Budget Laptop Battle: HP Stream 11 vs. Asus X205TA vs. Acer C720

Preface

Please note: these laptops, while still available from some retailers, have been replaced in the market by more recent devices. For a comparison of the more recent Windows 10 laptops – the Acer Cloudbook 11, HP Stream 11 2015, and Lenovo IdeaPad 100S, click here.

Last December, I bought my first Chromebook – the Acer C720. At the time, it was the only sub-$200 laptop on the market that I was aware of, and as a Chromebook running Chrome OS and not Windows, it required certain sacrifices. Despite its flaws, I fell in love with it immediately, and wouldn’t be writing this blog had I not purchased it.

Today, the budget laptop landscape is significantly different. After a year of running ad campaigns mocking Chromebooks (coining the term “Scroogled“) only to see them become a major player in the education market, Microsoft has done an abrupt about-face and embraced low-end PCs: they are waiving the Windows license fee for OEMs producing low-cost laptops running Windows 8.

At the same time, several other factors have combined to break down the cellar for low-cost Windows PCs:

  • Intel has created several low-power, low-cost x86-based processor configurations capable of running Windows efficiently
  • Microsoft found a way to reduce the installed size of  Windows 8.1 OS so that it can be run off 32 GB of total storage
  • Low-cost and cheap eMMC memory is now available as a storage medium instead of mechanical hard drives

The result of all these factors is that we’re actually seeing competent Windows laptops selling for less than $200. These aren’t the second coming of Netbooks, either; yes, they’re budget systems, but they can run the OS competently and without overly dramatic sacrifices in performance or hardware quality.

As a consumer, this means that in addition to the sub-$200 Chromebooks, you now have a variety of sub-$200 Windows laptops to choose from that are actually, well, pretty good! Today I want to compare and contrast three of these devices:

[Please note that the MSRPs above may not be available as of this writing – due to the upcoming Holidays some of these items are sold out and/or are selling at above MSRP, though at other times they may be available far below MSRP.]

For each device, I’ll look at its pros and cons, and compare it to the others. I’ll start with the newer Windows laptops.

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