The Best Cheap Laptop/PC for New Users (Or To Take on Travels)

I recently set myself a challenge to find a perfect laptop for someone if they are new to the PC world or wanting a cheap PC to take with them whilst travelling and don't want to spend a lot. First, I set myself a few requirements.

1) Must be cheap 2) Must run a word processing software, PowerPoint and Excel 3) Must include mouse, keyboard and monitor 4) Must run Dreamweaver and Visual Studio (or other code editor)

I was slowly but surely planning this challenge out and remembered a laptop I was gifted by a family member in a swap with a PSU! This would fit the mouse, keyboard and monitor requirement which would allow the budget to be dropped which is handy! This laptop in question is the Acer Aspire 5720. Let’s run though the system specifications: CPU – 2C/2T Intel Pentium T2330 @1.6GHz boosting up to 2.1GHz GPU – Intel GMA X3100 RAM – 2GB DDR2 @330MHz HDD – Not included Screen – 15.4” 1280x800 @60Hz

So looking at the laptop’s internals I found an Intel Socket P CPU (before I knew what the specs were) which looked good seeing as I could upgrade the CPU. The whole system is made up of chunky copper cooling pipes and looked like cooling wouldn’t be an issue. I did however notice a large spot missing in the PC… Upon further inspection it is a slot for a dedicated GPU! I also found that there wasn’t a HDD so I put in my own HDD (Slim WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM) this HDD would be a nice addition to the system as it would not only allow me to use it, it has a faster RPM than the standard 5600RPM it would’ve shipped with. With some research done I found that it shipped with a 120GB HDD. The PC powered on but without any OS loaded which was not an issue. Then came the question of which OS? Many people on the Facebook group said 7, XP and Linux Mint. I asked myself the question and answered it with “Yes”. I set myself to try ALL major operating systems in order to try and find which one is the most user friendly and the best performance.  These were the Operating Systems I chose to test: - Windows XP - Windows Vista - Windows 7 - Windows 8.1 - Windows 10 (32 and 64 bit) - Linux Ubuntu - Linux Raspian

All Operating Systems were installed 32bit up until Windows 10 as some users reported better performance with <4GB RAM. I decided to run a few tests on each operating system. - General file system browsing - General use - Word processing (Libre Office Writer) - Simple Excel equations (Libre Office Calc) - A 20 slide PowerPoint with designs on every slide (Libre Office Impress) - Watch a movie in 720p (No 1080p due max to resolution of screen) - How working on a 6 page website felt - How working on a JS, HTML, CSS game of Pong I made felt. - Playing the game of Pong - How easy it was for a new computer user to find the search engine - How easy it was for a new computer user to launch word processing software

Windows XP: Windows XP was suggested a few times by some members in the Tech Support group whilst others said MS-DOS obviously trying to get a few funny reactions and admittedly it did make me chuckle. Windows XP first of all was hard-ish to obtain but was done easily enough. Installation was done VIA USB and was about as simple as can be. So much so that even though it isn’t part of the task but I could trust a new user to set it up without messing it up… Too much at least… Loading in for the first time was admittedly sluggish but it was it’s first boot so I left it for 10 mins and restarted it. After this restart it was like being thrown back into 2008 and I actually found myself playing about half an hour of Space Cadet. I couldn’t connect to the Wi-Fi wirelessly even though the Laptop had a wireless card in it so I connected Via Ethernet with no issues. General browsing felt fine, browsing files felt fine, web browsing slowed down a bit but is expected, however it was still usable. Streaming 720p from YouTube was fine with some occasional stuttering but wasn’t really present. Using the office software was fine but PowerPoint did encounter a few slows here and there, but as always was still very usable. I watched 20 minutes of Braveheart in 720p on this laptop and didn’t experience any stutters after the first 5 minutes and I am unsure to why it only occurred in the opening scenes? Working on a website with Dreamweaver CS6 was a pain as I don’t think CS6 was designed to use XP. Either way I soldiered on. Through multiple crashes in 10 minutes I had to give up. When it wasn’t crashing it worked kind of surprisingly well. Granted there weren’t many images on these pages and not a lot to render but there was 6 content-full pages being worked on almost seamlessly. Getting Visual Studio on XP was a challenge, so I worked my way down the versions and found that the latest one that worked was VS2010! Whilst working on this JavaScript based project it took a few seconds to load here and there but it pretty much worked a treat AND playing pong unsurprisingly worked flawlessly! For the new user in question to find the search engine was extremely easy as the laptop featured an Internet Explorer button and was found in seconds. To find word processing software was fine as long as the software was on the desktop, but the user took a touch longer to find word amongst the other applications.

