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back to article Ten 15in notebooks for under 400 quid

As much as Intel would like us all to rush out and buy an expensive new Ultrabook, the fact remains that the top-selling laptops for most manufacturers are still low-cost 15.6in models. Laptops for £400 or less have back-to-school appeal written all over them, but the mix of components varies enormously to appeal to different …

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My advice would be to rummage through the bargain bins at your local PC outlet (or virtually) and buy last year's model. There's very little difference in spec, and you should be able to get comparable performance for <<£300. Look for a 4GB system with a free memory slot - a 4GB SODIMM costs just over £10 and is generally the best and simplest performance boost.

Don't forget to reinstall your preferred OS to eliminate all the bloatware the manufacturers love to load these babies with. You really don't need a 6-month 'free' trial of McAfee AV.

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SSDs

I find an SSD is the single most effective performance upgrade at work. I've got 1 and 2 GB RAM single core laptops that are outperforming £1K+ laptops simply by swapping the HD for an SSD.

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Unless your wanting to play 3D games then even the cheapest new laptops you can buy these days will do the stuff most people want to do, internet, email, photo editiing, streaming videos, office, can even do video editing just not as fast as the more expensive laptops.

The comment about one of the laptops only having 3Gb of RAM? I am using a laptop with 'only' 2GB and i can't remember the last time i had a problem with low memory, even with thunderbird, libreoffice and firefox with about 10 tabs open

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Happy

"i can't remember the last time i had a problem with low memory"

sorry, I can't help finding something amusing about that sentence.

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Linux

Backs and second hand laptops

Agree with article: the bog standard 15.4 inch laptop is the best value for new kit.

I shlepped one of those (an RM rebadged beast weighing in at 2.6Kg) every day for a couple of years. The Reg is morally obligated to include a timely review of suitable backpacks I think. I suspect most of the laptops will stay plugged in on the study bedroom desk...

Building on Mark I 2's reply, I'm now using a Thinkpad X200s bought for less than half the budget here on ebay. Dual Core, 4Gb and light to carry, non bendy keyboard, still gets 4 hours, runs Ubuntu. I run a Citrix receiver session, LibreOffice and Firefox with bits of R and Sagemaths. No guarantees of course, except darwinian survival of the fittest (it is 'refurbished' corporate stock).

PS: how about a benchmark for keyboards? Home row, bash in 400 words, how much flex seen? Some of the keyboards I've seen are so bendy its daft

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Re: Keyboards

I had an HP Pavilion G6 recently. Possibly even the model reviewed here. Took it back because the keyboard was so stupidly bendy it was essentially unusable.

I also had a low-end Samsung for a while (went back for different reasons) which had an absolutely superb keyboard. Nice and stiff base, lovely key response, a joy to use.

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15.4"

If only 15.4" laptops were still easily available. Almost all are now 15.6" which equates to the 16:9 1366 x 768 resolution we all know and almost all despise. Thankfully my wife bought her Tosh just before the insanity started, and it has a nice 16:10 1280 x 800 - long may it last. It even fits in standard 15" baggage, unlike most of the new ones.

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Re: Backs and second hand laptops

Another vote here for a reconditioned Thinkpad as the ideal school/uni-on-a-budget machine. Best keyboard by far and it'll survive being thrown in a bag.

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Re: Backs and second hand laptops

100% agree with second hand ThinkPads being the way to go. £180 off eBay for a proper 15.4" 16:10 1680x1050 screen - beats any other laptop in this review. A proper keyboard not one of these stupid cichlet keyboard, a track point and 4-8 hours battery life (dependent upon model and battery) and virtually indestructible to boot. A 500gb hdd and £20 on Amazon to boost the RAM to 4gb.

I seriously don't understand why more people don't do this.

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Anonymous Coward

Ultrabook = ultra profit. It's Intel trying to convince everyone to spend more.

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Actually since there are refurbished notebooks...

You can also go a step further and get an IBM X40 or something which is a 12 in notebook having a 1024x768 resolution. That is much more backpack friendly, however you will most likely need a new battery.

For 400 quid, you can actually even get a T61p with 1920x1200 resolution.

So buying new consumer notebooks is currently a bad idea, particularly since you always risk getting one with a glare display.

