There are some very cheap Windows laptops from companies like Dell, HP, ASUS, Acer and others, such as the HP 14-inch Laptop, AMD E2-7110, 4GB RAM, 32GB eMMC, Windows 10 or ASUS E200HA Portable Lightweight 11.6-inch Intel Quad-Core Laptop. (Amazon affiliate links)
Both are among the cheapest budget laptops and have 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Some computers have even less memory and there are ultra cheap laptops with just 2GB of RAM. Can you really run Windows 10 on such a low specification computer?
Yes, but there are limits to what they can do. There are much more powerful computers of course, but then they cost more and some people don’t want to or cannot afford to spend $1,000 on top of the range hardware.
1 Uninstall unwanted software
Low specification software are not likely to come with lots of junk software installed on them, simply because they are not very powerful. However, they may come with some or with links to download or install trial versions of software.
With limited memory and storage, low spec computers must be kept clear of unwanted software. In Windows 10 either press Windows+I to open Settings and click Apps, and open the Control Panel and click Programs and features.
Both contain lists of software installed on the computer. Check for programs you don’t need, like bundled trials. It isn’t even worth installing antivirus or other security software. Windows Defender is built into Windows 10 and does quite a good job of keeping the computer free of malware. Security suites will use up hundreds of gigabytes of storage space and might increase memory usage, so avoid them.
2 Avoid big applications.
Do not expect budget computers to run Photoshop and Premier Pro, the latest games, and other heavy duty applications. They might struggle with Microsoft Office too.
When there is limited storage space and memory, you must look carefully at the size of applications and how much resources they require to install and run. Instead of Photoshop, Paint.NET could be used. It doesn’t have as many features, but it is good enough for simple photo editing and graphics production. The best part is that it is only a 7MB download and it is free.
A budget laptop is not good for playing games because many games require powerful processors and graphics cards. Most are best avoided, but there are a few that will work and you can find lightweight games in the Windows Store. Check the specifications required and the download size.
3 Use portable apps
Installing software is best avoided as much as possible. Applications often install extra components into windows. On a PC that has had lots of software installed you can see dozens of items in Programs and Features that can bog down a low spec system. For example, I have 15 versions of Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable from 2005 to 2015 on my PC.
Every new app installs new dlls, background services, startup items and so on. Avoid installing software and bloating Windows by using portable apps. These are applications that do not need installing and more importantly, they don’t add unnecessary items to Windows.
Portable applications can be downloaded, unzipped and run. To remove them you just delete the folder.
There are several sources of portable apps and portableapps.com is a favourite. Click the Apps menu to see all the software, it is all free.
4 Use online apps
Budget Windows laptops have a specification that is barely better than Chromebooks. In fact, you should treat one like a Chromebook and use a browser for everything. There is very little you cannot do online in a web browser these days and it avoids the problem of installing software that bloats Windows.
Try to use Microsoft Edge if you can because it works quite well and saves having to install a browser.
Chrome is great and has some fantastic extensions, but it can sometimes use a lot of memory. I’ve seen tabs use 2GB of RAM of memory, although this isn’t common and is probably a bug either in Chrome or the web page. Don’t open too many tabs and don’t install lots of extensions because they use up memory fast.
Instead of running Microsoft Office on the computer, run Office Web Apps in a browser at onedrive.com, or use Google Docs at drive.google.com. Instead of Photoshop, try Pixlr Editor, BeFunky, or Fotor. Canva is great for creating graphics for projects or websites.
There are many more online apps to use instead of installing software.
5 Use online storage
If storage is limited on the computer, and some come with only 32GB of solid state storage, use online storage instead. Google Drive provides 15GB of online space for your files and unlimited photo storage at photos.google.com.
Instead of storing music in the limited storage space on your budget laptop, store them online. Go to play.google.com and select Music. You can store 50,000 songs online for free and play them on the computer, tablet or phone.
Microsoft gives 5GB of free online storage with ways to earn more space (see How to get more free space on OneDrive). Then there is Dropbox, Box and others. You could get more online storage than there is inside the laptop.
6 Add a USB drive
Even budget computers have USB 2 ports and super fast USB 3 is becoming increasingly common. Add more storage to the computer by adding a USB drive, a budget model of course.
It doesn’t cost much to add a few hundred gigabytes or even 1TB of storage space. They are great for storing files you don’t use very often, such as photos and videos.
Is a cheap laptop worth it?
As long as you are aware of the limitations of a budget laptop and don’t expect it to run like a top-end PC, then they are good for lightweight work like web browsing, email, some photo editing, playing music, watching streaming video and so on.
Avoid installing anything that might slow it down, use up memory or storage space. Keep it clean and it will be OK.