Everyone wants to get more for less. This is true when it comes to groceries, gaming, and certainly when buying a new computer. Computers can be extremely expensive, which is why they’re one of the biggest areas where people strive to save money.
You might be tempted to buy a cheap laptop hoping to save some money up front, but the lack of quality could cause problems in the future.
Let’s look at situations in which cheap laptops shine and where they fall flat. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to decide whether or not you should shell out the extra cash for a higher-end machine.
What Are You Buying the Laptop For?
This probably won’t surprise you, but people buy laptops for a variety of reasons. Some people buy Macs no matter the cost because they value the Apple experience. Others might just need to access email on the go. Still others buy a machine with a touchscreen so they can create drawings easily.
Many people who spend the least money possible on a laptop do so because they don’t have the money for something more expensive. Or they might not see a more expensive model as worth the cost.
Thus, we need to ask what you need out of your machine first. If you just need basic internet access for email and news, a cheap Chromebook will get you by just fine. Conversely, if your profession requires editing HD video every day, a Chromebook won’t do for you at all. Keep that in mind while you’re shopping for a new laptop.
The Downsides of a Cheap Laptop
Chances are, your needs probably fall somewhere between the above extremes. You don’t need the most powerful machine ever, but you need something beyond the basics.
Let’s explore the computer aspects that are commonly sub-par when you buy a cheap laptop. This will help you better understand what you’re paying for.
A screen’s resolution dictates how many pixels it can show at once, and thus how clear the picture is. For reference, 1080p is 1920×1080 while 4K is 4096×2160. A lot of cheap computers display in 1366×768, which isn’t great. Everything you do on your PC, from editing spreadsheets to watching videos, looks worse on a cheap screen.
Another way that the screen suffers is overall size. If you don’t hook your laptop up to an external monitor and the screen is only 11 inches, you won’t have much room to work with.
Your computer’s hard drive is where all of your data gets saved. With cheap machines, you can run into two storage problems.
The first is low disk space. While even many cheap laptops now include a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disk drive (HDD), space is still a concern. The average cheap laptop ships with an SSD as small as 32GB or 64GB drives. After you account for Windows installation files, that’s barely anything for you to use.
If you want to keep lots of programs and files on your system, you” run out of space in no time. You can always purchase an external hard drive (or SD card) to get more space, but that’s an additional cost.
The second big problem occurs if you don’t get an SSD. The traditional HDDs often found in cheap machines are much slower than newer SSDs. With a cheaper laptop, you won’t get the faster boot times, app launching, and file transfer speed that come with an SSD.
Random access memory, or RAM, temporarily holds open programs on your computer.
Most cheap laptops on Amazon have 4GB of RAM, which is passable but not enough for running lots of programs in tandem. If you have ten programs running in the background while you have twelve Chrome tabs open and are streaming from Spotify while working in Adobe Premiere, 4GB of RAM isn’t going to cut it.
You can only use so much RAM, but having 8GB or more will give you a lot more breathing room than a basic 4GB machine. Memory cleaners like CleanMem are snake oil, so don’t expect to use one to compensate for lack of RAM.
Touchpad, Keyboard, and More
The three above components are the biggest hangups on cheap laptops, but there are several more items to watch out for. On a low-quality machine, you might find a touchpad that’s too small, or difficult to click. The keyboard might have an awkward layout or sticky buttons, and the built-in speakers probably aren’t great.
Batteries are another common component often sacrificed to cut costs. A budget laptop isn’t going to feature an all-day battery, so you may have to perform some shenanigans to squeeze more battery life out of a charge.
Is a Cheap Laptop Right for You? Considerations
We’ve discussed the needs of different folks, and the aspects of cheap machines that can cause problems. The best way to decide for yourself if you should buy a cheap laptop is to consider how much time you spend on your computer.
If you only hop on your laptop for twenty minutes a day to check email and browse social media, you don’t need much more than the bare minimum. You’ll have to deal with slow boot times and a lackluster display, but since you won’t use it much, it’s not worth $300 more to avoid these nuisances.
However, if you spend hours every day on your computer, it’s a different story. When you use your PC as an entertainment hub or working, a slow machine can drastically worsen your experience. Squinting over a tiny screen while you wait for your computer to unfreeze is simply miserable.
We’re all about getting the most for your money, but this doesn’t always mean refusing to spend. Rather, it’s worth spending a little more money on the items you’re going to use all the time. An extra $20 for a more comfortable pair of shoes that you wear every day? Worth it—and the same is true of a laptop.
Future-proofing an infrequently used laptop is a waste, but suffering from slow performance on a machine you use every day is counterproductive and will stress you out. Would you rather spend $400 on a laptop that you scrap after a year, or buy a better laptop for $700 that lasts three years?