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Looking for a low-cost laptop? Here's what you'll get

Looking for a low-cost laptop? Here's what you'll get

If you're not paying the big bucks, your laptop may have a low-resolution screen, slow processor or less memory and storage

With prices hovering around $150, a low-end laptop could be a tempting buy this holiday season, if all you want to do is surf the web, view streaming video and draft documents. But be aware that PC makers have stripped down the features to make these devices affordable. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping.

Operating system

Your options include Microsoft's Windows 10 or Google's Chrome OS. Windows 10 is a fully functional OS that can run a wider range of programs, and these laptops typically have more storage. Laptops with Chrome OS, also called Chromebooks, have a usage model similar to tablets and smartphones, and are good for web surfing, e-mail and online file storage. For video and gaming, Windows 10 is a better option.

Screen

Low-cost laptop displays are likely to offer resolutions of 1366 x 768 or 1280 x 800 pixels -- not as sharp as the high-def screens on higher priced laptops. You won't be able to watch full HD movies from Netflix on these low-resolution displays, which will support 720p videos.

Hard drive

You'll likely get a hard drive for main storage in a low-cost laptop; don't expect the faster and more power-efficient solid-state drive. Hard drive prices have been crashing, and PC makers are cramming 250GB or 500GB drives in low-cost laptops.

Webcam

Webcams, albeit the low-resolution kind, are a standard feature in low-cost laptops with Internet connectivity. Many PC makers advertise VGA cameras -- which should be 0.3 megapixels or less -- and 720p cameras, which should be have a resolution of 1 to 2  megapixels. Compare that to Microsoft's Surface Book, which starts at $1,499 with a 5-megapixel front camera and 8-megapixel rear camera.

Memory

A low-cost laptop may have 4GB of memory, which is enough to run Windows 10 OS. Some may go down to 2GB, but that would really slow you down. Memory prices have been falling, so some laptops may have 8GB of memory but lack other hardware features. Low-cost PCs typically have memory components installed directly on the motherboard, making it difficult to add or upgrade memory.

Processor

AMD's A4/A6/A8 and Intel's Celeron and Pentium may be in most laptops at the low-end. AMD's A4 and Intel's Celeron sit on the lowest rung of mainstream laptop chips, while AMD's A8 perhaps offers the best performance. Intel's chips are better at running everyday applications like Microsoft Word, while AMD chips have better graphics.

Ports and wireless

Wi-Fi should be a common feature, with some supporting the latest 802.11ac. You can also expect USB 3.0, 2.0, HDMI and SD slots in laptops. USB Type-C is new technology and mostly reserved for the more expensive laptops for now.

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