01.Laptops: budget buys
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good laptop. With each new generation, performance goes up and price comes down. So, whether you’re looking for a thin-and-light ultraportable or a family all-rounder, you can still get plenty of bang for your buck.
We bought and tested 15 laptops, from 10-inch to 15-inch models, ranging in price from $492 to $1199, to see what your dollar can buy. The top scorers include five models that will handle whatever you throw at them and give you go-anywhere, all-day battery life for under $1100.
Looking for the right laptop to suit your needs isn't always straightforward. There’s a bewildering range of shapes, sizes and features available, and not all models will suit your needs. Most cheaper laptops will cope with everyday computing demands, but remember they’re cheaper for a reason.
We’ve tested a selection of currently available models in the low to very-low price range to suit varying needs. These include some very snappy performers and some slower, but still very usable, models at the low end of the price scale.
For those looking for thin and light models, there are three Ultrabooks and two convertible (hybrid) laptops with detachable screens for extra versatility. The models on test include a range of processors from both the dominant chipmaker, Intel and its main competitor, AMD.
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How we test
The overall score comprises the following:
Ease of use
- Ease of use (40%)
- Battery life (25%)
- Performance (20%)
- Display evaluation (15%)
Includes an expert assessment of connectors, design flaws/advantages, overall style, mobility and evaluation of security and manuals. All ease of use evaluation is conducted under the laptop's native operating system.
assessment starts with each battery being conditioned to achieve optimum life, then tested under both light- and heavy-usage scenarios. For the heavy usage test, the power management features are set to maximum performance and screen brightness to 100%, with Wi-Fi turned on and connected to a network. For light usage testing, the power management features are set to the most economical setting, with screen brightness at 50% and Wi-Fi turned off.
testing includes benchmarking each laptop using a variety of software tools. These measure various aspects of CPU performance, memory performance and memory bandwidth, video performance, 3D graphics and storage speed. The benchmarking software is designed to measure performance under a variety of simulated workloads.
takes into account colour, glare, and surface reflections, plus angles of view.
involves determining the hottest point on the underside of each laptop with a thermal camera after a period of heavy usage on battery only. We set 44°C as the maximum acceptable limit for laptop comfort. This test doesn’t contribute to the overall score. All models tested passed our temperature test, with temperatures ranging from 40°C for the Asus Transformer Book to the lowest at 32°C each for the two Pioneer Computing DreamBooks.
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