How good are budget notebooks really? What you need to know

|     Klaus Guertler     |

IF YOU’RE looking for a new notebook computer, you can pick one up for as little as 300 euros (336 dollars) – and not just any old notebook. These days, even the big-name brands offer models at a very affordable price.

However, you might need to curb your expectations, says Rainer Schuldt from Computerbild magazine. “Notebooks costing around 300 euros offer only the most basic equipment in terms of hardware and software,” he says.

Notebookcheck.com agrees with this verdict. In a recent test, it found that in low-cost notebooks, savings had been made in every part of the device – meaning that small batteries, a lack of ports and weak displays are the rule rather than the exception.

”There’s nothing cheaper than 300 euros,” says Florian Muessig from computer magazine C’t. But cheap doesn’t always have to mean bad.

Anyone who doesn’t have very high expectations of their computer can get what they need from a cheap notebook. Writing emails and texts, surfing the net, managing music and photos – all of these can be carried out just fine on an entry-level model.

Before buying a budget notebook, you need to consider all the components carefully
Before buying a budget notebook, you need to consider all the components carefully

Image processing is likely to be slower, but still possible, and browser games should run fine – but sophisticated games with large 3D worlds will be a problem.

Before buying, you need to consider all the components carefully. The battery or memory may be too small, or the screen might have poor resolution, for example.

Generally, cheap models have slow processors, for example Atom or Celeron chips from Intel. With these, you can’t expect the kind of performance you would get from a business-spec notebook.

Memory also tends to be limited. Storage of 32 or 64 gigabytes is sufficient for text, but won’t be enough for large photo or music collections.

To store them, you will need an external hard drive. And many inexpesive notebooks have relatively small screens of 10 or 11 inches – which, in turn, affects the size of the keyboard.

Another thing to be aware of is the general absence of a DVD drive. Ideally, the device will offer as many ports for external devices as possible. If you’re going to be working on it a lot, then a port for a large external monitor would be useful.

You should also consider the software that comes with the notebook. Some cheap models don’t include Windows, but instead are shipped without an operating system or with the free Linux OS on board. There are also other free options, such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

For the same price as a cheap notebook, you could also consider the option of second-hand equipment, including business-spec computers. These would be older but “sometimes, despite this, more powerful than a 300-euro new device,” Schuldt says.

Chromebooks are also worth a look. For 250 to 350 euros, you get a device that’s a portal into Google’s online services. The disadvantages are that they have relatively low performance and small memory, and you need Internet access to enjoy full functionality.

Of course, if you’re willing to spend a little more – say, 400 to 500 euros – you’ll have a substantially larger choice, with more memory and better processors, Muessig says. You can also get a bigger screen (up to 15 inches), which is more comfortable to work with than a 10 or 11-inch one. – DPA