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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Buying a great cheap Windows laptop

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Even if I had no idea how calendars work, I’d know it’s back to school now. That’s because friends, family, and people I haven’t heard of in ages have all come out to ask about laptops.

I do not mind. As a moderately technical person with almost no notable skills or abilities outside of the world of technology, it’s the least I could do to give something back.

The interesting thing about people asking which laptop is the “best” (especially when they ask about Windows machines) is that they rarely have a specific price point in mind, but they certainly don’t want to spend more than they have to. So the question they should really be asking is, how can I get the best deal on a decent laptop without spending too much money?

In that vein, I generally adhere to the following three Goldilocks rules when recommending Windows laptops: not too cheap, not too expensive; not too big, not too small; not too weak, not too strong. Let’s dive a little deeper into it.

The best price

I’ve found that the best value for money for Windows laptops for most people is between $600 and $800.

For that, you generally get above-average build quality, performance, battery life, and portability.

When researching models from sellers like Best Buy (shown here), use the filter options to differentiate the selection by price and features.

This assumes you are looking for a computer to do general computer stuff. Nothing special. In this price range you can get just about everything you need and nothing you don’t.

So shoot for that price range and if you find a great deal for say $500, or you absolutely fall in love with something for $900, go for it. But start around $600-$800.

It’s all relative: size, weight and battery

If you start looking, you’ll find that the vast majority of laptops have screen sizes of 13.3, 14 or 15.6 inches. I believe Goldilocks size here is 14 inches. It keeps the laptop small and light, but still gives you a comfortable viewing experience and a non-cramped keyboard.

Overall, you’ll also get a battery big enough to last an entire day of mixed use. But whatever the manufacturer tells you about how long the battery will last, cut it in half just to be safe. Those numbers are often best-case scenarios.

When it comes to weight, shoot for 4 pounds, especially if you want to wear this thing all day. It would be a little difficult to find a 14-inch laptop that weighs too much in this price range, but resist the temptation to switch to a 15.6-inch unless you really think you need it. It weighs more and the battery drains faster.

For most general purpose applications, a 14-inch screen strikes a nice balance between real estate and portability.

Finally, think carefully about whether you need a touchscreen on your Windows laptop. Many of them in this price range only have touchscreens, but I’d advise against going for it unless you have a very specific use in mind.

The last two laptops I owned had touchscreens and I touched each one exactly once, said, “Neat,” and never touched them again.

Under the hood, memory is king

If you do normal computer stuff, you will have a hard time filling the hard drive or overloading the processor. In this price range, the absolute most important specification is memory, also known as RAM. Nothing less than 8 GB is sufficient, and if you can find 16 GB, great. You may notice some machines that offer 12GB, which is a nice compromise.

Don’t buy a laptop with only 4 GB of memory.

I would add that even if you want to stay under the $600 price tag, you shouldn’t buy a laptop with only 4GB of memory. It’s just not enough these days, but it’s still one of the main ways laptop manufacturers keep costs down.

Think of it like a tool belt. The larger the tool belt, the more frequently used tools you can keep close at hand. With RAM, programs don’t have to load things from the hard drive as often and it makes multitasking between multiple programs seamless. The more RAM, the faster the performance.

Add everything up

So now that the hunt has begun, we’re ideally looking for a 14-inch laptop that weighs less than 4 pounds, has 16GB of memory, and costs less than $800. There are there are enough-good luck!

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