Windows Vista: Windows Vista was what the laptop was designed to run on… Even though it was supposed to run on Vista that isn’t necessarily true, this is because nothing should ever run on Vista. Vista hating aside the Operating System kind of ran okay, everything felt fine, but it had occasional major slow downs just browsing files and messing around with the widgets. I also had one crash but aside from that all was okay. As this operating system is more intensive than XP we saw major slowdowns and even a refusal to start in Dreamweaver and VS. Watching movies was fine. I was unable to get our beginner user to use this OS, on my fault.

Windows 7: Unfortunately this is where things start to dip down… It was usable but very frustrating due to the constant slow downs. Browsing the internet and streaming videos in 720p was fine but with occasional buffers but that is most likely due to slow internet speeds. Our user was able to find notepad and internet explorer fine. Visual studio was incredibly slow and hard to use and as for Dreamweaver it was about the same.

Windows 8.1: Windows 8.1 is a funny one. On the standard desktop it was kind of fine with regular slowdowns but on the other Windows 8 desktop it caused the laptop to suffer really bad and was unusable. Our user was able to find everything on the standard desktop fine but only found Chrome on the other desktop. I was able to use CS6 on this OS but it really suffered and was barely usable, this stands for VS as well. When checking task manager to see what was struggling the most we saw the CPU bouncing between 95% and 100% with RAM being constantly pinned at 100%. We could see a slight improvement with more RAM.

Windows 10: I really wasn’t expecting Windows 10 to work at all but it did… Kind of. It booted and any time we tried to open anything at all even pressing the Windows key, the laptop just shut off. This presumably was because of the heat being pumped out of it and everything being pegged at 100% constantly. Unfortunately our user was unable to complete the test as it just shut off.

Linux Ubuntu: Ubuntu was quite interesting. Our CPU resources were around 30-50% just on the desktop whilst our RAM was sat at 70%. Our user was able to find Libre Office fine but couldn’t find any browser as they had not seen the Firefox logo before. Using the laptop to browse files was fine and word editing was perfect! I had to install a programme called Brackets for our HTML/CSS editor this time and that worked okay most of the time but with at least one slow down every minute. If you are working things out on it and not sure exactly what to type I would say it is fine to use. For our Visual Studio test I used an brackets again and installed a JS plugin so that I could run my programmes. This stuttered a lot with all resources being at 100%.

Linux Raspian: Raspian worked the best, presumably because it is made to go on very low spec machines, bear in mind the new Pi beats this laptop in performance. When using the GUI our use said it looked a lot more plain and they didn’t like it. I had an issue getting Brackets on this OS and it would randomly shut down. I assume it is because it isn’t designed to run on this device. Nonetheless the 5 minutes of browsing I was able to do felt speedy and perfect!

The Upgrades:

Now, I had upgraded this CPU and had to redo all of these tests. The CPU went from a T2330 to a T7500: a Core 2 Duo CPU and apparently boasted a 44.3% increase in performance. Our clock went from 1.6GHz boosting up to 2.1GHz to 2.6GHz boosting up to 2.8GHz. We also gained the ability to use faster RAM! For the RAM I took out the 2GB of DDR2 330MHz and put in 4GB DDR2 800MHz Which aside from doubling the amount, we were running in dual channel and at a higher frequency!

Retesting with Upgrades:

Retesting all of our Operating Systems took some time but every single one felt more snappy and quicker. In Windows 10 we were actually able to open files and programmes although not able to do anything too intensive otherwise it would shut off still. So overall I think with the CPU and RAM upgrade this laptop became a lot more useable especially in Windows 7 and Ubuntu. Therefore I think that the best OS for this laptop is…. Ubuntu! HTML/CSS/JS editing was much quicker and easier than Windows 7 and hooking the laptop to a 1080p display we were able to play 1080p video kind off, it encountered slight stutters in Ubuntu but was terrible in Windows 7.  Would I recommend this laptop? The laptop itself would cost £20/$26.17 or I found one for £15/19.63 with a hinge cover missing. The CPU cost £3/$3.93 and the RAM cost £7/$9.16. In total this build cost £30 (£25 with a hinge cover missing) Thankfully I got this laptop for free! Overall If you are looking for something for a new user that wants to browse facebook, youtube or the Tech Support website: then Yes. If you have a PC and want to do some HTML/CSS/JS editing on the train on holiday… Yes! I was unable to find a 5720 with these upgrades in already but you might. 

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