Looking for a low-cost laptop? Here's what you'll get

If you're not paying the big bucks, your laptop may have a low-resolution screen, slow processor or less memory and storage

With prices hovering around $150, a low-end laptop could be a tempting buy this holiday season, if all you want to do is surf the web, view streaming video and draft documents. But be aware that PC makers have stripped down the features to make these devices affordable. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping.

Operating system

Your options include Microsoft's Windows 10 or Google's Chrome OS. Windows 10 is a fully functional OS that can run a wider range of programs, and these laptops typically have more storage. Laptops with Chrome OS, also called Chromebooks, have a usage model similar to tablets and smartphones, and are good for web surfing, e-mail and online file storage. For video and gaming, Windows 10 is a better option.

Screen

Low-cost laptop displays are likely to offer resolutions of 1366 x 768 or 1280 x 800 pixels -- not as sharp as the high-def screens on higher priced laptops. You won't be able to watch full HD movies from Netflix on these low-resolution displays, which will support 720p videos.

Hard drive

You'll likely get a hard drive for main storage in a low-cost laptop; don't expect the faster and more power-efficient solid-state drive. Hard drive prices have been crashing, and PC makers are cramming 250GB or 500GB drives in low-cost laptops.

Webcam

Webcams, albeit the low-resolution kind, are a standard feature in low-cost laptops with Internet connectivity. Many PC makers advertise VGA cameras -- which should be 0.3 megapixels or less -- and 720p cameras, which should be have a resolution of 1 to 2  megapixels. Compare that to Microsoft's Surface Book, which starts at $1,499 with a 5-megapixel front camera and 8-megapixel rear camera.

Memory

A low-cost laptop may have 4GB of memory, which is enough to run Windows 10 OS. Some may go down to 2GB, but that would really slow you down. Memory prices have been falling, so some laptops may have 8GB of memory but lack other hardware features. Low-cost PCs typically have memory components installed directly on the motherboard, making it difficult to add or upgrade memory.

Processor

AMD's A4/A6/A8 and Intel's Celeron and Pentium may be in most laptops at the low-end. AMD's A4 and Intel's Celeron sit on the lowest rung of mainstream laptop chips, while AMD's A8 perhaps offers the best performance. Intel's chips are better at running everyday applications like Microsoft Word, while AMD chips have better graphics.

Ports and wireless

Wi-Fi should be a common feature, with some supporting the latest 802.11ac. You can also expect USB 3.0, 2.0, HDMI and SD slots in laptops. USB Type-C is new technology and mostly reserved for the more expensive laptops for now.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?