Five notebooks under R5,000 that are worth your money (and one that isn’t)

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South Africa is a country in desperate need of affordable notebooks. There’s also one thing this country is sorely lacking: a decent selection of affordable notebooks. So lacking, in fact, that we battled to locate enough machines for this feature.

It’s a fact that a notebook computer is almost an essential purchase in 2021, especially if you have school-aged children in your household. We’re often asked to recommend notebooks based on a variety of budgets, but it’s right at the bottom of the budget scale where matters become especially difficult. Portable computer hardware almost doesn’t exist under the R5,000 price point, which is the minimum you should expect to spend.

Here are the best options for your money — we say under R5,000, which is true. All of these machines cost R4,999 or less. Sadly, there’s very little worth your time or money in South Africa below that very specific cutoff.

Asus X543NA

If you’re after a notebook with decent build quality and the largest amount of storage on this list, you’re in the right place. Asus’ X543NA, like most of the machines on this list, uses Intel Celeron silicon at its heart — in this case it’s the company’s N3350 processor, a chipset that first launched in 2016. These are budget machines, remember?

There’s also 4GB of DDR RAM, 1TB of storage (HDD, not SSD) and Intel’s HD 500 graphics powering the more visual bits of Windows 10 Home. Asus’ 15.6in notebook has a 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is about standard for this price point, and there’s a full selection of ports to look forward to. Audio, HDMI, SD card, the works. Plus a webcam, because schools aren’t ever going to be the same again. There is no optical drive.

Why is it worth your money? Decent specs (for the price), fantastic storage, and Evetech’s also thrown in a backpack with this particular machine. It’s usually R6,000 — it makes the list because it’s currently on special.

★★★★★

Buy it from EvetechR5,000 [on special]

Acer A315

Acer used to field some really decent entry-level hardware, at well below the R5,000 mark. Used to. Now if you want to combine affordable and fit-for-purpose, then this Acer A315 is your go-to. There’s a circa-2017 Intel Celeron N4000 running the show inside this notebook, which puts it among the most powerful on this list.

Alongside is 4GB of DDR4 RAM, a 500GB HDD and Intel’s HD 600 graphics. In terms of spec, it’s a better option than the Asus above — unless all you care about is storage. There’s no optical drive, those are pretty much gone, and it includes most ports (ethernet, HDMI, audio, USB 2.0 and 3.0) barring USB-C and a DisplayPort. The 15.6in 1,366 x 768 LED display will get the Windows 10 Home job done. There’s no SD card reader, but there is a webcam.

Again, why should you buy one? This is the best overall spec you’ll find at this price point, along with adequate storage and essential features. Again, though, it’s on special. Normally it’ll set you about about R6k.

★★★★★

Buy it from Hi-Fi CorpR5,000 [on special, till 18 April 2021]

Lenovo IdeaPad S145

What? More Celeron? Say it isn’t so. Of course it’s so — this version of Lenovo’s IdeaPad S145 includes an Intel Celeron N4000 chipset running at 2.60GHz but be careful when you’re checking these out. The Lenovo S145 can be specced up considerably, but they’ll immediately jump out of this price bracket.

If you stay in BudgetLand, the other basic specs remains constant: 4GB DDR4 RAM, 500GB HDD, Intel HD 600 graphics (which are good for retro Good Old Games titles but little else) and a fine selection of leather jackets ports to play with. Are you seeing a pattern yet? USB, SD card, HDMI: the usual run of items you probably don’t really need are included.

The major difference? This setup doesn’t appear to be on special, so it’s the first to really come in at this price point. The trackpad is a little concerning — it seems a little small to us, but that’s easily fixed with a USB or wireless mouse.

★★★★★

Buy it from Makro R5,000

iLife Zed Air Plus

This one’s a little something special — in terms of spec it’s nigh-on identical to the Asus machine above. There’s an Intel Celeron N3350 inside, 4GB of RAM and 1TB of storage and it comes in under R5k. By rights, this should be higher rated. And yet…

And yet, we’re a little less convinced by the brand. iLife Digital is a relative newcomer to South Africa and seems to be a budget brand backed by companies in the US and India. We’re less familiar with the quality of these machines than the others on this list, which makes it a little harder to recommend them. We know what Asus, Acer, and Lenovo can do. These guys… not so much.

But… they mostly say all the right things, on paper. There are fewer ports here — two USB 3.0, the charge port and audio is about the size of it — but this is also the only machine to include a 1,920 x 1,080 display, albeit it on a cheaper twisted nematic (TN) panel. Your mileage may vary.

★★★★☆

Buy it from Incredible ConnectionR5,000

Asus E410

This Asus machine is a little more difficult to recommend than the one up top, despite the better spec. Intel’s N4020 makes this the most powerful notebook here (technically), the smaller 14in LED screen sports a 1,366 x 768 resolution and there’s 4GB of DDR4 RAM powering Windows 10 Home. The touchpad also doubles as the device’s numberpad, because Asus like to do that.

But it’s storage where matters fall apart here. The Asus E410 only ships with 128GB of storage, and it’s of the eMMC sort, so it’s soldered to the motherboard. We get what Asus have done — there are a collection of nifty design features and this is the best-looking machine on this list but there’s a reason why Apple never launched a selection of truly budget MacBook Air models (which is what Asus is attempting to offer here). Still, it could work.

This is certainly the most modern machine, with the inclusion of a USB-C port in addition to the usual run of USB-3-and-earlier ports, webcam, microSD card reader and audio jacks.  If you’re fine with the limited storage, which will fill up quick, this could be your best option. If you’re fixated on style and budget, it’s your only option.

★★★★☆

Buy it from Takealot — R5,000

One to avoid

Connex Slimbook 2

In general we try not to be too horrible to these sorts of machines but with the Connex Slimbook 2, we couldn’t just leave it. Some machines, like the Mecer Z140C-Xpress (which is still overpriced for what you get), have their flaws but manage to pull it back with a few aftermarket purchases (like a 256GB SD card) but the Slimbook 2 doesn’t even manage that.

This is a 14in 1,366 x 768 notebook with an Intel N3350 doing the heavy lifting. Seems normal, right? But this one features just 3GB of RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage as standard — you can increase your storage by up to 128GB using an included microSD slot but you’re not going to want to. The Slimbook 2 runs Windows 10 Home, in line with the other machines here, but the low RAM allocation and limited storage will make it a nightmare to handle extremely quickly.

Which also proves our point a little. Barring some magical device coming in R1,500 cheaper than the candidates on this list while retaining all their features (it doesn’t exist, don’t get your hopes up), your starting point for an adequate notebook in South Africa, in 2021 at least, is R5,000.

★★☆☆☆

Buy it from Incredible Connection — R3,700

Header image by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

 

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Brett, thank you for the article.

    im sure you meant it in a positive way,

    re the Connex Slimbook 2, you can increase the storage to 1TB. Please see the Connex webiste under storage.

    https://connexdevices.co.za/product/slimbook-2/

    it has
    32GB eMMC Flash
    Optional Micro SD card expansion slot Up to 128GB.
    Optional 7mm hard drive slot to expand up to 1TB spindle.
    Optional 7mm slot to upgrade to an SSD up to 256GB

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