What a “budget laptop” actually means is highly dependent on your level of income. While some may consider as “budget” a $450 device, some others may even think a $1200 one is a bargain. However, it’s an incontestable truth that any brand-new computer with a sub-$200 price tag is a budget item, regardless of your standards. If your funds are not all that high or you simply don’t want to spend money on a high-spec laptop which you’ll probably never use at its full capacity, then it’s probably time for you to consider such a cheap laptop.
The problem with such a laptop is, usually, performance. It’s not that $200 laptops are necessarily bad; it’s simply that higher-end components cost more – an Intel i3-6100U CPU, which is NOT a high-end part, is a bit more than $280 all by itself. The bottom line is, you will not be able to do gaming, photo and video editing, or graphics design on something that cheap – not yet, anyway. On the other hand, if all you want is a nice, lightweight device which you can use for daily tasks like reading, writing, movie watching, and web surfing, then why pay for an expensive laptop you probably don’t need? There are hundreds of cheap models you can choose from, and most of them would work just fine for you.
We’d like to introduce you to a little collection of cheap laptops under $200 we found particularly appealing. You may want to buy one of these or get a similar model. Here’s what we liked:
1. Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
This ThinkPad model fits perfectly into the $200 budget. It’s a small model, with a 13.3”screen, and it’s only 0.78” thick and 3.2lbs heavy (19.8mm and 1.4kg). It has a fairly classic design, the ThinkPad lines being quickly recognizable, but it features a modern keyboard (we think Lenovo keyboards are pretty much the best around) and it’s up to the aforementioned MIL-STD, which means it won’t be as easily damaged as you’d expect.
This model is built around an Intel Celeron 3855U, dual-core, 1.6GHz, with the integrated Intel HD 520 graphics chip. It has 4GB DDR3, which is more than enough, but only 16GB flash storage, a bit less than we’d prefer.
2. Asus E402MA 14
A 14-incher this time, this model from ASUS has one of the prettiest designs for this budget, and we’d not be the least bit ashamed to carry it around in a high-class environment. It has beautiful dark blue lines, and it hits the budget perfectly. It’s also a Windows machine, not a Chromebook, and it comes with Windows 10.
While not being exactly a powerhouse, this laptop features an Intel N2840, dual-core, 2.16GHz and up to 2.58GHz with the Intel Burst technology, as well as 2GB DDR3 and 32GB flash storage. While the RAM seems to be somewhat lacking, it’s nonetheless enough for all practical purposes. This laptop also features an SD card reader, which will help you with the storage size issues.
3. HP Stream 11-Y010NR
This tiny 11.6” laptop is among the really small models on this list, but not among the least powerful. It features a cute aqua blue or purple color, as well as a slim and rounded design, which makes it appropriate for those who want to look friendly rather than sharp (working with kids, much?).
The insides of the little beast include an Intel Celeron N3060, 1.6GHz and up to 2.48GHz with Intel Burst, which comes with Intel HD Graphics 400. It also has 4GB DDR3L SDRAM, which is pretty neat, and 32GB flash storage, as well as a microSD card slot. The battery life is not half bad either, averaging 10.5 hours.
4. Samsung Chromebook 3 XE500C13-K02US
It’s not every day that you find a budget Samsung laptop. However, this little one respects the Chromebook rule of being cheap while still preserving the neat Samsung looks. It’s quite a bargain, and it has great battery life, with 11 hours of reading, writing, and web browsing, as well as a nice HD screen.
The processor is an Intel Celeron N3050, 1.6 and up to 2.16GHz, and it comes with 4GB DDR3L SDRAM @1600MHz, as well as 16GB flash storage. It weighs only 2.54lbs (1.15 kg), and it has a spill-resistant keyboard, which is one of our favorite features.
5. Lenovo IdeaPad 100s 11
While our first Lenovo model was a Chromebook, this one features a reduced Home version of Windows 10 instead, which will make the transition smooth for any Windows users (it’s rather similar to Win7). It’s not exactly in the same category of cuteness as the HP Stream, but it’s still really pretty, with a black & red case and the classic IdeaPad design.
It features an Intel Atom Z3735F, 1.33 and up to 1.83GB, 2GB DDR3L, and 32GB storage. It has a microSD slot, as well as two USB ports and an HDMI you can use to connect it to an external screen or projector. At 2.2lbs (just a bit under 1kg), it’s extremely light, and the 0.7” (18mm) frame makes it no thicker than the average textbook. All in all, perfect for everyday carry.
6. Acer Aspire One 14 Cloudbook AO1-431-C3TM
Almost a full-fledged laptop, at 14.1”, this model is correspondingly heavy, at 3.5lbs (1.68kg). It comes in two different color combinations, gray/black (AO1-431-C8G8) and blue/white.