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Re: Actually since there are refurbished notebooks...

> You can also go a step further and get an IBM X40 or something

One thing to watch with older X-series machines is that they used 1.8-inch hard drives, meant for iPods really., We had a bunch of X32s and X60s at work - fhe discs were very slow and tended to die quickly.

The X200s-onwards have normal 2.5-inch discs IIRC. I don't remember the X220s we're getting now generating the complaints the older X-series did.

The T-series, especially of the T61-era, are great machines though. I've got a T510 now which isn't as good, but I did have a T60, the last of the non-widescreen T-series, which was brilliant.

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Re: Actually since there are refurbished notebooks...

Ordered a Thinkpad T400 with WXGA+ screen (900 lines) and dedicated graphics card for £300 delivered from Canada. Should even be able to game on it when Steam is released for Ubuntu (planning to use as a Linux plaything.)

That res for that money just doesn't happen in these budget laptops and neither will they survive being thrown around like a Thinkpad will. Better option all round.

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MCG
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Re: Actually since there are refurbished notebooks...

Sadly, the T400 was when the rot set in at Lenovo, and the renowned Thinkpad build quality began to head south. T400s are notorious for their bendy keyboards, dubious touchpads, and ropey USB sockets.

Oh, and the dual-graphics, 1440x900 screen T400s can be easily picked up here in the UK for £220 or so - no need to get them sent from Canada :)

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3rd gen i5 http://www.comet.co.uk/p/Laptops/buy-FUJITSU-AH532-I5-6GB-Laptop/123457

RAM:6GB, HD:500GB

£399.99

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Um, £499.99?

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Higher Quality Kit For Cheap

I also agree about the second hand laptop for kidlets going off to school. Given the condition of the machines that come through the door of our shop for emergency repair work through the school year on the weekend.

Better yet - make the kids pay for the machine and repairs out of their own money cause chances are your going to slop down the better part of tuition and boarding for them anyways.

Pick up something like an old stock or refurbished Acer TimelineX or Thinkpad X200 series on the cheap - toss in the cheapest SSD you can get your hands on, pick up a handflul of the back to school thumbdrives that float around for next to nothing and you'll have a fairly strong runner that you (or they) won't have to worry too much about.

Plus with a slighly older laptop you have a good idea of relability over time - tons of reviews - known bugs/design flaws - compaitibility with certain things.

If going to school is anything like back when I went - its all about the drinking and the ladies anyways then bashing out homework at a coffee shop on the morning it is due through the haze of a hangover or best case while still drunk.

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Re: Higher Quality Kit For Cheap

Had the Acer through the shop along with PB, The acer wasnt a bad machine, the PB, DEAR GOD!

Remeber buying any of the DSGi/Aldi specials you are asking for a world of hurt, thats PB, Medion, Advent or Zoostorm. Sure its cheap, it'll also be shagged *if* it makes it to the end of the warranty. Parts for these machines are almost non existant so if something goes wrong you are on your own

Someone mentioned the awful Keyboard on the Pavillion, not seen that machine but I have noticed this on a lot of the newer HPAQ machines, not overly sure why this is.

As always, boot it up start in oem mode (CTRL+SHIFT+F3) and nuke all the rubbish from orbit before you ever boot it properly.

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Linux

A little harsh

Criticizing the Acer for having only 3GB of RAM is a little harsh. Assuming the machine is sold with a 32-bit OS it will only be able to use something like 3.5GB of RAM because of the amount of address space that is used up by memory-mapped peripherals and BIOS ROM.

With a 64-bit OS it'd be a different story, of course.

... and without the "Microsoft tax" you could probably put 8GB RAM and 500GB hard drive (or a smaller SSD if you're so inclined) and still limbo in below the £400 barrier.

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Re: A little harsh

All the variants I can see that specify it say Win7 Home Premium 64... TBH I wouldn't expect anything new to ship with a 32bit OS.

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For 400, I'd expect to buy computers for 2 kids, you could buy two Lenovo R400s for example. I have always found the Lenovo's extremely tough, as well - probably the first consideration if the kids in question are very much of the Y-chromosome variety.

