Buying a laptop within a low budget is both easy and confusing at the same time. If you know what to choose according to your requirement, a work computer within a low budget is definitely possible. But if you are not well versed with the latest tech lingo that companies use to advertise and sell their computers, you might easily end up with a hole in your pocket for mediocre hardware.
PC and laptop manufacturers bank on the fact that the majority of the people are not aware of the performance aspect and relevance of individual components that make up a laptop or pc and go by the advertised “speeds”, which may or may not be useful for everyone in their specific type of daily use. What is useful for someone depends upon the type of work the computer will have to do in its lifecycle. The main purpose of buying the computer must be clear in order to identify the important components needed for your perfect build.
The best method is to pick and choose the best components (according to your profession or need) for your computer after research and assemble the machine. If you are not interested or unable to do this on your own you can always get it assembled at a computer shop for a small price. But if you are looking for a laptop, the assembly may not be possible. Here you will have to choose the model which has the best combination of components you need and suits all your requirements.
Essential things to keep in mind while choosing a laptop-
1. Size matters:
A bigger screen will give you more space to work with and reduce eye strain. It will also have a bigger keyboard and battery. Ergonomics make a difference in productivity and having a smaller keyboard might make things harder if your work demands hours of typing. On the other hand, if portability is your main concern you should look for smaller laptops that are low in weight and dimensions. The most preferred screen size for laptops is 15.6 inches but laptops of 14 inches to 17 inches are also available. If you are going to be carrying the laptop around a lot, go for a smaller size, otherwise, 15 inches is best.
Any 9th or 10th gen intel i5 should be enough for a basic laptop. If the budget is slim even i3 would be enough provided it has enough RAM.
I have no qualms about admitting that I am an AMD fanboy and prefer systems built on AMD processors over Intel.
Depending upon your choice, you can also boost the clock speed of these processors from their native speeds by overclocking up to 4 GHz or more. Although this must be done only if you know what you are doing or you may cause serious damage to your machine. AMD offers better base speeds closer to 2.1Ghz in most of its processors whereas Intel lags behind in its native speeds around 1.6Ghz. This means the AMD processors are already running at higher base speeds, thus not requiring the user to manually overclock for boosting performance, and this translates directly into faster AMD computers.
The primary reason the AMD processors are better in my opinion is the presence of twice the number of threads that intel offers on its affordable versions. Until a few years ago intel offered hyperthreading in most of its processors but surprisingly, they decided to ‘downgrade’ this, and now only the expensive versions have more threads. For example at the same price of roughly Rs.16000, the core i5 9400F has 6 cores and 6 threads whereas the Ryzen 5 3600 provides 6 cores and 12 threads. Twice the number of threads on AMD means double the capacity to handle multitasking loads. This is a huge upgrade in performance.
A Solid State Drive or SSD is preferred over the older Hard Disk Drive or HDD for storage because not only does it dramatically improve the performance of the system, an SSD also makes your laptop much lighter as it has no moving parts and is practically the size of a RAM module. SSD’s are more expensive than HDD’s which are much bigger and heavier, but HDDs make up for that extra cost by giving you a much snappier laptop that loads and transfers content quickly and also switches between different programs faster. It is also possible to have both SSD and HDD on the same laptop if your budget allows it. You can install the Operating system and most used programs on the SSD for faster bootup and loading times and store your media files and other data on the HDD to manage the space better. If you are only buying an SSD, a storage size of 256GB to 526GB is highly recommended even if you have to compromise on other components that are not so important like saying the DVD disk drive or powerful speakers.
Having more RAM is always useful, and this is another component that justifies its demand for extra budget. For normal users who just want a laptop for browsing the internet and preparing documents, 4 to 8 GB of RAM should be plenty. But if they expect to be working on something slightly more demanding like basic animation software and normal video games at 1080p, 16 GB would be the lowest preferred RAM. In case their work involves heavy pixel crunching like in 4K video editing on Adobe After Effects or Maya 3D, 32 GB should be the minimum required RAM to provide the necessary power.
If possible try to find a laptop that allows you to upgrade the Ram in the future. Which means it should have at least one additional slot for the memory chip. This way you can go ahead with low RAM initially and then add extra RAM modules later when you have the budget for it.
