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What to look for in a budget laptop

Buying a laptop used to be a simple process, but now the laptop market is full of options starting at $200 and there are more brands and products that ever before.


When shopping for an affordable laptop, you have to decide on the criteria that will help you make an informed purchase. The first of these assumptions is to define what affordable is to you. As an example, we will go with the $600 range, which is not the cheapest, or the most expensive, but something that will have enough features and quality of hardware to last for a few years.

The next assumption to make in this example is the primary use for this laptop. For the purposes of this exercise, we should assume that this laptop purchase is for a primary computer. This choice means that the laptop must be able to do as much as possible for the money. There are definitely lower cost options below and above the $600 range, like Chromebooks and Macbooks, but for our money the target should be a general Windows based computer.

But, is $600 enough for a decent Windows based laptop? Its easy to overlook this price range in the wake of the excellent marketing campaigns by the companies trying to sell consumers on the flashy and high priced ultrabooks and Macbook Airs. For the most part, the average laptop sold today comes in at under $500. These ultra-inexpensive laptops are not what we are shooting for, due to the tradeoffs made in manufacturing to be able to sell at such a low price point. A consumer can expect to sacrifice RAM or drive space and be shackled with low-resolution screens run by entry-level processors in order to come in under the $500 price range.

The $600 laptop sweet spot keeps the new laptop in a price range that is still affordable to most people, while providing a significant power increase over the sub-$500 laptops. Even when every dollar counts, and the difference between a $450 cheap laptop and a $650 laptop seems like a lot of money, keep in mind that the investment now will provide less headaches and problems in the future, while also providing more options for everyday use.

The Specifics

Here are the specific features that should be available to you in the $600 budget laptop range.

  • A dual-core Haswell processor. The i5 is the target option here, but an i3 or i7 are acceptable.
  • 4 GB of RAM.
  • 500 GB of storage. An SSD would be excellent here, but at our price range, it will not be an option in most cases.
  • USB 3.0.
  • Onboard 802.11n WiFi.
  • Bluetooth 4.0.
  • SD card reader.
  • Video output for external monitor connection.
  • Optical drive is a bonus, but not a requirement.

Finally, your budget laptop should be as portable as you can make it for the cost. At this price point, you can not get the specification of an ultrabook as well as the portability. In the budget range, you either get one or the other. Just be sure that your $600 laptop can still be tossed into a bag and lugged around for the day without undue strain on your back.

A second additional bonus category for the best budget laptops is accessible Ram and drive slots. Having the option to upgrade your budget laptop down the road adds extra flexibility to your purchase down the road.

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