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The Best Affordable Windows Laptops (That Don’t Suck)

Acer Swift 3 promotional image.Acer

You can get a good laptop, or you can get a cheap laptop. That’s the general wisdom, at least when it comes to something powerful enough to run Windows. At any budget under about $800, you’re looking at a bare minimum machine full of plastic and bargain bin parts.

But the laptop market is changing. With competition from cheaper low-power Chromebooks, and more flexible options thanks to AMD’s low-cost Ryzen chips, there are more choices in the lower price ranges than you might think.

What Makes a Laptop Not Suck?

That said, you can’t perform miracles. We’ve selected the best options in several categories at the lowest price for laptops that we’d consider using in our own work or leisure. While there were many choices at lower price levels, we knocked off any models that got notably poor marks from users or professional reviewers, and made other distinctions based on less obvious differences.

We also started with just one minimum specification. While a low-power processor, a low-res screen, or a plastic body aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, we think that trying to run Windows 10 on any machine with less than 8 GB of RAM is gonna be a bad time. Chromebooks can do with less, like the wonderful and extremely affordable Lenovo Chromebook Duet, but Windows has a lot more going on under the hood.

You can find some older models for less than the ones we chose, and a few currently produced ones at 4 GB or (shudder) 2 GB of memory. But we think these are the best in Windows laptops on the market that don’t suck.

The Best Standard Laptop: Acer Swift 3

Acer Swift 3Acer

If all you need is a regular laptop for browsing the web, reading email, and maybe watching the occasional movie, Acer’s Swift 3 is hard to beat. It comes in AMD and Intel varieties, but the SF314-42-R6YC variant packing a Ryzen 4500U is the one we recommend for those on a budget. It uses in a 14-inch, full HD IPS screen, a generous 256GB of SSD storage, and some surprising extras, like an illuminated keyboard and built-in fingerprint reader.

You won’t get a touchscreen in this price range, but the laptop does come loaded with a full-sized HDMI port for easy output to a monitor or TV, and USB-C charging along with two standard USB A ports.

Best General Cheap Windows Laptop

The Best Affordable 2-in-1 Laptop: HP Pavilion x360

Hp Pavilion x360HP

It’s hard to find an inexpensive laptop with decent specs and a fold-back 2-in-1 touchscreen design. The best one on the market is the Pavilion X360 from HP. We’re recommending the 14t-dw000 variant, which comes with 128GB of SSD storage. It’s using an Intel Core i3 10th-gen processor—something of a luxury in this category—though the 14-inch touchscreen is only “HD” at 1366×768.

The Pavilion X360 has a few premium touches, like a metal lid, integrated fingerprint reader, USB-C charging, and—a rarity on pretty much all laptops now—a full-sized SD card reader. While it’s compatible with an active stylus, one does not come in the box. Reviewers say the battery life isn’t great and the keyboard isn’t anything special, but performance, fit, and finish are well above expected in this price range.

The Best Affordable Big Screen Laptop: Dell Inspiron 17 3793

Dell Inspiron 17Dell

If you don’t often move your laptop around and prefer a big machine with a big screen, Dell’s got you covered. The latest generation of the Inspiron 17 (3793 model) packs a lot more of the comforts of a desktop while still being capable of travel (though it’s not coming out on any domestic airline flights). The base model on Dell’s website starts with a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a huge (but slow) 1TB hard drive.

But the real draw here is that 17.3-inch 1080p screen (non-touch in the entry model) and the variety of ports on its big body. You get a full-sized SD card reader, three USB-A ports, HDMI out, and, surprisingly, both a full Ethernet port and a DVD drive. (Remember those?) The drawback is there are no USB-C ports, and one of the USB-A ports uses the slower 2.0 standard. Also be aware that at over six pounds, this machine is more “luggable” than portable.

The Best Affordable Ultraportable Laptop: ASUS Zenbook 14

Zenbook 14ASUS

For those who want a svelte laptop that will turn a few heads in an airport gate, the Asus Zenbook 14 will fit the bill. This little aluminum alloy machine is more expensive than others on this list with comparable hardware, but it weighs just 2.65 pounds and it’s only .7 inches thick. Bargain hunters should seek out the Q407IQ version with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor—it’s considerably cheaper than the Intel version of this laptop.

