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Budget laptop reviews

We test 14 low-cost laptops to see how much bang you get for very few bucks.
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01.Bargain basement laptops

Budget laptops

Laptops are always getting smaller, faster and more packed with features, but that comes at a higher price. So what if you just want a basic laptop? How much do you need to spend to get a decent go-anywhere companion that will do everything you want?  

We took 14 of the best bang-for-your-buck laptops from the top brands and tested them head-to-head to see how they compare – and the results show that yes, you can get a decent all-rounder for less than $500. Most models on test weren't too far below or above that, as we selected from among the cheapest available from each brand. The exception was the entry-level MacBook Air, which is the cheapest laptop offered by Apple. Though still affordable by most standards, it was twice the price of entry level models from several other brands, but it was also in a different class for performance, display quality and ease of use.

Models tested

  • Acer Aspire E15
  • Apple Macbook Air 11"
  • Acer E1-522
  • Asus F452E
  • ASUS T100T Transformer book
  • Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series
  • Dell Inspiron 15-3531
  • HP 11 x360
  • HP 15-R038TU
  • Lenovo G50-70
  • Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E440
  • Pioneer Computers Dreambook Style W94
  • Toshiba Satellite C50-B
  • Toshiba Satellite NB10T-A

How we test

The overall score comprises the following:
  • Ease of use (40%)
  • Battery life (25%)
  • Performance (20%)
  • Display evaluation (15%)

Ease of use assessment 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.

Battery life assessment starts with each battery is 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.

Performance 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.

Display evaluation takes into account colour, glare, and surface reflections, plus angles of view.

Temperature testing 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 think 44°C is the maximum acceptable limit for laptop comfort. This test doesn’t contribute to the overall score. All models on test passed our temperature test, with temperatures ranging from 39°C for the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series to the lowest at 31°C for the Asus F452E.

Does Bing have more zing?

A couple of the models come with “Windows with Bing”, which can cause buyer confusion. What's Windows with Bing? Do you get extra zing? Sadly, no. Windows with Bing is, to the end user, exactly the same as the standard Windows OS, which already comes with Bing as the default search engine on Internet Explorer. The difference is that on Windows with Bing PCs the manufacturer has received a cheap or possibly even free version of the OS to include on their hardware on the understanding that those settings should stay as they are.  Once sold, however, the end user can change the browser and search engine to whatever they like.
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