As 2021 looks to be much the same as last year, many of us are still working from home. If your laptop is anything like mine, it’s probably had more than enough of the use and abuse of Work from Home (WFH).
That means that you might find yourself in the market for a new laptop. While some people are lucky to have the cost of their laptops covered by their employers, many of us have to pay out of our own pockets.
To save you some precious money, we’ve put together a list of the best budget laptops for WFH professionals that you’ll find in 2021.
These machines are hardy enough, fast enough, and powerful enough to get you through the workday, but they won’t cost you an arm and a leg!
What to look for in a WFH laptop?
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to settle for lower quality. Nowadays, you can get laptops with plenty of great features and specs for pretty much any budget.
That being said, if you’re expecting to get the latest MacBook on a shoestring budget, you’ll need to lower your expectations.
Here are the basic specifications you’ll need from a laptop to do general office-type work. If your job requires specific programs or software, you’ll need to check whether it is compatible with your desired machine.
RAM stands for random access memory. It’s not memory that can be used to store files. Instead, it is sort of like a waiting room.
RAM allows you to run and access multiple programs and documents. When a document or program isn’t being used it’s stored in RAM so that it can be accessed when needed.
The larger the amount of RAM the more simultaneous programs and files can be run.
For most people, 4 GB of RAM will be sufficient. This will allow you to flick back and forth between spreadsheets and documents as well as running a few browser tabs. You’ll also be able to run video meeting software.
The processor is the brain of the computer. It tells every other part of the laptop what to do and when.
You want a processor that can handle the demands of your job. A weak processor will lead to a slow laptop that struggles to run programs.
You’ll want to look for a laptop with an Intel i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 processor.
When it comes to hard drives, you have three options: solid-state, hard disk, and eMMC
Solid-state drives use memory chips to store information. They don’t have any moving parts and are quicker, newer, and more expensive than hard disk drives.
Hard disk drives work in a similar fashion to CD players. They have a small disk which data is written on and read from.
Hard disks are cheaper but tend to be less reliable due to the moving parts. They still work well enough and are great for budget choices.
Hard drives are less important nowadays with many people using cloud storage instead. However, you will need sufficient space to install any programs and software you want to use.
eMMC stands for embedded multimedia card. These are small storage cards that are often used in notebooks and budget laptops. They don’t have a huge amount of space, but they can be supplemented by external storage devices.
You’ll need about 80 – 125 GB of storage. This will let you install your basic software and have room for files and pictures.
The ports on your laptop allow you to connect devices like keyboards, mice, web cameras, microphones, and storage devices.
Our advice is to go for at least 2 USB ports that way you can plug in storage and devices.
You might also want to check for an ethernet port. This will allow you to plug your laptop directly into the internet router. You’ll get faster connection speeds compared to using Wi-Fi.
If you have to use Zoom or Teams to do virtual meetings, you’ll need a webcam. Most laptops have a built-in webcam which will be more than good enough for your team meetings.
Chromebooks: What are they?
Whenever you start searching for budget laptops Chromebooks will pop up. Many people get confused about the differences between Chromebooks and laptops so let’s take a look.
Chromebook is a brand name for any kind of notebook computer that runs on Google’s operating system. They require an internet connection to be used most effectively as everything is run and stored online and in the cloud.
Notebooks are slimmed-down laptops. They tend to be smaller and have reduced functionality. They will use either Chrome or Windows operating systems.
Often, notebooks don’t have internal storage so that may be missing from the description. That’s ok because documents and files are saved to the cloud.
If your computing needs are light, for instance just viewing and editing documents then a notebook should serve you well enough.
If you’re interested in getting a notebook, there are plenty reviewed in detail on this article about laptops that cost around $150. Pretty much all of these notebooks are suitable for a budget and working from home.
The Best Budget Laptops
Here are our picks for the best budget laptops for working from home.
- 4GB of RAM
- 125GB of SSD memory
- 3 USB ports, card reader, HDMI, ethernet, and headphone/microphone ports
- 15.6-inch screen
- Intel Quad-Core Pentium Silver Processor
This is a nifty machine that can keep up with a lot of hard work.
The RAM is on the light side but more than adequate for basic office work. If you’re planning on using a lot of programs and tabs, you’ll need to up the RAM a little bit.
We love SSD storage. It’s unusual on a machine this cheap but wonderful to see! You’ll have plenty of space for files and programs.
This laptop also has 10 hours of battery life. This means that you can snuggle up on the sofa on those cold mornings with your work.
Our only gripe is the processor. It’s not particularly powerful which means that it might run a bit slower with more intensive work.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15″ Laptop, 15.6″ HD (1366 x 768) Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3250U Processor, 4GB DDR4 Onboard RAM, 128GB SSD, AMD Radeon Vega 3 Graphics, Windows 10, 81W10094US, Business Black
- 4GB of RAM
- 128GB of SSD storage
- 3 USB ports, HDMI, headphone jack, and SD card reader
- 15.6” HD screen
- AMD Ryzen 3 processor
Lenovo IdeaPads are great laptops. They are 15-inch workhorses that can cope with the stress and strain of all your work.
This laptop has a 128GB SSD which is excellent to see at this price point. You’ll have space for your software and files and some.
The 4GB of RAM is supported by the Ryzen 3 processor to make this laptop pretty speedy during everyday tasks. It’s a great pairing, to be honest.
The screen is wonderfully large to help reduce eye strain while you work. It’s also HD-ready and has narrow bevels so you can make the most of the screen. This laptop would be ideal for watching movies on after a long day of work.
HP Stream 14-inch Laptop, Intel Celeron N4000, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB eMMC, Windows 10 Home in S Mode with Office 365 Personal for 1 Year (14-cb187nr, Diamond White)
- 4GB of RAM
- 64GM eMMC storage
- 3 USB, HDMI, SD card reader, headphone jack
- 14” display
- Intel(R) Celeron(R) N4000 Processor
First things first, the processor is not great it has a speed of 1.1Ghz which is about half the speed of the others on this list.
If your work requires intensive programs or massive amounts of multi-tasking you’ll want to choose a different laptop.
If, however, you only need to run a few video calls and check some emails, this is a great budget machine.
The internal storage is quite small, but you do get a whole terabyte of cloud storage free for a year with this laptop. The Office 365 subscription is a definite boon for this laptop. It means you can use Microsoft apps like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for a year for free.