Best cheap laptop under £399: 10 to choose from

There are plenty of great budget laptops to pick up

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Laptops under £399 tend to have a specialisation. Essentially, this is because it's very difficult to appeal to everyone at such low cost.

Some are feather-light ultraportables, others compromise slimness for a higher spec and solid build quality, while others are aimed squarely at the business market and excel at office productivity apps and storage.

You will, therefore, need to ask yourself what you want from your budget laptop more than anything else. Do you really want to play games? Do you need it for the daily commute, and if so is it light enough?

Can you live with 720p playback or do you demand Full HD video? Do you need to edit lots of photos? Or just surf the net a bit?

Once you've figured out the tasks that are important to you, then you'll be able to scour the specs to see if a budget laptop can deliver them. Some things, like hardcore 3D gaming, will just be out of reach at this price.

This last year the world of sub-£399 laptops has also seen a significant influx of portable devices focused on the needs of the casual user, spurred on by the growth and popularity of tablets.

While even 'conventional' laptops are acknowledging this transition with touchscreen features, it's the number of Chromebooks (and a few Windows RT-based portables), which reflect the change most clearly with their 'cut-down' operating system and apps.

Chromebooks come pre-installed with Chrome OS, a highly optimised browser-based OS built from Google Chrome. This combines cloud services for storage and browser-based apps, and the key function of a Chromebook is to get you connected to the web as fast as possible. There is, however, one big caveat - If an app or service doesn't run inside the Chrome browser then you can't run it. This restricts you to any services associated with your Google account and apps available in the Chrome Store.

The Chromebook concept definitely isn't for everyone, then. But they are the kind of light, fast-booting portable devices that are idea for chucking in a backpack for a journey, flicking on to answer emails or for quickly looking something up on the web.

As much as Google wants to promote Chromebooks for general use, more processor-intensive activities, such as photo and video editing, aren't really that easy on this format and you'll also probably want to install extra software. You may also not wish to be confined to using Google services and browser products.

Printing is also a problem. Since Chromebooks are meant to lead a Wi-Fi-only existence, you'll need to check whether your printer supports the Google Cloud Print protocol, which less recent printers don't. If you desperately need to print out, you probably need to sacrifice one USB port to an Ethernet adaptor.

As you'll note from the budget portables that have done well in the last six months, the 'traditional' laptop hasn't entirely disappeared from this price range, which is why out of the 10 best budget laptops, five are laptops that have powerful processors, large amounts of storage and run Windows 8.

Acer C720 Chromebook - £199.99

Acer C720 Chromebook

The Acer C720 is a classic example of the crop of Chromebooks hitting the under-£399 laptop market. The C720's main draw is it's low price for quick and easy access to the internet using a keyboard instead of a touchscreen.

Taking the usual caveats of a Chromebook's intentional limitations into consideration, the 1.40GHz Celeron and Intel HD Graphics are more than adequate for the laptop's duties as a fast-booting computer sidekick. Even the 16GB SSD is acceptable for offline work, if you consider that it's meant to be used with cloud services and comes bundled with 100GB of free Google Drive space for two years.