Let's face it -- not everyone can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro or the latest high-tech gaming rig from Alienware. But, truth be told, most computer users probably don't need that kind of raw power. Instead, many users will be well served by a less expensive laptop, most of which cost $800 or less -- and sometimes much less. Some of the top choices among cheap laptops are detailed in our just updated report.
Consider the trade offs
While the lure of spending as little as possible on a laptop is hard to ignore, experts tell us that there are some important trade offs to weigh before taking the plunge. Cheap laptops don't have the most powerful processors or all of the latest or hottest features. For example, many -- but not all -- notebooks under $800 still use last-generation Intel Core processors. Still, these laptops can handle all the basics, including:
One place where the difference between cheap laptops and their more expensive brethren becomes obvious is in their feature line up. With the exception of ultraportables, most cheap laptops come with a built-in optical drive, but you won't find many Blu-ray drives in laptops costing less than $800. Ports and connectivity options are likely to be more limited, and USB 2.0 is far more common than the new high-speed USB 3.0 ports. Backlit keyboards, high-resolution displays and discrete graphics are also rare among laptops in this price range.
If you can live with these trade offs, reviewers have identified some solid performing cheap laptops that can do a great job for most everyday computing tasks. Examples include the Samsung RV511-A01 (*Est. $550) or Asus K53E-B1 (*Est. $750), both of which are highlighted in our cheap laptops report.
You can find less expensive laptops as well. However, reviewers say that these cheapest cheap laptops -- those costing less than $400 -- are more problematical. These notebooks typically use low-powered AMD or Intel Celeron processors, and performance for anything more than basic tasks can fall short. Even browsing the web with multiple pages open can be too taxing for some super-cheap laptops. In terms of features, all of the above still applies, and these machines might also be missing some near essentials, such as a webcam.
Of course, there are some who should definitely steer clear of even the best cheap laptops. Hardcore gamers who want to blast through the latest first-person shooters at high-quality settings need a discrete graphics card, something that is hard to find on a cheap laptop. However, it's not just gamers who can benefit from discrete graphics. Anyone who does a lot of graphic-intensive work, such as video or photo editing, transcoding or CAD (computer-aided design) should also look for a more powerful laptop, and those are covered in their own report.