Now might be the most necessary time to buy a cheap laptop, with millions of us working or schooling from home, but it's not necessarily the best time to buy a cheap laptop.
Just before Christmas and during the Black Friday sales, we were seeing laptops with Intel Core i3 processors, full-HD screens, 4GB of memory and either 128GB solid-state drives or 1TB hard drives retailing below £300. Right now, the best deals you'll find at this price are Chromebooks or slower Intel Celeron/Pentium-powered Windows laptops.
Still, needs must, and many of us simply cannot wait until later in the year to purchase a cheap laptop. If your budget does stretch just a little bit higher we'd recommend you look to our best budget (sub-£500) laptops chart; otherwise, here are a selection of models below £300 that will suffice for casual tasks and get you out of a tight spot.
If you are willing to buy a refurbished model, Laptop Outlet stocks several Core i3 models below £300.
1. Chuwi HeroBook Pro (14.1in FHD, Intel N4000, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
Now: £269 (£10 off)
2. Lenovo IdeaPad 330 (15.6in HD, AMD A4, 4GB RAM, 1TB HDD)
Now: £269.97 (£20 off)
A sub-£300 laptop with an AMD A4 processor and a terabyte of storage, this Lenovo laptop looks to offer excellent value to those on a budget.
3. Lenovo IdeaPad S145 (15.6in HD, AMD A9, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
4. Acer Aspire 3 (15.6in HD, AMD A6, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
5. HP Stream 11
If you just need a laptop for as cheap as possible, we can recommend the Stream 11. A very portable laptop with basic specs, but enough to do simple jobs like email and word processing.
6. HP Stream 14 (14in HD, AMD A4, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD)
Now: £249 (Free Office)
If you just need a basic laptop without breaking the bank then this is bargain from HP, with a no-frills AMD A4 processor that isn't the fastest you'll find in the budget market but capable for most daily computing tasks. It's got what you need, plus includes a one-year subscription to Office 365 with 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage.
7. HP Chromebook 14
How to find a great deal on a budget laptop
We review budget laptops all year round, and our favourite model right now is the Lenovo IdeaPad S340. It comes in various specs, but the cheapest we've found the 14in Chromebook model is £249 at Currys. A Windows version is available from £399.99 at Argos.
The very fact that various SKUs exist of most laptop lines means you need to be careful of what you are buying: the laptop you've just read about in a glowing review is not necessarily the same laptop you've just found at a bargain price. Check for things like screen size and resolution, processor model, and amount and type of RAM and storage.
For many people those cheaper options will be more than enough for their needs, but it always helps to have some idea of what to look out for in the first place. This way, if you see a great laptop deal we haven't mentioned here, you'll be able to work out whether or not it's a good buy.
Key things to look out for are the processor, memory and both type of storage and amount of storage. At under £300 you're unlikely to find anything higher than an Intel Core i3/AMD A-series or Ryzen 3 processor; if you do find a Core i5, snap up that laptop right away. You won't find a better deal.
You'll also see Intel Pentium and Celeron processors listed, and these are less powerful options often found in older models and Chromebooks/CloudBooks, but still more than capable if your needs are low. By that we mean you're looking for something that's good for homework, replying to emails, browsing the web and social media, and watching the odd video.
These chips will have integrated graphics, and you should not expect to find a dedicated graphics card at this price. Your laptop will be more than capable of playing YouTube and movies, plus some casual games, but if you're really after something capable of proper gaming we'd recommend upping your budget to £500+ and going for a Core i5 as the bare minimum. We've got some more options on slightly pricier laptop deals here.
At this price you're most likely to find 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, although at the budget end of the market you often find solid-state storage is swapped out for a traditional mechanical hard drive. The upside to this is more storage space; the down side is they are slower, a little noisier and more fragile.
The size of the screen and the overall design of the laptop are going to be purely personal choices. You'll find everything from 11in to 15.6in screens at this price point; a handful with full-HD (1080p) displays but most with HD (720p) screens. Smaller laptops are typically going to be more easily portable, but it's easier to get stuff done on a larger screen, especially if you are wanting to watch video, play casual games or work with spreadsheets.
Don't overlook Chromebooks, with which your children may well be familiar from school. The difference between these and traditional Windows laptops is the software that is installed on them, with Chromebooks instead using Chrome OS. You'll also find CloudBooks, which run Windows 10 S.
When is Black Friday 2020 - should you wait for a better deal?
Black Friday will take place on Friday 27 November, immediately followed by Cyber Monday on 30 November. Traditionally the biggest sales event of the year, it may yet throw up some even greater tech deals - but with so much uncertainty around finance and retail, and no guarantees regarding what discounts we will see, we advise you not to wait: if you see a deal you like, on a product you need, and you can afford the outlay, buy it today.