. See also: all laptop reviews
Best budget laptops: budget laptop buying advice
Everyone likes cheap when it comes to spending their own money. After all, who pays more than they need to, to get what they want? Also see: Laptop Advisor
Fewer people like cheap in the sense of cheap quality, but if you can’t spend more than £450 on a portable computer and you don’t want to play 3D games, read on for a guide to buying a cheap laptop for not much money.
When you see laptops and PCs advertised on the telly, there are usually a few specifications called out to help define what’s on offer. These typically include the main processor type, the screen size, and how much memory it has installed. And don’t forget, memory means random access memory (RAM) and should never be confused with the storage capacity of a hard-disk or solid-state drive.
Screen size is a good starting point for finding the laptop you need. Most today are sized at either around 13- or 15 inches, the viewable screen area measured diagonally; there are also some 17in models still made as gaming machines, professional workstations or all-round family entertainment centres. At smallest, you may also find some laptops with 11.6in displays. Also see: Best laptops 2014/2015 UK
The screen also gives a guide to the overall weight, helping you make a decision if portability is key to your needs. Most 13in laptops weigh between 1.3- and 1.6kg, while 15in models are usually between around 2- and 3kg.
The screen is frequently the poorest-performing component in a low-cost laptop. Alongside its physical size and resolution listed in advertisements, there’s rarely any quantitative indication of quality, helping manufacturers to fit the cheapest and lowest-grade screen they can find to pare costs. Such displays will have very low contrast ratios, and limited colour gamut, while colours will look crude and garish. These crude twisted-nematic (TN) displays also have severely limited viewing angles. Compare these to the better-grade IPS displays now common on your phone or tablet, and you’ll notice that it’s difficult to view the laptop screen from the side, forcing you to keep your head in certain positions.
Look out for the screen finish, too. Shiny screens became popular about five years ago, as they seem to have better colours and contrast, but in use these untreated gloss panels reflect daylight, bulb light and your own image straight back at you. Matt anti-glare screens are more versatile, but also beware of cheap coatings that give a sparkly, fuzzy effect to images.
The processor is the heart of the computer, although today it’s not so much performance we need – laptop chips reached fast-enough years ago – as good battery economy. Apart from the slowest chips such as the Intel Atom, almost any processor from Intel or AMD is fast enough to smoothly handle the Windows operating system and programs like Microsoft Office.
However, the cheapest chips fitted to low-cost laptops, such as AMD’s or Intel’s entry-level Celeron, also tend to be less power efficient than Core i3/5/7. This means they burn energy needlessly to do the same work, so they require a larger battery to run the same time; or more often they feature the same size batteries but have shorter usable life before running flat.
For better quality laptops fitted with the latest Intel chips and other power-saving measures, you can expect seven- to 12 hours actual battery life. Budget laptops meanwhile may run for only around two- to five hours.
The most efficient and powerful chips are currently Intel Core series, such as the i3, i5 and i7. Specifically, the latest generations, codenamed Haswell (2013) and Ivy Bridge (2012). When used in laptops, these are mostly dual-core designs, some with Hyper Threading Technology which makes them perform like even faster quad-core chips with the right programs.
Clock speed should not be used as a guide to speed any more. But clock speed of a processor does give you an idea how quickly it will drain the battery – the higher the number, the faster it’s gone. Modern laptops usually have chips running at around 2GHz or lower, and which perform as fast as the 2.5+GHz chips of a few years ago. Watch out for laptop manufacturers who only list an inflated overclock (‘Turbo’) speed, since most consumers still believe that higher numbers are always better.
And so to memory. Historically, RAM was expensive and represented a significant part of the investment in a computer. Today, however, it’s so cheap that whether your laptop has 4-, 8-, 12- or 16GB is less important, providing you can still upgrade yourself if required. Windows 7 and 8 will run fine on 4GB, although even sub-£450 laptops often come with 8GB, now that it’s such a cheap commodity.
To make a computer feel fast and responsive it’s as important that it have fast storage. The cheapest laptops do not yet feature the best option of a solid-state drive (SSD), so you must make do with a slower hard disk instead. Disks are now so cheap that laptop makers can afford to put in huge 500GB or 1TB disks; great for hoarding weeks of music and video, but don’t forget your backup plan to safeguard your personal files when the disk breaks or your laptop is stolen.
As a halfway measure, a small amount of flash and a larger disk are sometimes combined into what’s being called an SSHD (‘solid-state hard drive’), such as that fitted to the Acer Aspire in this group. This is a cost-effective way to get some of the benefits of both technologies.
Over the following pages we test and rate six laptops on sale in late 2014. Don’t expect these to be available exactly as tested when you read this, though – the budget laptop market is extremely volatile, and retailers tend to secure limited stock of any model.
Meanwhile laptop makers such as Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, HP and Lenovo will make many slight variations of the same laptop, with subtly different product codes.
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 29 best budget laptops of 2014/2015.