The speed at which the RAM modules operate is also important but depends upon your choice of motherboard and processor. Most RAMs are rated to operate at 1800Mhz to 2666Mhz range but newer ones also allow the user to tweak it up to the 3000Mhz to 3600 Mhz range for faster performance. This is also known as memory overclocking and should only be done if you are familiar with the XMP modes in the Bios. In addition to having decent RAM, having a dedicated graphics card is always suggested since it massively improves the performance in graphic intensive applications and programs besides making the user interface smoother.
5. Graphics card:
Buying a laptop within a budget can be a challenge when you want to have a good graphics card installed. It is one of the costliest components of a modern computer and rightly so. It can be a real game-changer as far as gaming is concerned, pun intended. Some of the more affordable graphics cards like the Nvidia Gtx 1660 provide 6GB of VRAM which enables the computer to run most of the popular AAA games at 1080p / 60FPS comfortably. Graphic cards are also necessary if you are working with rendering software like DaVinci Resolve 16 or Cinema 4D which involve heavy graphics and visual data processing.
Even if you are not playing any games or animating or doing heavy editing and just using the laptop to watch content in high or ultra-high definition, a dedicated graphics card is always beneficial because it improves the overall performance of the laptop by reducing the load on installed RAM and speeding up the user interface and start-up times.
One also has to make sure that a low-end processor does not bottleneck a high-end graphics card. This means that a powerful graphics card requires a powerful and hence more expensive processor or it will create a data transfer bottleneck. The reverse is also possible where a slow graphics card can cause a bottleneck with the high data transfer speeds of a much powerful processor. Some high-end games and 3D rendering programs will only run with a capable graphics card and a compatible processor so it is a little difficult to buy a budget laptop for those purposes.
6. Battery life:
For a laptop, the battery life might be one of the most important factors before buying. If you are a student or employee and need to carry your laptop to class or office every day it’s better to buy a slimmer and lighter laptop with good mobility and battery backup. But if you will mostly keep your laptop on a table and don’t plan to move it around much, you can get a bigger laptop with a bigger screen and keyboard that doesn’t depend mainly on the battery life. In either case, it’s still suggested using battery-saving features like screen dimming and automatic screen off, turning off wifi and Bluetooth when not in use, etc. because it improves the overall life of the battery.
7. USB ports and wireless connectivity:
Make sure the laptop has at least 1 USB 3.0 port for faster transfer speeds and two more USB 2.0 for normal peripheral connections. Some laptops also come with the USC C type ports for better smartphone connectivity and faster transfer speeds. Also, it’s important that the laptop should have Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi. An additional HDMI port or Display port is rare on budget laptops, but they do add the capability to connect the laptop to another bigger screen like a monitor or TV.
8. Cooling and fans:
Since the components inside a laptop are crammed together in order to fit into the much smaller body, there is often a chance of overheating if the fans are not able to provide enough cooling. The processor takes most of the brunt when performing many heavy tasks at once so it can get overheated, much like the engine of a car without enough cooling fluid. A laptop that has air vents towards the sides, as well as the bottom, works best even under high load conditions. If you go beyond budget laptops, even liquid cooling is possible for processors now.
I must also mention that even though buying a cheap computer is entirely possible, it may not always be a good thing because technology gets obsolete incredibly quickly in present times.
Always try to buy future-proof technology, whether it is a computer, laptop, phone, HDTV or any other piece of hardware or software.
A low-cost laptop bought today in a hurry may not be able to support your workload or your media in a year or two, as the data load from graphics-intensive programs and corresponding transfer speeds keeps increasing exponentially every 6 months. This just means you end up spending more money on upgrading to another budget computer or laptop in the very near future because the old one just doesn’t cut it anymore. So it’s much wiser to just buy a good pc the first time, something that can survive the test of time.
At the end of the day, before you decide which laptop you want to buy, it’s more important to know why you want to buy the laptop. The purpose of buying the laptop and its intended usage should be clear so that you can decide about the affordability of essential components accordingly.
Successfully buying a low-cost laptop means you will have to make some compromises, but if you know your priorities you can easily make the right decision.
Let us know in the comments if you need any help in choosing the best laptop in your budget.
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