Buying a new laptop can be tough, with countless models to choose from, and many humdrum machines that don't stand out from the crowd. When you consider that today's prices cover a broader-than-ever spectrum, along with the rise of hybrid machines and alternative operating systems, there's more to consider than ever. Let Gizmag lend a hand, with five of the most compelling options in low cost notebooks.
HP Stream 11
In many ways, the Stream 11 encompasses everything that a low-cost laptop should be. The Windows-running notebook has an 11-inch display, measures just 0.78 in (19.8 mm) thick and weighs 2.74 lbs (1.2 kg), making it fairly portable for its price range. Though it has a plastic exterior, it manages to look stylish, and feels solid and well-made. The setup is also fanless, meaning system noise should be minimal.
The specs aren't spectacular, with a 1,366 x 768 display, 2 GB RAM and Intel Celeron processor, but the price is rock bottom. There's only a 32 GB hard drive on board, but the purchase includes 1TB OneDrive cloud storage for a year, and there's a year of Office 365 included.
Starting price: US$200
Acer Aspire Switch 10
The Switch 10 isn't a performer on the spec sheet (there's a quad core Intel Atom processor inside, backed up by 2 GB RAM), but it offers plenty of functionality that you'd struggle to get elsewhere for this price range.
Not only is the 10-inch panel touch-enabled, but it's also fully detachable, letting you use it as laptop or tablet. The product has a snap hinge, using magnets to hold it in place, and provides a satisfying click when you remove it or clip it back into place.
You can also put the screen on backwards and use the system in tent mode, or with the keyboard section acting as stand. With all that in mind, the official starting price is very reasonable, but if you shop around a little you may be able to knock as much as $100 off that figure.
Starting price: $330
HP Stream x360
Another hybrid system, the Stream x360 is a middle ground between the Stream 11 and the Switch 10, both in price and functionality. In terms of specs and design, its similar to the former, powered by an Intel Celeron chip with 2 GB RAM.
Unlike the Stream 11, the display, which is touch-enabled, can be flipped through 360 degrees, laying down on the back of the display and acting as a tablet. You can't pop the screen off the keyboard and flip it around like with the Switch 10, so there are fewer modes available here, but its arguably the more attractive machine, while hitting its own great price point.
Starting price: $270
Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Series
If you're looking for a larger machine, then you could do much worse than Dell's Inspiron line. The 15-inch 5000 Series has an understated and attractive black plastic build with chiclet-style keys and a full numeric pad.
Dell's machines always give you plenty of choice at the point of sale and the Inspiron 5000 is no exception. The base model has a dual core Celeron processor and 500 GB storage, but spend a bit extra and you'll be able to get a touchscreen, more competent quad core processors and double the storage.
If you're still a fan of disk-based media, then you'll be happy to learn that the Inspiron 15 5000 Series has a DVD drive.
Starting price: $330
Toshiba Chromebook 2
Since we're talking about budget laptops, we'd be crazy not to mention Chromebooks. The Chrome operating system isn't nearly as fleshed out as Windows – everything you do is either inside the Chrome browser or an app built on the browser – but if you make good use of Google Docs and other web apps, then it can be a solid productivity platform.
The Chromebook 2 is one of the better notebooks we've seen running on the OS. There are two versions available, one of which offers a full HD 1,920 x 1,080 display, and one of which is fitted with a lower-end 1,366 x 768 panel. Both will look pixelated compared to modern high-end laptops and other mobile devices, but the higher resolution panel gets a bit closer, and may be worth the extra money.
Its silver matte plastic finish isn't going to fool anyone, but the Chromebook 2's design takes some obvious inspiration from Apple's MacBook line. The keyboard does feel nice during use, though, and the trackpad is comfortably large, something budget laptops often skimp on.
On the inside, the notebook has 4 GB RAM and is powered by an Intel Celeron processor. You'll only get 16 GB internal storage, but at least that's augmented with 100 GB of Google Drive space for a year.
Starting price: $250
Bonus pick: Acer Chromebook R11
Revealed at IFA 2015, the Chromebook R11 offers something a little different. At first glance, it looks like any other Chromebook, but it's actually a convertible. That means that you can use it as a laptop or tablet, or even in tent mode for watching media.
The build is a bit plasticky and its 1366 x 768 screen is merely ... fine for the price point, but the novelty of using touch input with Chrome OS makes the R11 an interesting animal. The operating system isn't exactly built for tablets, but Chrome's simple nature could make it reasonably easy to use.
Inside, you'll find an Intel Celeron chip paired with up to 4 GB RAM, and 16 or 32 GB of local storage. If you're interested in the Chrome OS convertible, you'll have to wait a short while, though, as it's not scheduled to land until October.
Starting price: $300