Are Ultra-Cheap Laptops Worth It – From an IT Engineer

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If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is!

Cheap Laptop
Photo By Dom

With the Christmas season fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to talk about ultra-budget laptops. Particularly if you’re thinking of buying one for your loved ones.

Working in IT, I’ve had the chance to test and use some of these laptops and I can genuinely see where they will be useful and where they won’t be, that’s why I decided to share my experience.

In this article I am referring to laptops that are priced under £300 here in the UK, that’s around $338.68 for those of you living in the US. The ASUS Vivobook L410MA or the HP Stream 11 are perfect examples.

Things That You Need to Know Before Purchasing

Traditionally, as with all budget items, there are things that you should be made aware of before spending your hard-earned cash, particularly when it comes to laptops, as you don’t want to be buying twice.

If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is – Michael Douglas

We’ve all heard, the saying that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. When it comes to ultra-budget laptops, nothing could be further from the truth. That’s because they come with a lot of limitations. 

Take the HP Stream 11, which is actually a solid choice, particularly for kids. However, the laptop has some pretty serious drawbacks, which most laptops at this price range share. 

Limited, Unupgradable Storage Space

One of the most serious drawbacks is storage space, which is often extremely low. The current HP Stream 11 only has 64GB of eMMC storage space. eMMC stands for Embedded Multimedia Card, which means that it’s built into the motherboard and is unupgradable should you need more storage space.

It’s no secret that by today’s standards 64GB is an extremely low amount of storage space. Particularly when Windows takes up most of it. In general, a fresh install of Windows 11 can take up around 30GB of storage, that’s almost half of the storage space. If we combine that with all the updates that will be downloaded, that remaining storage will get filled up pretty quickly. 

According to the Microsoft website, Windows 11 requires the device to have at least 64GB of storage to allow smooth running. But based on my experience with maintaining laptops 128GB is barely enough. That is because Windows downloads updates constantly, if we combine that with the software you need to run, that hard drive is going to fill up very quickly. You may not realise it at first, but you will soon notice it.

Some of these laptops have the option of inserting a MicroSD card, which is good, but the laptop will detect it as external storage, meaning that some programs may not run off it properly if you choose to install them on there. It’s more of a solution for your own documents, photos and videos. 

Limited RAM

The second issue I have is the RAM, also known as memory. The vast majority of these laptops come with 4GB of RAM built-in, which once again you can’t upgrade. Windows 11 requires a minimum of 4GB, but I still see laptops at this price range come with only 2GB, which is kind of alarming.

RAM is the short-term memory used for storing instructions and data whilst a program is being executed, so it’s pretty essential. But by today’s standards, is a bit low. It will mean that the device will struggle with multi-tasking and may also struggle with performing basic tasks. 

They Require a Lot of Maintenance to Keep Running!

Due to the specs being so low on these laptops, they require a lot of maintenance. You will constantly need to make sure that your storage is not getting filled up. You will constantly need to clean your disk of any unnecessary files. I recommend using Wise Disk Cleaner which will help you remove unnecessary files which will save space on your device.

Other than that, I would strongly recommend against storing your own files on them in an attempt to save storage space. Save them in the cloud or on an external storage device. 

Alternatively, if your laptop has a slot for a Micro-SD card, I would use that for file storage.

Reasons Why They Are a Good Buy

Whilst they aren’t the most convenient laptops around, there are some very reasonable use cases as well as benefits of getting them.

Perfect for occasional use

If you only use a laptop every so often for performing basic tasks, there’s no logical reason to be spending a huge amount on a laptop, unless you want to. 

These laptops are also good if you need a temporary laptop fast. I was unfortunate to have the experience of my computer going bang. My Power Supply Unit (PSU) failed taking the motherboard and several other components with it. On top of that, I had an assignment deadline just three days away. So, I popped into my local Currys and got a cheap laptop they had in stock. 

For those of you living outside of the UK, Currys is a major electronics retail chain in the UK. The laptop I got was a basic Lenovo IdeaPad 100s -11IBY which was a very basic laptop, with only 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space as well as one of the slowest processors available at the time, the dreaded Intel Atom.

The laptop allowed me to complete and submit my assignment and I couldn’t ask for more. I later kept it as a note-taking device as well as a spare laptop, just in case I needed it again in the future.

One scenario where this type of laptop may be useful is if you already have a desktop computer and you need to take a laptop with you for work-related purposes. Obviously, they may not perform as well as desktop PC, but their portability allows you to take them with you anywhere. This brings me to my next point… 

They’re usually very portable

Depending on the model, these laptops tend to be light and portable as they are usually made out of plastic and other lightweight materials. They don’t tend to be bigger than 14 inches, which makes them ideal for travel.

Catching a train can be a hassle, especially if you have a large laptop. Small laptops such as the HP Stream 11 are ideal for travel due to their 11-inch screen. At this stage, you’re probably thinking that I’m sponsored by HP with the number of times I’m mentioning this model. Well, the truth of the matter is that it would be nice if I was, but I’m not.

I dealt with this model and its slightly better model, the HP Stream 14 many times, and I know that they are some of the best in their price range in terms of performance and build quality.

Laptops like this are also great to take into cafes, as their tables are usually quite small. 

The Verdict

To summarise this article, ultra-budget laptops can be a good buy if your needs are basic and you’re prepared to keep them maintained. At the end of the day, sometimes you may not have another choice, particularly with the cost of living crisis here in the UK.

Hopefully, I was able to make you aware of some of the issues and benefits of these ultra-budget laptops. 

If it was me making the purchasing decision, I would probably save my money and get something a little bit better. The laptop I’m using at present, isn’t exactly top of the range, in fact, it’s a decent mid-range laptop, which is available for quite a decent price. 

I’m currently using the 2021 Huawei MateBook D15, which is a surprisingly good laptop. You can check out my review here. But based on my experience with this laptop, it’s actually quite a decent one. But I wouldn’t call it a budget laptop.