The Zenbook 14 uses a discrete GeForce MX350 GPU for a little extra graphical power, which you’ll be thankful for on the 14″ 1080p display with thin bezels. It has 256GB of SSD storage and a MicroSD card reader, with both HDMI and USB-C ports, but sadly it doesn’t charge from the latter. Surprisingly, it’s the only laptop on this with a Windows Hello-compatible IR camera.

The Best Affordable Gaming Laptop: Acer Nitro 5

Acer Nitro 5Acer

Trying to find an inexpensive laptop that can hold its own in 3D PC games is a herculean task—the “budget” category for gaming laptops tends to start at four figures. But Acer’s Nitro 5 in its cheapest configuration is surprisingly affordable for a 15-inch machine packing a 10th-gen Core i5 processor and a mid-range GTX 1650 graphics card. That won’t be enough to play the latest games at full quality, but with a few compromises you should be able to use the laptop’s 1080p screen at 60 frames per second.

Other charms include a red backlit keyboard with tenkey area, 512GB of SSD storage, and dedicated HDMI and USB-C ports. And because this thing is bigger and more generous with space than most laptops, you should be able to upgrade the memory and storage with only basic tools, if you’d like a little more performance later.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

E-sports pros have “dream” jobs—but game publishers have all the power

James Eubanks competes during a <em>Call of Duty</em> final in 2017.

Enlarge / James Eubanks competes during a Call of Duty final in 2017. (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

In 2008, James “Clayster” Eubanks, then 16, decided he had what it took to be the number one Call of Duty player in the world. Growing up in Virginia, Eubanks owned all the latest consoles and specced-out gaming PCs; his house was the first on the block to have DSL. Now, he put all that practice to use, grinding up the Call of Duty ranks every single day, balancing his competitive ambitions against school, part-time jobs, girls. Playing the game professionally wasn’t an established career path yet, but there eventually came to be a loose circuit of tournaments. “It was really hectic,” Eubanks says. “But it became more and more sophisticated as the years have gone on.” Every year, tournament prizes got a little bigger. The competition got harder. He got more famous.

Then, the esports industry ballooned, as the massive popularity of League of Legends and Starcraft II esports kicked off a wave of big-money sponsorships and international stadium events. Publisher Activision began looking at competitive Call of Duty through a new lens. In 2020, Activision launched the Call of Duty League: 12 teams with five players each, representing 12 different cities around the world. As a top competitor playing on the Dallas Empire, Eubanks helped his team take the first Call of Duty League championship in July. He was thrilled. Then everything changed.

In August, Activision decided that professional Call of Duty games should be four-versus-four, not five-versus-five. Twenty percent of the league’s players had to go. Days after his big victory, the Dallas Empire dropped Eubanks, who had been designated fifth on the roster. “Got about 24 hours of happiness before I got thrown back into the blender, but that’s the story of my career,” Eubanks wrote on Twitter.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: WIRED

HDMI 2.1: What’s New, and Do You Need to Upgrade?

With next-gen consoles arriving by the end of 2020 and NVIDIA’s RTX 30 series of graphics cards cresting the horizon, HDMI 2.1 is looking more critical than ever. Does this mean you have to upgrade your TV to take advantage of the new features?

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Tim Brookes

You Can Now Sync Your Steam Games With NVIDIA GeForce Now on Chromebooks

Chromebooks are a perfect candidate for the game streaming revolution. They’re thin, they have a great battery life, and they’re more reliable than cheap Windows laptops. And now, a month after NVIDIA debut the GeForce Now web player, Chromebook users can finally sync their Steam library to GeForce Now without jumping over to a Windows or Mac machine.

Read This Article on Review Geek ›

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Andrew Heinzman

China may kill TikTok’s U.S. operations rather than see them sold


The controversial push to force Chinese tech unicorn ByteDance to divest part or all of its smash-hit TikTok social media service to a US-based company could be in doubt after a report today indicated that China’s government may oppose the transaction. According to reporting by Reuters, the Chinese government may prefer TikTok to simply shutter its U.S. operations instead of allowing it to be sold to an American company.

The potential divestment of TikTok is not a regular business transaction. Instead, the deal is being demanded by the U.S. government, as President Donald Trump directs foreign and economic policymaking via executive fiat. Leaning on his own fabled business acumen, the American premier has also demanded that his government receive a portion of any final sale price. It is not clear if that concept is legal.

