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Great value laptops from just £160 impress in Which? lab tests

Low-priced models from Asus, Acer and HP are on test – and some of these laptops perform brilliantly for the price

It’s inevitable that the lower price of a cheap laptop means that some corners may have been cut. But as Which?’s latest lab test results prove, you can get a lot for your money if you know where to look. In fact, our most recent lab tests have revealed some of the best-value cheap models we’ve ever tested.

Eight new models have been through our tough tests, including five that cost less than £400 – and one that costs just £160.

Read on for our round-up – and for tips on shopping at this difficult but potentially high value end of the market.

See how many of the new models made it into our list of the best laptops for less than £500.

Great value laptops from just £160

Acer Aspire 1 A111-31 – £160 at Argos

This 11-inch laptop weighs just 1.08kg, making it one of the lightest laptops we’ve tested in the last few months. While this is often a perk of small and cheap laptops, it’s not always a given that you’ll find one so light. It has an Intel Celeron N4000 processor, which is one of Intel’s newer low-power chips, 2GB of Ram and 32GB of storage space. This spec sheet doesn’t make for exciting reading, but if you’re after a very basic Windows laptop for some document and email work it could suffice, depending on how well it performs. Read our full Acer Aspire 1 A111-31 review to find out whether it’s worth a look.

Asus Vivobook E406MA – £200 at Argos

This is one of the cheapest 14-inch laptops we’ve tested, and it’s also one of the lightest at 1.26kg. It has the same Intel Celeron processor as the Acer featured above, but benefits from double the storage and double the Ram. Again, it isn’t a powerhouse, however, if you want a larger laptop for a small outlay, it should make your shortlist. Check our Asus Vivobook E406MA review to find out how it fared in our tests.

HP 14-ck0517sa – £399 at Currys PC World

This mid-range 14-inch laptop is for anybody who needs a computer that’s easy to take on the move but fancies a little more speed than a basic budget laptop. It’s rare to see a model with an Intel Core i5 for so little cash, although you should be aware it’s an older-model Core i5 that’s less powerful than the very latest 8th-generation. We were impressed to see a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD); typically cheaper laptops with SSDs only come with 128GB of storage. Read our full HP 14-ck review to see whether this laptop is the full package.

HP 14-cm0503sa – £379 at Currys PC World

Another mid-range 14-incher from HP, but this one is powered by an AMD Ryzen 3 processor. We’ve found Ryzen 3 chips to be sprightly enough in the past, and the 128GB SSD should help keep things feeling nippy even as the laptop gets older. Laptops at this price face stiff competition, so expect a strong all-round showing if you’re thinking of adding this one to your shortlist. Read our HP 14-cm review for the verdict.

Asus Vivobook 15 X505 – £399 at AO.com

This 15-inch laptop has attractive specs for the price. The AMD Ryzen 5 processor has four cores and it comes with 4GB of Ram and a 1TB hard disk. It even has a Full HD screen, meaning it ticks quite a lot of the boxes we would expect of a mid-range machine. Simply having a Full HD screen doesn’t necessarily mean great picture quality, though, and the hard disk is likely to feel more sluggish than a SSD. Our Asus Vivobook 15 X505 review reveals whether this laptop trips on these stumbling blocks or makes a clean break for a Best Buy.

Five common problems when shopping for a cheap laptop

There’s no need to spend a fortune if you only want a laptop for general use and basic tasks – but it is more difficult to find budget models that get the basics right.

With more than 100 laptops passing through our labs each year, we have a wealth of data on models that both excel and many more that don’t quite cut the mustard. Here are five common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Keyboard and touchpad
Laptops under £400 score, on average 2.7 and 2.8 stars for keyboard and touchpad usability, respectively, in our tests.
A 2-star score doesn’t mean either are unusable, but does mean you’ll have to adapt how you use the laptop to avoid being frustrated. A 2-star touchpad might feel responsive when moving the cursor, but may occasionally miss some taps and clicks. Meanwhile, a 2-star keyboard will feel mushy in use, making it harder to type very quickly. To avoid this, look for models with 3-star ratings and above in our tests, and try out as many laptops as you can in store to see whether they meet your expectations.

2. Screen quality
On average, we award budget laptops 2.8 stars for screen quality. A 2-star screen is usable for reading text, but it will usually deliver drab-looking colours and often will be almost unusable if you look at it from anything beyond a slight angle. This is a very common problem on very cheap laptops and something you’ll often just have to put up with, but do look for models that score three stars in our ‘indoor screen quality’ test, as this normally means they’re a cut above the average laptop. Also, where possible, look for Full HD screens, especially when you’re spending more than £350. These will be sharper and make text easier to read.

3. Speakers and sound
Laptops cheaper than £400 are almost all universally poor at delivering crisp audio through their speakers. At best, you’ll be able to understand dialogue in your films and TV shows, but these devices fail miserably at producing engaging music and engrossing sound effects. We always recommend using speakers and headphones with these models, so look for laptops that score four or more in the ‘headphones’ test. This means the on-board sound card and audio enhancement software makes for a good sound through headphones or external speakers. Many laptops score four or more in this area, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

4. Battery life
When it comes to laptop battery life, most cheap models actually score quite well, with battery test results in excess of 10 hours not uncommon. However, there are some mid-tier models at roughly  £350-400 that let the side down because the manufacturer spent more budget on performance than it did on battery. If battery life is important to you because you’re going to be on the move a lot, look for a model that scores four or more stars in our tests, which should equate to six hours away from the mains.

5. Performance
Sub-£250 laptops are far slower than other laptops. This doesn’t make them unusable by any means, but it does mean you won’t be able to have loads of programs and web browser windows open at the same time. If you like to load up lots at a time, consider a laptop with at least an Intel Pentium Silver or Gold processor, or, even better an Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3. If not, prepare to change how hurriedly you do work on your laptop.

Ready to make the next step? See our guide to the most reliable laptop brands

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