I’m 81 and living on a state pension. Which 15.6in laptop should I buy? – The Guardian


I am looking to change my laptop, which is about five years old. It’s an HP Pavilion g6-1d46dx running Windows Home Premium. Would you recommend one that is not too expensive? As I am 81 years young, I have to live on a government pension. Maere

The HP Pavilion g6-1d46dx was a decent mainstream laptop in its day, and you could replace it with something very similar. There have been lots of changes at the low end of the windows market, with touch-screen tablets and 2-in-1s, and at the high-end, with super-thin laptops with high-resolution screens, like the latest Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft’s new Surface laptop. But 15.6in laptops have not changed much, and they still sell by the truckload.

Today’s mainstream laptops are thinner than they used to be – your HP g6 is 1.4in thick – and cheaper. However, the standard specification remains much the same.

Your current laptop, for example, has 4GB of memory, a 500GB hard drive, a 1366 x 768-pixel screen and Microsoft Windows. That’s still the most common specification. Some 15.6in laptops now have touch screens, but those are optional. You’re probably not going to use a 15.6in laptop as a tablet, so you’d be better off spending the extra cash on an external Bluetooth or USB mouse.

Branding and buying

One thing that has changed is that three brands now dominate Windows PC sales in the USA, where you live. In the fourth quarter of last year, according to Gartner’s market research, HP had 30% of the whole PC market (including Apple), with Dell on 25% and Lenovo on 14%. Acer and Asus had about 4% each. There’s been a lot of consolidation in a declining market, which means non-specialist (and non-Apple) buyers rarely look beyond the top five suppliers.

Both HP and Dell sell PCs from their online stores, so you can look at those for special offers. If you buy online, both companies offer reasonably-priced support contracts that you won’t get from a retailer.

I am based in the UK, so I’m not very familiar with the American retail market, and I don’t know if you live within range of any particular stores. I’m therefore going to restrict my links to Amazon.com. However, you can search for alternative sources.

Target spec

The processor is usually the most expensive part of a mainstream 15.6in laptop and has the greatest impact on both price and performance. Your HP g6 has a 1.6GHz AMD A6-3420M quad-core processor, which is slow by today’s standards.

But while your g6 is old and slow, some of today’s 15.6in laptops are new and slow. For example, based on benchmark results, the HP 15-F222WM’s Intel Pentium N3540 quad-core processor probably runs even slower than your g6, and I’d expect the version with an AMD A6-7310 to run at about the same speed. These machines sell because they are cheap: they cost only $266.98 (£207) and $258.95 respectively.

Lenovo Ideapad 110



‘If you want something even cheaper, have a look at the Lenovo Ideapad 110 range.’ Photograph: Lenovo

For a little extra money – from $30 or $40 more – you can get dramatically better performance from a 15.6in laptop with an Intel Core i3-6100U or i3-7100U. These chips are much faster, and will provide a much more satisfying experience.

The “6” in the i3-6100U indicates that this is a sixth-generation chip and a year older than the seventh-gen i3-7100U. The newer chip has slightly more powerful graphics, but in practice, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Other things being equal, it’s better to have an i3-7100U, but it’s not worth paying much extra to get one. The i3-6100U is fine.

Some laptops have 8GB instead of 4GB of memory, and 1TB instead of 500GB hard drives. Both are improvements, and very nice to have, but not essential for your purposes.

Some laptops now have 1920 x 1080-pixel screens, which means you can see more data at once than on your 1366 x 768-pixel screen. It also means that everything looks smaller, which may not suit you. However, Windows has a built in scaling system to make text, apps and other elements bigger on your screen. To find it, type “scaling” into the Windows search/run box in the bottom left. You can try 125%, 150% or 175% and pick whichever you like. (You can actually try up to 500%; not recommended.)

Higher-resolution screens are better for viewing photos and watching movies, but you didn’t mention either in your emails.

Possible laptops

If you are happy with your HP laptop, you could get something similar but much more powerful for less than the cost of your old one. For example, Amazon.com is currently promoting a 2017 HP Flagship Premium model with a 15.6in touch screen, 2.4GHz Core i3-7100U, 8GB of memory, 1TB hard drive and DVD for $391 to $400 or so. (Search for 15-ay191ms to find different suppliers.)

This is slightly cheaper than the 2016 model with a 2.3GHz Core i3-6100U, currently priced at $399.99.

Dell offers an Inspiron 15 3000 with the same Core i3-7100U, but a lower specification for $379.99. This model has no touch, only 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive, so I can’t really recommend it. The Dell I like is $466.95, which is more than you want or need to pay.

Amazon.com’s #1 Best Seller at the time of writing is the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM, which has the Core i3-7100U with 4GB of memory and 1TB hard drive for $349.99. It’s cheap for a 15.6in laptop with a higher-resolution 1920 x 1080-pixel screen.

If you want something even cheaper, have a look at the Lenovo Ideapad 110 range. There seem to be dozens of different models, but Amazon.com currently has them (110-15ISK) with a Core i3-6100U, 4GB of memory, 1TB hard drive and DVD for around $300 (1, 2). Avoid versions with Pentium N3710 and Celeron N3060 processors.

Setting up Windows

You already know Windows, so Windows 10 should feel familiar. However, I recently answered a couple of questions on What’s the best way to set up a Windows 10 machine? and Which programs should I install when setting up Windows 10? Also see: How can I move my files and programs to a new PC?

To those, I’ll add another recommendation. If you are using a laptop for sustained work, raise the screen (buy a riser or use a pile of books) and plug in an external USB keyboard. Hunching over a laptop is bad for your health.

Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

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