There’s never been a better time to buy an entry-level laptop and capable all-round performers can now be found without spending very much money at all.
Unfortunately, the sheer range of entry-level laptops on offer can make choosing just one a difficult business, particularly for first-time buyer who can’t quite decide what features will be important to them, or else doesn’t know for sure what kind of applications they may want to use. Thankfully, help is at hand with this Tech in Style guide to entry-level laptops.
The term “entry-level” used to refer to specifications as well as price, at a time when manufacturers used to make their laptops more affordable by cutting back on components and features.
The falling cost of powerful mobile technology means that this kind of corner cutting is now not much of an issue with laptops that cost around the £500 mark and some surprisingly capable models are now available. Care is still needed when choosing an entry-level laptop for general-purpose use though, since not all models are created equally.
Why not a netbook?
Incidentally, a netbook may still be a better — and cheaper —choice for people who want a laptop as a secondary occasional computer, but they’re not always ideal for use a main PC.
Netbooks are built with portability in mind, but not every one finds the small screens and compact keyboards used by most netbooks comfortable to use for long periods. Although surprisingly powerful, netbook processors aren’t best suited to running very demanding software either, particularly if more than one program is run at once.
Striking a balance
There’s no single most important feature for an entry-level laptop and its instead better to look for a more balanced specification that doesn’t make compromises with certain components for the sake of, say, an extremely powerful processor.
Basic performance is still an important consideration, but the latest 3rd-generation Intel® Core™ processors deliver ample amounts across a range of price points, so the days of sacrificing memory or hard disk capacity for the sake of speed are thankfully long gone.
The amount of memory (RAM) and the kind of graphics card are two other key considerations with an entry-level laptop, since they’ll affect how well certain applications run and whether or not 3D games can be played. 4GB of RAM is really the minimum for Windows® 7 and a discrete graphics card is recommended for 3D gaming (and increasingly, web browser performance).
Internal specification is only one thing to consider though, and the external specification is just as important — the screen and keyboard, in particular. The screen is typically one area where laptop manufacturers do skimp, and while a comparatively low-resolution and mediocre display may not seem like a big deal at first, it’s something that will become a tiresome problem in a very short time.
A good keyboard may only seem like an important feature for people use make heavy use of productivity software (and it is), but think about it for a moment — what can a laptop be used for that doesn’t involve typing? Email, web browsing and even gaming all rely on the keyboard and a poor quality one that’s uncomfortable to use will have a serious knock-on effect.
And now the big one — battery life. Long battery life may not be an issue for laptop that’s only ever used at home, but it could be an issue in the summer. A sunny garden or park can be an appealing place to catch up on some work or browse the web, but that’s something that can’t be done for long unless the battery is up to it.
We’ll continue up our entry-level laptop buyers’ guide in part 2, where we’ll make some recommendations about the best models, so stay tuned!