As the U.S. and China spar around the globe for both economic and political supremacy, the deal is a flashpoint between the countries with a muddle of companies stuck in the middle. ByteDance is in the mix, along with Microsoft, Walmart and other companies to a lesser degree, like Oracle. The Trump administration has set a mid-September timeline for a deal being struck, though as the month burns away it is not clear if that timeline could be met.

The United States is not alone in taking steps to curb Chinese influence inside its borders, as the TikTok sale comes after India banned the app, along with dozens of other China-based applications.

The deal is also under pressure from a changing regulatory environment in China, with the country’s autocratic leadership changing its export rules to possibly include elements of TikTok that could limit a transaction, and perhaps scuttle its sale.

For ByteDance, the situation is a nightmare. For lead-suitor Microsoft, the transaction is a shotgun marriage that it might not be entirely enthused about. For the Trump administration, it’s an attempt at a power play. And for China’s increasingly authoritarian government, the deal could feel like submission. So, if the deal does manage to come together it will be more surprise than eventuality.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Alex Wilhelm

External PC Drive Bays Are Dying, And That Sucks

Two 5.25-inch drive bays: one a standard DVD drive, the other a 3.5-inch card reader in an adapter.bump Michael Crider

Even now that PC gaming is a bigger market than ever, those who build their own desktops are niche customers. So when I talk about desktop PC cases, I do so knowing my position represents a niche of a niche, and one that might fairly be criticized as old-fashioned. That said: Let’s talk about external drive bays!

Even more specifically, about the 5.25-inch external drive bay—the one that holds a CD DVD Blu-ray removable disc-based media drive. Please don’t kill it, PC case makers. I’m begging you.

Hard to Find

A couple of months ago, deep in the work-from-home malaise of the pandemic, I decided to upgrade my desktop PC’s case. I’d been using the Fractal Design R4 for my desktop for almost eight years, carrying it across three major system rebuilds and more individual parts than I can remember. I wanted something with a more modern internal layout for better cable routing, maybe easier-to-access bays for my hard drive and SSD, and—the real draw—a fancy USB-C port on the front panel.

So, I got to looking. In order to keep all of my current hardware, I’d need to find a case with two external drive bays, because I use a standard 5.25-inch DVD drive (the oldest dustiest piece in my case, which has been pulling sterling service since my very first PC build 12 years ago) and a camera card reader, which is technically a 3.5-inch drive in a 5.25-inch adapter. A 3.5-inch bay is the one you might remember as the “floppy drive.”

So, I plugged my needs into Newegg’s handy search filters: full-sized ATX motherboard case, at least one USB-C port on the front, two 5.25-inch drive bays. Here’s what I got:

Newegg screenshot

“Alright,” I thought, “External drive bays have kind of gone out of fashion now that everyone’s streaming movies and downloading games from Steam. I’ll have to settle for just one, and pick between my DVD drive and my card reader. Let’s drop the 5.25-inch bay requirements down to one.”

Oh dear.

Newegg screenshot

As it turned out, I could find precisely one modern ATX case with both a front USB-C port and one (and only one) 5.25-inch bay: the Fractal Design Define 7, the spiritual descendant of my own Define R4. So, I ordered it … and found out that, while my 1.5-year-old motherboard can handle the USB 3.0 connector necessary for some USB-C ports, it doesn’t have the 3.1 gen 2 connector that the R7 case uses.

So, in order to use this very fancy very expensive case, I’d need to ditch either my trusty dusty DVD drive or the camera card reader that I use on a regular basis, and I’d have to go without access to the USB-C port I wanted in the first place. Alternately, I could replace my motherboard, for something approaching a full PC rebuild—for another $300 or so.

Fractal Design Define 7There’s a 5.25-inch bay in there somewhere. If you look. Really hard.

I sent the Define 7 back, and shoved all my parts back into my old R4. I could find a similar case to the one I’m using now, but it wouldn’t have access to USB-C, and my current case isn’t so useless that I’m ready to ditch it. I’ll upgrade my PC case eventually, but it looks like this one’s going to make it to double digits in years.

Discs Aren’t Dead

As someone who hasn’t bought a physical game in years, I’m an odd champion for the physical disc drive, if not the disc itself. But it’s worth pointing out that physical media, while absolutely on the decline, still has some utility left.

