If you’re looking to buy a notebook in the £400 - £600 price range, you’re purchasing a midrange laptop, albeit one at the lowest end of that price bracket. The good news is that in this territory, you can get a piece of hardware which will give you impressively nippy performance levels without making too big a dent in your wallet.
And the key, as ever, when you have a fairly tightly-defined budget, is to know what to focus on in terms of components and features, so you can pick the right model for your needs. And naturally a great deal of this purchasing decision rests on exactly what your needs are.
To start off, let’s clarify that in this price bracket, much of the hardware available can’t really cope with gaming on the move as such. That said, there are exceptions to this rule, and at any rate, you can certainly get something capable of dealing with a spot of casual gaming. We’ll return to gaming considerations later.
If games aren’t important to you, then watching movies might be. If you’re a Netflix or Prime Video addict, then you want a notebook with a good screen to watch your films or TV shows on. In this lower midrange territory, you’ll definitely need a display with a resolution of 1080p (the odd laptop towards the bottom-end of this price range may still run with a 1366 x 768 resolution screen, and you don’t want that).
Also try to avoid a TN screen if possible, and go for an IPS or VA panel, which will give you better colours (so everything looks more vibrant) and indeed viewing angles (so you don’t have to sit straight-on to the screen to get the best picture). The type of panel should be listed in the laptop’s specifications where it details the display.
Even if you’re not watching movies, you should still shoot for a 1080p screen ideally, although its exact nature may not be as important.
Otherwise, you may just be looking for a laptop purely for general computing tasks – browsing the web, sending emails, running the odd app or three. For the money we’re talking about here, you can get something to accomplish these tasks with ease. For general Windows usage, which may involve quite a lot of typing and clicking, a good keyboard with a decent typing action will be important, as will a responsive (and ideally fairly spacious) touchpad.
But in terms of the actual hardware inside, what should you be aiming for with your £400 - £600 laptop? That’s what we’ll consider next.
Processor and memory
The processor (CPU) and memory are effectively the engine of your laptop, and you should avoid skimping in these areas lest you pay the price in terms of hampered performance.
With the processor, you obviously aren’t going to get the world at this level of budget, but you’ll certainly be aiming for a good Intel or AMD chip. For example, there are plenty of laptops with Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors in this price range. You may find that they’re only dual-core CPUs, but those models will still be impressive performers and perfectly fine for most applications (quad-core may help in some cases, though, and it won’t hurt to have a processor with four cores on tap, if you can get one).
As for system memory, shoot for 8GB of RAM. Although 4GB will certainly suffice for general Windows duties, in an ideal world, we’d recommend the extra headroom if possible.
In the £400 - £600 bracket, we’d further recommend that you get a notebook with an SSD (solid-state drive) as opposed to a hard drive (or slower eMMC flash storage). You can read more about the reasons why in detail here, but suffice it to say that if you pick a notebook with an SSD, you’ll find everything happens much faster, whatever you’re doing.
And moreover with laptops, because you turn them on and off a lot, or close the lid and send the machine temporarily to sleep, resuming from that mode – or indeed booting from scratch – happens much more swiftly with an SSD.
The issue with SSDs is that they’re smaller than slower hard drives, but for this budget, you should be able to find a notebook with a sizeable enough solid-state drive. 256GB should do you fine, unless you’re planning to store larger media files on your machine, in which case a bigger hard drive is the correct decision.
Having an SSD will make a really noticeable difference in terms of the overall performance of your laptop, though. And because this is the price bracket where decent-sized SSDs become a realistic proposition, it’s definitely something worth mulling over.
Recipe for success
So your basic recipe for success is a processor with a solid amount of power (something like Intel’s Core i5 or i7 chips) backed with 8GB of system RAM, hooked up with an SSD – ideally a 256GB model to ensure you have enough room – or a hard drive if you need more storage space as a greater priority. With that solid set of core components in place, you can’t really go far wrong.
Incidentally, while we’ve focused on Windows laptops here, another option is a Chromebook. These generally run with a lesser spec than Windows machines, because the operating system they use (Chrome OS) is less demanding. They also tend to have smaller amounts of storage, but again need less, because they leverage Google’s online services to store files in the cloud.
A Chromebook could be a sensible pick if you’re happy to forego the Windows software ecosystem, and the great thing about these machines is that they’re built with cost-effectiveness in mind. So you can get a very slick model for around the £500 mark, like the impressive Asus Chromebook Flip which is a high-quality hybrid that can be used as either a tablet or laptop.
Game for a laugh?
Okay, as we promised earlier, let’s talk about games. Now, if you fancy doing a spot of gaming, you’ll want to consider the GPU inside the notebook. Most more budget-conscious laptops will use an integrated GPU – in other words, one built into the processor – but you can purchase a notebook with a more powerful separate (discrete) graphics card in the price range we’re talking about.
For example, at the time of writing, Dell’s Inspiron 15 7000 gaming laptop is available at the very top of our specified budget, although note this is not the newest model, but the one from last year that has an Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor. However, it meets all the core spec points we’ve discussed above, and it has a discrete GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card, which will generally speaking do a decent-to-good job with many modern games, as long as they’re not too demanding and you don’t crank the details.
Getting a GTX 1050 is a tasty find in this price bracket, to be honest, although you should still see notebooks with the likes of the GeForce GT 940MX on board, which will allow you to play casual games like Fortnite at middling settings with a solid level of smoothness (and indeed older games, too).
Sales and deals
That Dell laptop also illustrates another point well worth bearing in mind: that scouring the net for notebooks with substantial discounts (which may be older models, but still perfectly viable machines) is a very worthwhile pursuit (we can help there with our article that details the latest cheap laptop deals).
Equally, you can wait for big sale events where there are always plenty of bargains to be had, such as Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day. It can really pay not just to pick the right laptop, but to pick the right time to buy that notebook, too.
- Looking for a new laptop? Check out the ultimate laptop buyers guide
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