Update - 2018.04.22We took 10 laptops, and put them through our rigorous performance tests. Read our: Affordable laptops

Affordable laptops

How much should you spend on your next laptop?

We tested models to find out whether you get what you pay for

The concept of an affordable laptop means different things to different people, so we took 10 laptops, and put them through our rigorous performance tests. The big question is: do you get twice the laptop if you pay twice the price for it?

To find out, we’ve picked out four models, including laptops from both ends of our price scale, to look at in detail.

We run benchmarking software on all the PCs we test so you can compare how well they run during a series of demanding Windows tests. We also test the batteries by playing a video on a fully charged laptop at a standard screen brightness, measuring how long it takes to run out of charge. Lastly, we use a colorimeter to measure the screen’s brightness, contrast and colour depth.

ASUS ZenBook UX410 Review

Features

Performance

Ease of use

Value of money

The Asus ZenBook UX410 isn’t the cheapest laptop we reviewed in this test, but we think it’s the best value, you get a laptop that looks and feels like a £1,000 model.

The compact, well-built, robust aluminium chassis houses a 14in screen with ultra-slim 6mm side bezels, giving it a smart and impressive look for a laptop of this price. And the slim lines don’t come at the expense of connectivity: you get a full suite of USB 3 and HDMI ports, plus an SD-card reader and a USB-C port. There’s also dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Our only complaint is the core specification, which uses an Intel i3-7100U processor coupled with 4GB of memory and a 128GB SSD.

This means it managed only a mid-table placing among the 10 laptops we reviewed in this test, though it’s fine for everyday browsing and office applications.

However, any downsides pale into insignificance when you look at its screen.

This model had the best colour accuracy of all the devices we tested, producing high levels of brightness and contrast (362cd/m2 and 1,189:1 respectively) and displaying 92% of Microsoft’s sRGB colour standard. The sound is a tad harsh with the volume turned up high, but if you set it just loud enough to drown out the occasional whine from the cooling system, it’s fine for casual listening.

The battery lasted for 8 hours and 12 minutes in our video playback test, which placed it third overall. That’s not bad, but the battery life of the two Acer laptops we tested was significantly better.

VERDICT

This isn’t the most powerful laptop we tested, providing middling performance overall, but we love the compact aluminium body and impressive design, which feels built to last and a cut above the competition. The screen looks fabulous and performed very well in our colour and brightness tests.

If your computing needs are modest but you want everything to look fantastic on screen, this is an excellent option.

Acer Aspire 5 A515-51 Review

Features

Performance

Ease of use

Value of money

If you’re not seduced by the Gold Award-winning Asus ZenBook’s looks, and value performance over all else, the Acer Aspire 5 is a great choice. The chassis is predominantly plastic, with an aluminium keyboard surround, but this functional exterior belies its high internal specification, which boasts an Intel Core i5-8250 processor that topped our Windows performance benchmarks in this group.

The screen, however, is a bit of a let-down. At 15.6in, it’s the joint biggest in this test and its 256cd/m2 brightness isn’t bad as long as you’re not in direct sunlight. However, it can only reproduce 55.5% of the colours in Microsoft’s sRGB colour standard, which is disappointing. The speakers throw out a lot of noise but they lack clarity and finesse, so you’ll want to plug in headphones, even at lower volumes.

VERDICT

Windows performance is the priority with this Acer laptop, but the screen isn’t great and its large size makes the whole package bulky. However, battery life is good, lasting 9 hours and 8 minutes in our video-playback test.

HP 250 G6 Review

Features

Performance

Ease of use

Value of money

This HP model’s glossy silver casing and faux aluminium keyboard feel sturdy, but it’s entirely made of plastic. It bucks the current trend of ditching all manner of legacy ports and devices to achieve a smaller size, and comes with a DVD writer, Gigabit Ethernet port and VGA port, as well as the more common HDMI, USB 2 and USB 3 ports.

The model we reviewed had a good enough processor in the Intel Core i5-7200U, with 8GB of memory and a 250GB SSD. Its performance was some way behind the two Acer laptops but third out of 10 isn’t bad, and its battery managed 6 hours and 59 minutes in our test, placing it fourth.

The screen is large, at 15.6in, but 234cd/m2 isn’t bright enough to use in sunlight and it only produces 53.4% of the colours in the sRGB standard.

VERDICT

This laptop is a good all-rounder - not as impressively designed and built as the Asus ZenBook or as powerful as the Acer Aspire, but it sits comfortably between the two, offering a middling build, performance and screen.

Lenovo IdeaPad 320S Review

Features

Performance

Ease of use

Value of money

The cheapest laptop we tested still manages to look and feel a cut above a basic budget model, particularly with our test unit’s “snow white’’ finish.

At 1.7kg it’s light enough to be toted around but you still get a 14in screen and decent connectivity, including a USB-C port.

It’s not long, however, before you spot where corners have been cut to accommodate the low price. The keyboard and touchpad aren’t quite up to the luxury levels of the more expensive models, but worse than this is the dim screen, which in our tests only peaked at 217cd/m2. Battery life was also short, lasting 5 hours and 8 minutes in our tests.

The limited Pentium 4515 processor and 4GB of memory hampered performance, with an overall Windows benchmark score of 27, which was at the bottom of this group.

VERDICT

This is a great laptop for such a low price, despite the lacklustre screen and performance, but in almost every respect, doubling your spend gets you more than double the power, battery life and screen quality.

 GOLD AWARDSILVER AWARDBRONZE AWARD 
 AsusAcerHPLenovo
 ZenBook UX410Aspire 5 A515-51250 G6 15IdeaPad 320S
PROCESSORIntel Core i3-7100UIntel Core i5-8250UIntel Core i5-7200UIntel Pentium 4415U
MEMORY4GB8GB8GB4GB
SCREEN SIZE14in15.6in15.6inMin
SCREEN RESOLUTION1,920 x 1,080 pixels1,920×1,080 pixels1,920 x 1,080 pixels1,366x 768 pixels
STORAGE128GB SSD1TB HD256GB SSD128GB SSD
USB PORTSUSB-C, USB 3, 2 x USB 2USB-C, USB 3, 2x USB 22 x USB 3, USB 2USB-C, USB 3, USB 2
NETWORKING80Z.11ac Wi-Fi802.11ac Wi-FiEthernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi802.11ac Wi-Fi
MEMORY CARD READERSD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXC
OPERATING SYSTEMWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 ProWindows 10 Home
SIZE323 x 223 x 19mm381 x 263 x 21.6mm380 x 254 x 23.8mm338 x 249 x17mm
WEIGHT1.4kg2.2kg1.99kg

1.7kg

 

 

ALSO TESTED

thumbs-o-up

OUR VERDICT

Our award winners all sit at the pricier end of this Group Test’s range, but even a laptop shows evidence of compromise. We gave our Gold Award to the Asus ZenBook UX410, which has a brilliant screen and a sleek and sturdy design, but lagged behind in performance and battery life.


Our Silver Award goes to the more powerful Acer Aspire 5 A515-51, which was the best performer of the group.

However, its screen was disappointing, though fine for indoor use.


We gave our Bronze Award to the HP 250 G6, which is more of an all-rounder but falls short on both performance and screen when compared to the other two award-winners.


The cheaper Lenovo laptop is a good low-cost option, but there’s no doubt that half the money buys you a laptop that’s only half as good.

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