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Anonymous Coward

You say these are 'back to school' computers, so I guess what we're talking about here are computers powerful enough to browse the web, create Office documents, run basic image manipulation software and watch video. I hate to be 'that guy' but a Xubuntu installation will do all these things speedily with 512MB of RAM. That you think the Acer Aspire 5733 is underpowered for this task because it only has 3GB is a rather sad reflection on the sate of commercial software.

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Linux

@AC 03:25

I imagine watching Youtube, DVDs and playing games/music and ripping 'stuff' will also be part of the use case. The word 'school' appears to be used in the original article in the Colonial sense of 'University', with the implication of remote residence. I take your point that anything Centrino upwards will do, especially as Xubuntu retains support for non-pae processors.

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"The word 'school' appears to be used in the original article in the Colonial sense of 'University'"

That makes more sense, I was trying to reconcile £400 computers and the "Back to School" bargains on grey trousers at Tesco (et al)

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Windows

Re: run basic image manipulation software

I remember the late nineties when we were told that video editing softwares needed at least a 350MHz processor. Something must have gone wrong with Moore's law (should be about x100 since then) or with Windows. I know everything has gone HD now but still. Today's low end is capable of "wordprocessing, email and web browsing". Amen.

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Headmaster

Ten 15in notebooks for under 400 quid?

That would be an average of £40 each, then?

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Wait for Windows 8

None of the laptops surveyed can run windows 8 due to lack of touchscreen. When windows 8 launches this month many of the same or similar laptops will be available with touchscreens and the ones without touchscreen and windows will be half or quarter the price. You have to be very stupid to buy one of these today to find it obsolete for windows 8 which will come free with new laptops from next month. With laptops particularly i find always the latest models are faster with better graphics and able to support more memory of the newer type like ddr3 and ddr4 that it makes no sense in buying old stock unless heavily discounted.

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Re: Wait for Windows 8

None can run windows 8? Guess all the people running windows 8 RC et al on current hardware now are being fooled by microsoft's humorus integration of their blatent rip off of a bad copy of windowsblinds.

As for the rest... sounds more like a personal list of what you would like in a cheapie laptop rather than looking at the reality that school starts soon/has started and promising your son or daughter you can have a laptop for school when DDR4 and faster graphics come in it doesn't help them get their LOLCATS pics uploaded... I mean... homework and assignments done.

You need to balance estimated workload vs budget vs needs with currently available stock/quality old stock instead of waiting for "The Next Big Thing"

To put it in perspective... would DDR4 fire up word that much faster from the cheapest sourced 5400rpm drive found in most of these laptops in this range... would 10% faster grapfics render a PDF of your course outline enough to benifit waiting.

Does your kid going off for a course in nursing require the latest and greatest ram type and graphics available?... Would a student going into CAD/CAM engineering look at one of these machines (doubt it) How about a chef's course... will Ivy Bridge help prep a steak better than an older Core 2 (probably not... the Core 2 has a bit more selection for weighty laptops to help ternderize the meat quicker and better heat for quicker searing time.)

You pick the machine for the task - and pick one that interfaces with you well... doesn't matter how awesome the machine is if the input feels like crap, your productivity and comfort will suffer... someone mentioned WPM/Comfort typing/Keyboard Flex and Feel... often a seriously overlooked item when dealing with laptops.

Make sure it has enough oomph for the job at hand and for the forseeable future (remember most courses are 2-5 years and a 350 dollar laptop every couple of years costs more than spending 500 on something decent that will last 3 or 4 years)

And if your more interested in what you want... go buy what you want and pass down what you currently use. I doubt most kids care about i3 vs i5 vs AMD... it doesn't make the beer taste any better and regardless what intel says... i5 will not get you laid any quicker than having an i3. (Tested with my wife and my mistress plus random polling at the pub by asking some of the known overly friendly ladies)

* as a side note... looks/money/free drinks all ranked much higher than processor type and SSD vs HDD was dropped as a question all together after the most common answer was "its alright luv... I've been tested and I'm clean but its kinda rude to ask."

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Pint

Re: Wait for Windows 8

Sorry about the spelling mistakes in my previous post... hungover on a long weekend sunday doesn't lead to very good typing skills.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wait for Windows 8

The content has of Sam 24's post ("wait for windows 8") has already been demolished, I'll just note that Sam 24 apparently signed up specially to post it.

