What’s the best laptop for under £300?
Shopping for a new laptop on a budget?
There is a staggering amount of choice on the market and an equally bewildering range of technical specifications and prices. We have seen the market diversify to try and cater to absolutely every style, demand and need. So we now have swivel lids, hybrids touchscreen and keyboards, featherlight Ultrabooks and even ones with detachable screens.
There are now more manufacturers to choose from as well. Google and Huawei are now taking on Apple and Microsoft in the design and functionality categories. This year’s range of new computers start at around £1,200 – up to £2,500, but they are also out of most people’s budgets for a personal computer.
If you just need a laptop to do the basics: email, internet, streaming from subscription services and to run a few basic business applications, can you get what you need for less? For a modest budget of around £300 you can still get a great piece of kit.
If you strip out the super-powerful graphics cards, aluminium casings, glass displays, 4K screens, and yoga manoeuvres are there more budget-friendly options?
We believe that with more and more cloud productivity suites available and businesses moving away from desktop files, you can get powerful laptops without paying for expensive components or glossy exteriors.
Where do you start when looking for a budget laptop?
It helps to narrow down the specifications that you need to search for. We have listed all the options below to show you what to look for when searching for a bargain laptop.
What specifications should you be looking for?
Bigger is not always better. Newer generation processors are not always wiser.
We will take you through all the computer components to show you what to look for in order to come in on budget.
Display Quality & Size:
- The size impacts the price. Also, the bigger the screen, the heavier the laptop and battery life will take a hit. A good High Definition (HD) screen is 1366 x 768 pixels. Full HD means 1920 x 1080 – and will give you more information on screen, but this is usually good for multitasking with windows side by side or watching video. It is also referred to as ‘1080p’.
- Laptop screens can be gloss or matt, but a matt finish will prevent glare and make it easier to focus.
- 11-13 inch laptops are at the smaller end and good if you want portability, but that will mean minimal ports on the side panel. 15.6-inch screens used to be the most popular, so you may find bargains at this size. However, as a general rule, keep to the lower screen sizes to secure a bargain.
CPU Type – Processors
This is the processor – or brain of the computer and will determine the speed of booting up and loading programmes. There are two main manufacturers – AMD and Intel. Intel has three types: Core, Pentium and Celeron and AMD has Ryzen, Athlon and A-Series – which is popular with gamers. However, anything from Core i3 up will enable you to run basic tasks. More cores usually means you can do more tasks. For video editing, quad-core is recommended, but again, for the basics, you do not need to go this high.
Different models of processors will have different speeds. Speed is expressed in gigahertz (GHz) and shows how many calculations can be done a second. The higher the GHz – the more calculations. 1.6 would struggle to watch HD video or run games, but in terms of everyday use – anything about 1.6 is fine. The microarchitecture around CPU performance and clock speeds are complex and for day to day work you shouldn’t look too deeply at this spec.
RAM Computer Memory
This is the computer’s short term memory – and accesses information needed to perform your open tasks. The more open tasks – the more RAM you need. Stick to single-tasking and you can save on RAM. Anything up to 8GB will be adequate – but it is something you can easily upgrade later down the line if there is a space in your laptop.
Storage – HDD /SSD Capacity
Storage shouldn’t be something you need to worry about with all the latest cloud storage around. Plus you can also get an external drive later down the line if necessary. Photo and video editors may require up to a terabyte (TB) of storage – but the majority of laptops come with 256GB as standard which is more than enough to store the operating system and essential files and documents. Solid state drives (SSD) are smaller and are quicker to load data, but are more expensive. HDD is much cheaper and still does the job, however.
All operating systems are now very user-friendly. If you have been a Windows user all your life, Mac OS may get a bit of getting used to, but it is very intuitive and easy to search for what you need. Plus when in doubt, Google usually has the answer. We offer Windows 10 Professional on our hardware.
Always check that the laptop or computer comes with the correct licensing. It is important that you run genuine software as this ensures your PC is safe, kept up to date and runs correctly.