The most obvious application here is movies. Cinemaphiles still demand Blu-ray for their gigantic uncompressed video files, especially now that more and more are coming in 4K: That’s why you shouldn’t watch a movie like Into the Spider-verse on a streaming platform (if you can help it). To say nothing of the arbitrary and somewhat random nature of actually buying movies on streaming—if a movie I want isn’t available on a platform I’m currently paying for, it’s often much cheaper to buy the DVD or Blu-ray than to buy it (or even rent it!) on a streaming platform.

Blu-ray discsOngala/

Which brings up another point: for some people, getting shipped physical media is the best option! When I was living in rural Texas, streaming a movie for two hours was less than a given on an unlimited LTE connection. Getting a 50GB Steam game might take a week or more. Going to the store or ordering something off of Amazon made more sense on a regular basis. Even Microsoft acknowledged this, offering the massive Flight Simulator 2020 in an admittedly unwieldy 10-DVD physical edition.

And that ignores the vast libraries of music and movies that many people already own in disc format. Plenty of people like to digitize that—bloated Plex libraries are an indication—and need a disc drive to do so. Sure, it’s possible to do that with an external disc drive, but then what’s the point of having a gigantic ultra-customizable desktop PC in the first place?

More Options Are Better

I’ve already said that my situation—needing or at least wanting a weird combination of the latest ports and compatibility with older equipment—is niche. But catering to niches via flexibility is what building your own PC is all about!

Multi-card readerStarTech

Take that card reader, sitting in the second 5.25-inch bay via a 3.5-inch adapter. I have to take photos for reviews on a regular basis—my photos need to be higher-quality than my phone can handle, and my camera’s old enough that Wi-Fi transfers are achingly slow. So a dedicated gadget inside my PC is great, both for the standard SD card and the occasional microSD transfer for fooling around with phones.

But that’s hardly the only use for a full-sized drive bay. Another common alternative for this space is a hot-swap hard drive bay, which allows users to insert and remove massive amounts of storage for high-speed transfers instantly. Gamers and enthusiasts like to use this space as a dedicated fan or light controller. If nothing else works, you can add just tons and tons of USB ports, connected directly to your motherboard.

A full-sized hard drive bay.Kingwin

More creative uses for the space include an unobtrusive reservoir for liquid cooling, or a handy little hidey-hole for your screws and tools, secondary status screens, or even a cup holder. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

Admittedly, some of these uses for the 5.25-inch drive bay are more practical than others. But in a product category that includes pyramids and cruise ships and whatever the hell this thing is, I think a modern case with modern ports and the option for some old-school expansion isn’t too much to ask for.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

When Is Android 11 Coming to My Phone, and How Do I Install It?

When a new version of Android is released into the world, the first question people ask is “when will my device get it?” The answer to that question is as complicated as the Android ecosystem itself.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Joe Fedewa

Zoom Users Can Now Secure Accounts with Two-Factor Authenticatoin

One of the beneficiaries of the global pandemic is, without a doubt, video conferencing companies. Zoom has seen its business skyrocket as more and more people work from home, and with that came security scrutiny. The company hasn’t been resting on its laurels, though, and now it’s introducing two-factor authentication (2FA) for your accounts.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Josh Hendrickson

Beloved PS2 Game ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ is Coming Back for 2021

screenshot from The Prince of PersiaUbisoft

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released way back in 2003. It was one of the first games that really showed off the new generation of hardware (PS2 era), enabling smooth and interesting gameplay that hadn’t really been possible before. It’s still fondly remembered today—fondly enough that Ubisoft will be bringing it back in remastered form next year.

Ubisoft made the announcement yesterday, during its Ubisoft Forward presentation. The new game is coming out January 21st. And this is a full remake, not just a remaster—it looks like everything’s been redone from the ground up, following the combat, level design, and story of the original game, but otherwise including all new elements. It’ll be coming to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC, with no word on next-gen consoles.

The original Sands of Time was the second 3D reincarnation of Prince of Persia, after a lackluster attempt on the PC/Dreamcast. It’s considered a classic, smartly weaving time-bending gameplay into both precarious platforming and innovative, multi-enemy melee combat. The story was also uncommonly good for the time, with critics and players praising the expressive Prince hero and his dynamic love interest Farah. Later entries in the series never reached the same level of acclaim, and the last time a 3D game in the series was released was in 2010.

All the visual elements of the game have been enhanced in both technical and design terms, but those who want to see the original (and somewhat cartoony) costumes and weapons will need to pre-order the game.

Source: Ubisoft via Engadget

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Michael Crider

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