Odd place, this, sometimes.

Even odder than the real world, maybe.

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@sam 24

Yes, but if you wait for Windows 8 the machine will come with Windows 8 installed meaning an expensive or complicated "upgrade" to Windows 7 for most users.

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+1 for the G570

I bought a slightly beefier G570 for slightly over £400 last month. While noticably flimsier than the Thinkpad it replaced, it's a great laptop. I've yet to give it a thorough workout but it'll be running an IDE for a course in a month or so and I've every confidence in it.

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Pint

Re: +1 for the G570

Agreed it is a little flimsy.. Mines got some quality specs for a 15" laptop, not too pricey as well and will suit me nicely for University.

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FAIL

Toshiba C660 ?! R U SURE

How many points did you give this POS?

My sister got one for christmas gone. The cheep plastic crap will snap and crack at a hands force, let alone a drop.

I've had the stupid thing open 5 times now. That's 3 times more than i've opened any other laptop in the last 15 years.

The leads inside are dodgy as hell, the leads sell for more on ebay than the parts, and because it's a bob's your uncle job you have to rip it apart to check which leads you have, as there are about 5 or 6 possibly more conifgurations of c660's that use different leads.

Leave it the hell alone. And my advice to the reg is to remove it from the list. Recommending that laptop (by giving it that many points) is just like toshiba where paying for entries, ey.

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Re: Toshiba C660 ?! R U SURE

Odd. I've had mine 2 years, gets thrown in and out my car on average 6 times a day. Used by the girlfriend most evenings and HDD power on time reports over 3500 hours . Been dropped by moi or knocked off the couch by the dog a few times. Only an absolute troll could crack the plastic with their hands. My 3rd Toshiba and I'd certainly buy another. My own personal experience would equate the word Compaq with cheap, badly put together cr@p but horses for courses.

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Stop

What is the picture of the fruitbook doing on the reghardware landing page, illustrating this story? That ain't a £400 lappy! Unless it's broken.

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Watch out for resolution and numeric keypad

1366 x 768 widescreen laptops don't have enough down space. Makes it difficult for programs like Visual Studio or even web surfing where not enough results appear onscreen without the need to scroll downwards. Old non-widescreen laptops gave a resulution of 1280 x 1024. Note the down of 1024 as opposed to 768 - almost 1/4 more space.

Also, with the advent of a numeric pad, the main keyboard is shifted to the right.

Look out for the new ultrabooks which are more compact and hopefully remove these 2 problems.

At the moment, most laptops will all have numeric pads. However, you can overcome the resolution issue by buying a 17" or above laptop going into the more expensive range.

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Problem with all of these is the whining (whingeing)

"But Daaaaaad! Everybody else has a Macbook and/or an iPad! I can't be seen with a <gasp> Toshiba!"

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Dell Outlet

I've bought well specced laptops in superb condition (Certified Refurbished) from the Dell Outlet (usually the Inspiron 15R or 17R). No detectable micro-scratches on the casing and all working really well. Admittedly the first one I got (original i3 with integrated graphics) had a duff webcam but they replaced it with a brand new (at the time) Sandybridge i3 with 1GB nVidia card model (WITH SWITCHABLE LID!!! ;) ). If they hadn't sorted that out so well I wouldn't have bought from them again.

I also like that a 4GB memory specificiation is usually 1 SIMM so you don't have to replace it to upgrade.

The last one I got was last November, a 17" 4GB Sandybridge i5 at £404 all in. Upgraded to 8GB for £20 from crucial.

The trick is to work out what spec you want and watch the prices over a month (they fluctuate quite a lot) and then buy the next one at the cheapest price. Oh, and wait for their very frequent Free Delivery offers.

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I've just picked up a thinkpad x61 from ebay for around £100 (2Ghz core duo, 3gig ram, fingerprint scanner), and it's excellent. Much better than the generic cheapy 15inchers you see in PC world. With windows 7 and an SSD (ok the ssd brings it up to £170) it flies along.

It may only be 12" but that's one of the reasons I wanted one, along with that all important 4:3 screen!

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