To answer the above question in a short way, maybe. I would estimate that for most people, a cheap notebook is all they need. After all, many people don’t do that demanding things on their laptops. They just browse the web, send some emails now and then and stroll YouTube to watch funny videos. For that kind of use even a computer of limited performance can do. However, you don’t want to get a notebook that is really bad. That’s why I have compiled a list of features that are usually at a disadvantage in cheaper notebooks. They are:
- Design and build quality
Often, the first difference you notice between cheap and expensive notebooks is the screen. Indeed, in affordable laptops the image quality is often worse. The brightness, measured in nits, can be bad as well. Maybe the viewing angles aren’t that good either. These all are things that probably annoy, but depending on your personal preferences might not be real dealbreakers. As I often say, an Average Joe might not even see that anything is wrong!
However, a noteworthy thing about these display is the resolution. Whereas cheap laptops sport 1366×768 resolution, the more expensive ones come with 1920×1080, also known as Full HD. The difference is the amount of things you can show on the screen at once. Also, the image quality on 1920×1080 will usually look better than on 1366×768. Often movies are best viewed on Full HD, yet to fully take advantage of that, the screen would need to be big enough. On small laptop screens, the difference between 1920×1080 and 1366×768 when watching movies is minimal.
What to do?
If your budget allows, I recommend going for a Full HD display for more screen estate. In addition, look for displays whose brightness is over 300 nits if you are working outside a lot. You want the screen to be bright enough – it’s hard to see anything on a dim display when sun is shining. If a lot of people will be watching the screen at the same time – like a gathering at workplace – make sure the viewing angles are wide enough. A good choice is IPS panel with 178 degree viewing angles from sides.
Obviously, the less you pay, the slower your laptop will be. One of the main things that is “downgraded” in inexpensive notebooks is the processor. The real heavy-duty CPUs like Intel Core i5 and Core i7 belong to premium notebooks, while these cheaper models often have Intel Celerons. These Celerons, if you are a demanding user, are nothing to be proud of – but then again if your day of computing consists of web surfing only, you can not go wrong with such a low-end processor either.
Cheap notebooks have slow storage drives. You know, those hard drives with moving parts. They can surely offer a lot of storage space, but who really needs that much of storage given you can find free online cloud space these days? A solid-state drive (SSD) is much better option because it beats the conventional hard drives in performance. Unfortunately, these cheaper notebooks are often lacking such an SSD. You can of course upgrade to solid-state drive but if you’re a beginner it’s probably not going to be easy.
The memory in cheap laptops seems to be either two or four gigabytes. 4GB is fine, two is pushing it. I wouldn’t really recommend a 2GB laptop to anybody. You need four gigabytes for the system to function fine and support some multitasking. Luckily, affordable laptops almost exclusively have four. Two gigabytes memory in 2017 is very, very rare.
What can you do?
To maximize the performance of your budget laptop, try to get Intel Core i3 or even Core i5 processor. You will surely find at least Core i3 which is considered the mainstream processor, jack of all trades, decent for any task. The storage drive should be a solid-state drive (SSD) if you value performance – they are so much faster than traditional hard drives. This difference will show in day-to-day use, like powering up the system, which will happen in a few seconds with SSD. For memory, I really don’t advice going below 4GB – but as said above, finding one with less than that isn’t easy anyway.
Design and build quality
This thing, while important for some, is still much about aesthetics. You can have an ugly laptop that has very high performance. But yes, the importance of how your laptop looks is understandable. Cheaper notebooks are often made from plastic, giving them the exact cheap look we’re talking about. But there is also one good thing about plastic: you can not scratch it easily. The expensive laptops are made of aluminum which looks rather professional. Yet unfortunately, also scratches show in this metal body much easier!
What can you do?
While budget laptops are usually made out of plastic, the other choice, aluminum, is not a worry-free material. As said above, visible dents are a problem for metal-bodied notebooks. Going for a plastic laptop has its bright sides because scratches and such will not show very easily. No matter which you pick, there will be downsides and upsides. However, since you are probably looking for a cheaper laptop, you will automatically end up with plastic ones.
Bloatware is the programs a manufacturer pre-installs to their notebook. When you buy it, the laptop – along with Windows – will have all that pre-loaded software. It’s most often harmless such as some tools the manufacturer has created. Even though these programs are not damaging, such bloatware can be annoying in the form of popups. Moreover, it slows down the computer. Cheaper laptops, from what I can see, have more of this unwanted software than more expensive ones. If you want a laptop that comes with absolutely zero bloatware you should get a notebook that says “Signature Edition” – but they do not fall in the budget category anymore!
What to do?
Bloatware itself very rarely poses danger to the users. However, what is annoying, it can make the computer feel sluggish. The good thing is, you can remove it just like you would remove any program – go to Control Panel and find Add or remove programs section. Most, if not all, bloatware will be found there for you to delete. In addition, if you want a laptop that has none of this unwanted software in the first place, look for Signature Edition laptops.
Wrapping it up
Keeping the above things in mind, you are now more prepared to buy a budget notebook. Just keep in mind that cheap is cheap for a reason; the manufacturers are skimping on some components to push the price down. The more picky you are, the harder for you it will be to find a perfect (or close to perfect) budget laptop. If you keep your expectations in check, most less pricey notebooks will probably do the trick for you.