The best budget office notebook for less than $500 is the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S. It combines high mobility with decent performance and great workmanship. In view of the fair price, the few disadvantages of the 14-inch model are easily bearable.
Of course, a cheap office notebook does not have to accommodate the latest technology or be visually up-to-date. But it should do exactly what it is needed for Office applications. So word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and everything else you need in the office.
We looked at six models up to $500. Each device has its advantages and disadvantages, but who does not want to spend much, must always make compromises.
Here are the 3 best of the best budget notebooks for work
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is currently the best office notebook for us to $500. It not only provides enough power for the not too complex everyday life but is on top of that also stable and high quality processed. Here we may speak of a truly smart implement.
Due to its compact size and low weight, the IdeaPad is also ideal as a constant companion for on the go. In addition, battery life and connection variety – just works the integrated HDD lame than an SSD, but also offers a lot more storage space. Also, the display is not a very stable angle. But such weaknesses can be overcome with regard to the low price.
If you want a larger screen and spend a little more money, the HP 250 G6 is an interesting alternative. In addition, the system offers more RAM, a nimble SSD and thus a more responsive operation than the favourites. The flash memory is also sufficient enough. The battery life is slightly lower than the Lenovo, but still above average.
But the HP notebook weighs a lot more, offers only a moderate screen and only a one-year warranty. The price is currently around $359 but only slightly more expensive.
The search for a classic office notebook at a fair price is difficult: in the price range up to $500, hundreds of models of various configurations – but which are really worth what?
Even with a budget notebook, important issues such as workmanship, everyday performance and mobility should reach a level that does not torment daily use. Because even those who use their laptop “only” for the writing of e-mails, Word documents and surfing the Internet may make demands on the device.
Fortunately, the days are over when you had to make with low-priced notebooks strong cuts in processing or performance. Our favourite not only works fast, it also fits in a slim and sturdy case and is equipped for mobile use. The same applies to our alternative recommendations. With the right combination of state-of-the-art processors and useful components, today’s notebooks make working pleasant at a low price.
Of course, you should not expect luxury performance for classic office notebooks in the price range below $500. At this price, you have to get over the fact that the device sweats when editing complex Photoshop files or capitulates before playing games. Even on crisp displays or on extras like a touchscreen you have to do without in this price range.
More important is that the base is right. So we attach great importance to a decent pace of work in the productive Windows everyday life: Word, Excel and Co. as well as surfing the Internet have to work smoothly. We also want good workmanship, a decent keyboard and a display that ideally can be used outdoors as well.
The same goes for mobility: Many cheap notebooks are relatively large and heavy, also save the manufacturers like battery life. But many want to edit their emails and documents of the socket. If a notebook with a long battery life can shine, that’s a plus.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S convinces with office-grade performance, respectable battery life and high-quality workmanship – all at a very affordable price.
We had the Lenovo IdeaPad in the model variant “80X400B1GE” in the test. This includes a terabyte hard drive (HDD), which thus provides more than enough storage space. As a processor, the Intel Pentium 4415U is used, which works only with two cores, but hyperthreading four threads coped.
The maximum clock rate is 2.3 gigahertz. There are also four gigabytes of DDR4 memory available. Thanks to its only 14-inch screen and low weight, it is extremely compact and therefore very portable.
Processing and battery life
For the price of just under $400, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is surprisingly high quality. It has no aluminium unibody, only the top of the lid is made of aluminium. For the rest of the housing, the manufacturer relies on plastic. Fortunately, this is not the cheapest variety and almost consistently clean. Only a closer look reveals some small gaps.
Good workmanship and above-average battery performance
If you travel a lot or have to work in different places with a notebook within the company, you can breathe a sigh of relief with the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S: the weight is just 1.69 kilograms, so it’s pleasantly light.
