If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Would that I had heeded this saying before I leaped in and purchased my HP Stream, a sturdy little laptop colored a bright, artificial, Kandy Krush blue. At the time, I just needed a bare-bones Windows laptop for my extended, overseas backpacking trip: it had to be light enough to carry in a daypack, have Microsoft Office, tough enough to not break, and cheap enough so that if it was stolen, my heart would not be broken.
I would soon discover that the Stream was good only for the last point: being cheap enough to be an easily expendable loss. In fact, sometimes I soon began to wish that a car would run over the damn thing, or that a wayward, runaway dog would snatch it in his greedy jaws, never to return.
Within a few weeks, the keyboard started crapping out. I first lost the n, l, and m keys, which rendered the laptop almost unusable. After all, those keys are respectively, the sixth, tenth, and fourteenth most frequently used letters in the English language. As you can imagine, it made typing a pain, as I had to pound on each key several times, before the screen would spit out a letter. Thankfully, Enoch suggested that I buy a wireless or bluetooth keyboard–which rendered the laptop usable again, even though it added a bit of weight.
Then, within a few months, the internet browser started losing tabs. If I opened five tabs, used one of them intensively, and then turned back to one of the other, unused tabs–the unused tab would have to load the page all over again. I’d be stuck there waiting for the blank screen to clear up, wondering what the hell was going on, until it hit me: the computer simply didn’t have enough RAM to keep all those tabs open and fully loaded.
And that, my friends, is the root of the problem. Because $200 laptops are so cheap, manufacturers are forced to limit the RAM to the bare minimum to keep the system from crashing, which is 2GB. As anyone with even a little bit of computer knowledge, 2GB is not enough RAM to do anything, not to run two programs side-by-side, or even a single program like Google Chrome.
But this problem isn’t just limited to the RAM; it extends far and wide across the Stream, as well as its $200 brethren. For instance, the Stream has a single, solid-state drive–but one that only holds about 21 GB, and after vital programs such as Windows, Office, and Chrome are installed, only sports about 5 GB of free space. Luckily, there’s space for a micro SD card, but given how easy it is to eject the damn thing, users really risk losing their documents or unsaved work.
So that’s really the issue here: money and components. Lest you, my fellow Frugal Ones, think that I’m complaining–I’m not. If anything, this tale is borne of my own carelessness, hence the reason I’m sharing it with you. The Stream has its limitations due to price, and it’s just better to shell out an extra $200 or so to buy a better computer that goes for about $400, like the ultra-light Asus Vivobook, with 4GB of RAM, or the Dell Inspiron 11 3000, a 4GB machine that offers a Pentium processor and 500 GB of storage–and can switch between a laptop and tablet to boot.
One alternative to low-priced, low-powered Windows laptops are Chromebooks, most of which are simple, light, and sturdy enough to justify their low price. My girlfriend has the Toshiba Chromebook 2, a steal which offers 4GB of RAM, a stellar display, and fantastic battery life. Of course, all the usual comments about Chromebooks apply: their functionality is supremely reduced in offline mode, and outside of Google Drive, it’s tricky to use Microsoft Office substitutes to open and edit documents. But they’re good for what they are, and definitely a better alternative than super-cheap Windows laptops like the HP Stream.
Anyways, Frugal Ones, hope this entry was helpful! As always, leave us some thoughts in the comments below. Do you guys have any thoughts on cheap laptops, or recommendations?