This Aspire model is powered by an Intel Celeron N3050, 1.6 and up to 2.16GHz, with Intel HD graphics. It has 2GB DDR3L, as well as 32GB eMMC storage and an SD card reader. The battery life is excellent, allowing you to do your thing for up to 12 hours.
Of course, choosing a cheap laptop not that simple. Just as mid-range and high-end models, laptops under $200 include great devices as well as OK ones and a couple of absolute disasters which you’d just waste money on. In order to help you avoid the latter, we made a list of things you want to pay attention to when purchasing a budget laptop:
If you expect to see an Intel i7 processor on a laptop under $200, or even under $500, we’re here to tell you that you should, maybe, stop dreaming. There is not a single model that we know of, under $300, to feature even an i3, let alone something better. That unless it’s a second-hand or refurbished laptop, which we recommend that you not buy. Electronics that are not brand new always come with a higher risk of malfunctioning at the worst possible times and also not carrying a proper warranty. And there’s another thing: even low-end components launched in the last couple of months are better than, say, the mid-range components of 2014.
From such a cheap laptop, you can expect an Intel Celeron N2840, N3050, N3060, or a similar model, as well as an Intel Atom model. To spare you the details, the higher the clocking speed and the number of cores and the newer the model, the better. You can also get an AMD processor, but we don’t exactly fancy those due to their heating a lot more than their Intel counterparts.
These processors are, in fact, not CPUs, but APUs – in practical terms, they also contain an integrated graphics processing unit. You simply cannot get a dedicated graphics card on such a low-end laptop, but there’s good news for you as well: modern APUs perform just as well as older CPU+GPU pairs, at least for day-to-day tasks and so on. We are sorry to tell you that you won’t be able to do much gaming, but that’s to be expected.
As far as the RAM is concerned, you can get 4GB DDR3 or something like that for $200. The higher the numbers, the better.
The storage is also a thing to consider. Usually, these cheap laptops either have a 300-500GB HDD (@5400RPM), or a 16/32/64GB flash storage unit. You’ll have to make a choice between storage capacity, which is important if you work with a lot of multimedia content, and data transfer speed, which is important for pretty much everything you’re doing. As far as our experience goes, we’d advise you to get something with flash storage and simply purchase an external HDD. You can buy a 2TB HDD on Amazon for less than $80, and it’s not a bother to carry around, as it’s no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Plus, you can use it with any other computer as well. If the laptop has an SD card reader, which is quite common, you will find it very easy to extend the memory using a 64GB or 128GB SD card, which can go for less than $40.
Size and comfort
Generally, cheaper laptops are also smaller. That is not to say that every small laptop is cheap (some tiny MacBooks are more than $1500), but most laptops under $200 are also under the average 15.6” size.
The thing is, the smaller the laptop, the smaller the screen. This means you won’t be able to enjoy watching your favorite movies just as much (though it’s still better than watching them on a smartphone), especially since the screen resolution will probably not be HD either.
The keyboard will also be smaller, and that’s an issue if you write a lot or simply if you have bigger hands. Accountants and other people who work with numbers a lot will find the lack of a numeric keypad quite annoying, but there’s nothing you can do about that besides getting a more expensive laptop.
There are currently about three options you can get for less than $200 when it comes to OS. That is Windows 8, Windows 10, and Chrome OS, with everything else being a negligible exception. We consider Win8 a not quite successful experiment, and we advise that, unless you like it, you switch to either Win7 or Win10.
Windows 10 is not bad, but the problem with it (same with Windows 8) is that it takes up storage and resources. However, if you prize the comfort of using an already familiar OS, then this is what you should get, especially if you use plenty of different apps.
Chrome OS is free, takes up little space and resources, and works lightning fast (well, Chromebooks use flash storage, which contributes to this speed). It’s perfect for those who just want to do hassle-free day-to-day tasks, such as reading, writing, and web browsing. However, it’s Linux-based, so it might take a bit to get used to, and it might also face compatibility issues with various apps and devices. A preliminary inquiry is advised.
Funnily enough, cheap laptops always seem to be more resilient and enduring than high-end ones. This is especially true for certain Chromebook models, for instance, which are compliant with the Military Specifications Standard (MIL-STD-1472). This means that they’re a lot more resistant than the average electronic device to various accidents such as drops, water splashes, and so on. It doesn’t mean they are impervious to damage, but they’re less likely to be damaged. If you travel a lot or work with small children, get one of these. Trust us, we know.
The battery life is also a great plus. Admittedly, it’s because of the low-end components, but you’ll be able to enjoy 8 hours of battery life easily, while some models exceed 10 hours or even 12 hours if you’re lucky. Long flights? No problem.