But not only the weight, but also the battery life is important for frequent travellers. The IdeaPad can also score points here because the device can be operated above-average distances away from sockets. Lenovo itself promises that the 30 watt-hour battery can last up to 12 hours. However, this value is not practical. In our tests we measure “only” seven hours, with continuous surfing via WLAN – for a notebook in this price range, this is a very good runtime.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S processor is the Kaby Lake generation Intel Pentium 4415U. The U in the model designation stands for »ultra-low-power« and distinguishes particularly economical CPUs, which reach their high efficiency above all by restrained clock rates – here it is 2.3 GHz, an automatic turbo cycle does not exist.
The Pentium processor is equipped with two cores, but thanks to the integration of hyperthreading, the CPU manages four threads because the technology provides each core with a virtual counterpart. Combined with Kaby Lake’s architecture enhancements and stable clock frequency, the compute chip almost achieves the performance of more expensive Core i3 processors. This means that there is always enough power for everyday computer work.
The RAM is not generous with four gigabytes of DDR4 but sufficient for an office notebook. Only the integrated hard disk causes the Lenovo notebook to take a break from time to time. This is because the read and write head must first retrieve the correct data on the rotating magnetic disks. With an SSD, on the other hand, the operating system directly accesses the flash memory and is, therefore, a lot faster.
Although no SSD still sufficient performance
Moreover, due to the mechanical, moving hardware, an HDD is not as robust as an SSD, which consists only of a board with soldered memory modules. But flash memory is a lot more expensive, which is why often only small capacities are used. In contrast, the built-in HDD offers a whopping 1000 gigabytes of memory – more than 900 gigabytes are available from the factory at leisure. If you have a lot of data, you hardly have to worry about space problems with the IdeaPad 320S in this configuration variant.
On the other hand, if you want to play something on the notebook or do complex multimedia tasks, then we have to disappoint you. The integrated graphics solution Intel Graphics HD 610 is simply too weak for that. After all, it dominates current codecs such as HEVC (H.265) and the copy protection HDCP version 2.2 – this is important, for example, when playing 4K content. Watching videos is no problem, editing videos or gambling demanding computer games should not be done with the IdeaPad.
The cooling of the components inside the Lenovo IdeaPad is done by a single fan, which is hardly audible at low computational load. Even under heavy load, the fan rushes only a little stronger – very nice! The case is noticeably warmer, but not really hot, so the device can also be used on your lap at any time.
Also not self-evident and therefore pleasing is the support for wireless networks in the latest ac standard. Even those who have switched their wireless network on the interference-resistant 5-GHz band comes with the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S so easily online.
Display – not quite perfect
The 14-inch display of the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S typically resolves to 1366×768 pixels (WXGA). It is not as sharp as expensive Full HD models. For the work with Office and the surfing respectively researching on the Internet, the resolution is sufficient.
Lenovo has given the IdeaPad a matte screen so that strong reflections are missing. Even in sunlight, the contents on the screen can still be recognized. Apart from that, the screen does not smear with fame. Thus, the picture is relatively dark even at maximum brightness, in addition, the contrasts fall off sharply, as soon as you look at the side of the screen – here, the TN panel used is clearly noticeable.
Nevertheless, we find the work with the screen as pleasant. Home theatre capability can not be expected in this price range anyway, but for the occasional streaming, the display of the Lenovo model is quite good.
The display could be better
A more positive impression is the keyboard in an island or chiclet design – which means that the keys are free. The pressure point of the keys is pleasantly crisp, which is not always the case in a rather low price range. With the touchpad, you have to press a little harder if you want to trigger a mouse click. But when it comes to precision, nothing negative can be determined here, as the Clickpad always follows our finger reliably.
Of course, it can not compete with noble notebooks, the operation of Windows 10 works in practice but better than it is the case with many other models in this price range.
A notebook that meets all requirements, there is simply not in this price range. This also applies to the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S: The CPU performance of the Pentium 4415U, as already mentioned, falls back against alternatives with Intel Core i3 or Core i5.
