In the current economic climate, buying a new laptop when it isn’t strictly required isn’t at the top of everyone’s list. Rent, other bills, and food probably take preference over upgrading your still-functional laptop.
But laptops don’t last forever. Accidents happen. And children are expensive. Before you rush out to buy the cheapest machine you can find, there are two questions you need to ask yourself: what do you need it to do and what can you do without?
While affordable laptops have improved in recent years, there’s only so much you can get for R10,000 and under. Those after performance will have to make sacrifices. Similarly, those that need an HDMI port or a specific amount of RAM might have to settle for outdated internals.
The bonus question: Do you even need a laptop? A Chromebook could be a viable option but that will heavily depend on your needs. You can find our round-up of those here. We’ll also be sticking to Windows-based laptops for this list because good luck finding a new MacBook for less than R15,000 in South Africa.
We’ve searched local laptop stockists to find the best overall package at various price points. We’re mostly looking at the internal specs but will mention if a different feature sets one choice apart from the others. We also included links to where you can find the specific model mentioned in stock at the time of publication. That could change depending on when you’re reading this.
I’ve got R4,000 – R5,000
Starting at the low end, you’ll need to keep your expectations in check. Don’t expect to see any Intel Core or Ryzen processors here or anything with more than 4GB of RAM.
Our first pick for this category is the Asus X515 — specifically this model. This is one of Asus’ entry-level 15in notebooks, of which there are many. You’ll want to keep an eye on the model number if you plan to heed our advice – not all X515s are created equal.
Our chosen machine features a modest Intel Celeron N4020 CPU paired with 4GB and a 256GB M.2 SSD (solid state drive). This should be adequate for light workloads but don’t expect much in the way of multitasking. You can forget about more than three Chrome tabs at a time.
The 15in display is one of the areas where Asus cut costs. You’ll find a 1,366 x 768 panel which technically counts as HD but you wouldn’t say so. The notebook offers a good selection of ports, including a full-sized HDMI port for a second display. There’s even a USB-C port for quick transfers and power delivery. Lastly, this one has a few expansion slots for RAM and storage should you need them (you probably will).
If, for some reason, you don’t like Asus then we also found this Lenovo IdeaPad 3 for R4,300. It features the same CPU and RAM as the X515 with a few trade-offs elsewhere. The display is upgraded to an FHD (1920 x 1080) panel but instead of an SSD you get a 1TB HDD (hard disk drive). Sure it’s bigger, but it’s also much slower. You’ll be pay with your time instead of your money.
I can manage R7,000
Stepping up your budget to R7,000 offers performance improvements but they might not be noticeable to everyone. This is where you’ll find laptops with Intel’s Core or AMD’s Ryzen CPUs and double the RAM. We’re recommending another Asus machine here, the Asus X415. This one features an Intel Core i3 10th-gen CPU with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD.
By the numbers, this i3 is roughly twice as fast as the Celeron in the Asus X515. It has two additional threads, meaning you might get away with some light multitasking. The extra RAM will go a long way too. You might manage up to five Chrome tabs before you notice any slowdown.
You get the same lacklustre ‘HD’ display and the same useful expansion slots. The X415 is pretty much identical to the X515. It’s just an inch smaller, has twice the CPU power, and double the RAM.
For the same price as the X415, this HP 14s packs an AMD Ryzen 3 3250U CPU. It offers higher base and boost clock speeds than the i3 but doesn’t do as well in single-core performance. You will, however, need to make do with only 4GB of RAM and no expansion slots for future upgrades. Storage space is the same with a 256GB SSD, as are the 1366 x 768 ‘HD’ display and external port options. Most folks are better off with the Asus but we thought we’d include a Ryzen machine for the few people that specifically want one. Aren’t we nice?
I could do R9,000 but no more
R9,000 is rather close to exceeding what we’d count as affordable but this is where the extra money spent is more apparent. If you’re lucky you might find a good deal, like this Lenovo Ideapad 3 with a 10th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It’s going for R9,000 here, marked down from R11,000. We’re not sure how long that deal will last so we can’t in good conscience recommend it as affordable.
With that in mind, this Huawei MateBook D15 for R9,000 is our pick, but only until 9 February 2023 when the special ends and it goes back to its list price of R10,000. It’s packing an 11th-gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. This newer i3 manages to outperform the 10th-gen i5 in the Lenovo mentioned above. The i5 might have two more cores and a slightly higher clock speed but the newer tech in the i3 results in around 30% better single-core performance. It also comes with a Bluetooth mouse and Huawei backpack which is cool, we guess.
As much as we wanted to avoid favouring one brand over the others, Asus spits so many laptops into the South African market that it was unavoidable. This X515 is pretty much the same as the R4,800 model from earlier but the CPU and RAM have been upgraded to an 11th-gen Intel i3 and 8GB respectively. With a list price of R9,000, you shouldn’t have to wait for a special before buying one. If anything, it’ll be cheaper the next time you look.
What can I get for R10,000?
If R9,000 was approaching the affordable threshold, R10,000 is pressing its face against the glass. Your options have broadened once again but you may still need to decide if the extra performance and a decent display are worth putting up with slow HDD speeds. This 15in HP laptop packs an 11th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, an FHD screen, and an Ethernet port, plus it supports fast charging. But that 1TB HDD will cause bottlenecks.
Alternatively, this 15in HP swaps out the Intel CPU for an AMD Ryzen 3 5300U. That’s paired with 8GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. That Intel i5 CPU is better than this Ryzen 3 in almost every respect, other than being slightly older. If your work mainly involves sending and receiving emails or typing up documents, we’d suggest the HP with the Ryzen CPU and SSD over the HP with an Intel CPU and HDD.
This MSI Modern 14 is on special for R10,000. Although, with this retailer, you can never be sure if what it says is a special is actually a special. It has a history of inflating the list price so it can slap on a ‘sale’ sticker to make it seem like you’re saving more. That aside, you’re getting 8GB RAM (notice a trend here?), a 256GB SSD, a 14in IPS FHD display, and improved WiFi capabilities.