You should only really need to look at graphics cards spec if you are a gamer or professional designer. GPUs, as they are known, are what provide the “silky-smooth” appearance of images in gaming. For day to day use – don’t pay too much attention to this. Intel HD or UHD is sufficient.
At this budget, you are going to be looking at business grade machines. These are functional and rugged brands like Lenovo, Dell, HP and Microsoft. They are also popular choices for refurbishers as businesses lease them in their thousands and then return after a year or two.
So what are our top picks for a laptop under £300?
Based on our analysis above, our basic specifications for our sub £300 laptop are:
4GB Ram minimum, i3 or above processor, 256GB HDD.
We think you can get the best value by choosing refurbished laptops here, but we’ve included a few new ones for comparison too.
Lenovo laptops are incredibly popular – because they are very cleverly designed and have a great reputation for build quality.
The T440s came out in 2013 and was well received for its keyboard and performance, as well as its portability. They are also known for their ruggedness – having been tested to military levels. You can get a refurbished Lenovo with only 2-3 years on the clock and not notice any difference to a new model. And of course – it has the distinctive red TrackPoint. Look for Core i5 4200U and 4GB Ram. These models can support more RAM, but this will push you over £300.
While we don’t have favourites, our customers do. The Lenovo ThinkPad X201 is currently our best selling machine and includes the latest Intel i5 Processor and the powerful Windows 10 Professional.
Dell has a strong brand loyalty – and has built up several families of laptops: Alienware, G Series, Latitude and XPS. Each family was designed for a different user. The Latitude range was designed for business. The characteristics of this family are portability and durability. 3000 (budget and home office), 5000 (mainstream) and 7000 (Ultrabooks). E Series came out in 2016 with a 3000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 range.
Dell’s Latitude 6-series sacrifices weight, width and design for functionality, stability and security.
The Dell Latitude E6440 – is a great choice for business travel as it has a metal casing and spill-resistant keyboard. It weighs around 2kg, which is about mid-range. It also comes with an impressive 14”, i5 quad-core processor. As with most models, you can choose the amount of RAM. Look for Windows 10 Professional installed.
Dell Latitude E7240 comes with Core i7 46000U. These are incredibly durable with their “Tri-metal” chassis to protect it from bumps. This is designed for ease of use, with plenty of space on the keyboard for wrists and medium key travel. There are also plenty of ports. You can get refurbished models with 12.5” screen, Windows 10 and 8GB Ram for around £300. New top of the range models would have set you back around £1,250.
HP is another market leader along with Dell and Lenovo. With HP you can come in almost 50% under your £300 budget if you opt for a lower grade (meaning minimal cosmetic scuffs), but still, get great performance. Refurbished options will have 3-4-year-old models, but the screens on the Elitebooks start at 12”. The HP Elite family are also business models with the EliteBooks introduced in 2008. The higher the number, the bigger the screen with these.
Look out for the “chunky” yet “durable” HP Elitebook 2570p with Core i5 to Core i7 processors. Similarly, spec’d is the EliteBook 840 G1. We love the range of reviews of the 840 G1 models, from being a “gem” to “calmly handsome” with a “get down to business look”. These are no-nonsense and practical. They are also incredibly easy to upgrade. If you want to get things done, don’t be swayed by the sleek and sexy models with equally flashy prices. These are work-horses.
There are a number of other manufacturers now starting to enter the market, competing on price. However, the reviews are mixed. The iOTA Slim 14 inch has had a number of good reviews and is under £200. There are also a number of Chinese made laptops like Chuwi Laptop 14.1 and the Jumper Ezbook 3 Pro 13.3”. But, be aware that they will use proprietary cables and eMMC storage- which is a bit like an SD card and much cheaper than an SSD – which is why you can pick these up so cheaply.
Whether it is for personal use, home office, small business or you are looking for a large suite of business-grade computers, our selection should suit all of these needs.
Refurbished can give you incredible discounts, but if you are nervous about buying refurbished, check out our FAQ section. Here, we tell you about what is involved in the refurbishment process, what certifications to look out for and what questions to ask.
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