Everyone who wants to play a game of relaxation will notice this, but this is also due to the weak, integrated graphics solution. Even with downshifted details, older 3D games run jerky at best. If you still want to play on the IdeaPad 320S, you should, first of all, consider classics from sites like GOG.com or games from the Windows Store that do not overtax the notebook.
If you want to expand your IdeaPad, you have to make something: First of all, the entire base plate can be loosened over the screws, for example, to change the main memory or the hard disk. But the plate itself is also hooked in the case – gentle pulling brings nothing here and with increasing force and the risk of damaging the notebook increases.
Beware of crafting
However, if you take a lot of time and remove the base plate patiently and carefully, you can upgrade the components mentioned above. Since this form of disassembly is not intended by the manufacturer, the warranty claim is also invalid.
That being said, our criticisms are limited. So the display is not too stable angle stable and can not compete with more expensive models even with brightness. It should not go unmentioned the integration of a USB port in the modern Type-C format: Who wants to operate an external hard drive with USB-C port on the IdeaPad 320S, no longer has to resort to an adapter. On the other hand, the decision to manufacture one of the two regular USB ports according to the old USB 2.0 standard is somewhat questionable. For fast external hard drives or USB sticks, IdeaPad thus offers only one port.
Speaking of “external”: Like many of the current notebooks, Lenovo does not use a built-in DVD drive with the IdeaPad 320S. If you want to install Office & Co. from a CD or DVD, you must plan for an external DVD drive when purchasing.
Laptop expert Mike Wobker is also impressed by the high-quality workmanship and the performance:
Lenovo provides the IdeaPad 320S with a useful device for simple tasks. Design and equipment are aimed at practically oriented users who do not want to sacrifice quality for low performance. For a similar or higher purchase price, we have seen much worse notebooks.
All in all, the Lenovo laptop achieved a good overall rating of 80 per cent.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S was also tested by the team from CHIP but with an IPS panel and 128 GB SSD instead of an HDD. Even the expert, Thorsten Nowag praises the great workmanship of the device:
The workmanship of the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S-14IKB is pleasantly high-quality and the input devices, especially the touchpad, are at Lenovo’s typical high level. A tiny drawback remains – with the slightly slippery key surface.
Only with more complex tasks, the notebook quickly reaches its limits:
However, image and video editing may become a game of patience, if at all possible. This is due to the manageable 4 GB of RAM, which is already well utilized by Windows 10 alone.
The rating for CHIP for the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is a good 79.5 per cent, the price performance is rated as “good”.
As already mentioned, the selection of budget office all-rounders is gigantic. But for us, only two notebooks come as alternatives to our favourites in question.
The HP 250 G6 is our first alternative and differs significantly in some respects. The notebook offers a larger screen with higher resolution (Full HD), which allows a sharper view. In addition, the device has twice as much memory and completely dispenses with a lame HDD.
Instead, HP installs a nimble SSD with a generous capacity of 256 gigabytes. Since fit easily the most important programs along with operating system on it. Furthermore, the device always operates quietly and does not heat up too much, even with continued load.
The computing power is completely sufficient for the office or surfing the Internet, but more is not enough. The battery life is about 6.5 hours and despite the larger screen only slightly lower than the Lenovo – very good!
In addition, the battery can also swap, which is no longer standard in notebooks. In general, quite a few components can be replaced, but this requires the entire subfloor to be removed.
You have to compromise on the screen, which offers a comparatively low contrast and low brightness. As a panel, HP relies on the favourable TN technology, which proves to be quite unsteady. After all, the surface is dull and does not reflect.
In bright environments, however, the screen would have to be brighter to stay legible despite everything. With a weight of two kilograms, the notebook is also noticeably heavier than the other models.
Other weaknesses in the HP 250 G6: Although it has quite a lot of connections, buyers have to do without a modern USB Type-C connection. The manufacturer also gives only 12 months warranty. Compared with the other models in the test field, this is at least half the warranty period. But if you prefer to use a larger screen area and want an always responsive system, then the HP notebook is the ideal alternative for you.