Buying A Better Computer On A Tight Budget

Hello readers,

What would you do if you had less than $200 dollars to get your next computer – but you needed it for work? You would start looking online at new and refurbished computers but would you know what to pick? The criteria for buying a low price machine is not just price – it’s still performance.

Factors to evaluate:

  • Age – if it’s refurbished hardware
  • Processor type
  • Storage
  • Weight – if it’s important to you
  • Condition

Now when it comes to a computer’s age there are only a few things that matter; will it run quickly and reliably, and will it run the operating system you desire? There are XP era machines running Linux every bit as quickly as brand new machines so that really is just a matter of operating system preference. If you plan on using Windows 10 – your best bet is something that came with Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10 originally. There are Dell optiplexes that were Vista era that run Windows 10 with no problems but the older a machine gets the harder it becomes to find drivers that will work without trouble.

The processor situation

Many of you don’t imagine you can find a fast machine on such a low budget, that simply isn’t true. Intel i5 processors and AMD a6 processors can be found in machines that only cost $109.00 refurbished at the time of this post. Generally you won’t have to settle unless you want a much newer machine.


Acceptable Processors Ranked By Speed From Fastest To Slowest
  1. Intel Xeon – found in old workstations and are generally on par or quicker than intel i7 processors Also amd A10 – but look for the comparisons online.
  2. i7 – generally as fast or faster than i5 processors, though second generation i5 are quite decent. Also amd a8
  3. i5 – these are on par with amd A6 processors and are faster than anything below this mark.
  4. i3 – Intel core 2 duo – Amd a4 – amd turion 64 – these are still a bit quicker than old arm or atom processors in many cases
  5. Intel celeron, intel pentium d, intel pentium 4 – these are often still on par with what you expect from a reasonably quick old machine but they won’t be first choice for a quick machine.

There are other types of processors we didn’t evaluate but they don’t necessarily warrant inclusion – there are newer arm processors that do belong on this list but the mobile technology laptops vary wildly so you should probably try anything with arm, atom, or similar processors before you consider a purchase.

Processors are broken down by generation, for example the i5 starts at first generation which is i5 520, and goes up to 7200 i.e. 7th generation.

*Manufacturer – or factory refurbished means that the item was either:
Off lease, Purchased but returned within 30 days, demo/display model, discontinued and never sold, or overstocked and never sold. Factory refurbished machines are tested and repaired to new quality if any damage was found, and can save you thousands of dollars if you know what to buy.


More can be better but faster is usually best. SSD drives (not exactly the same as emmc drives) are substantially quicker than traditional Hdd or sata drives. Emmc is a flash storage type that is found on mobile tablet types and can be difficult to replace depending on the machine. There are laptops and desktops that can hold multiple hard drives and this can be the most ideal setup: an SSD boot drive for an operating system – and a huge hdd for storage.


Weight is often not that important but if you are trying to avoid a very small laptop screen and no screen dimensions are listed – generally if an ad says less than 2 Lbs – you might be looking at a tiny tiny screen. This is a common ploy for tablet conversions as well and might even show hands on a full size keyboard but the small print says 11 inch. Not that small machines aren’t good too, but if we prefer 14 – 17 inch screens we don’t want to get excited about a computer and get something tablet like.



Grade A, Grade B, Grade C, Scratch and Dent – there are almost buzzwords where old machines are involved, this is generally due to the condition of multiple machines in a purchased lot and doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with a dud. Likewise even if none of these buzzwords are used on a refurbished machine you can expect a few scratches. If a machine shows up in an unacceptable condition try to be as patient as possible with whoever is handling returns – chances are they’ll find you a much nicer replacement if you aren’t calling them crooks.


  • Ebay – We found computers and laptops for less than 200 dollars with no problem (I bought one)
  • Amazon – We found a much better range of 300 dollar computers but there were machines as low as 89 dollars
  • Discount PC – We found Desktops for 89 – 130 dollars that were thoroughly acceptable
  • Newegg – We found second generation i5 HP machines for $159 That’s a really good value

The google search for a laptop or desktop containing any given component including price can be a great first step. The more components you try to add the worse the results become though so try to stick to one factor at a time. You don’t need to type cheapest or budget to find machines by price and most sites had sort by boxes that could be adjusted for price. Likewise components were all relavent search terms which made this article quite simple to write.

In the course of writing this article I found a Dell Latitude with a 1st gen i5, Windows 10, and plenty of extras for a very reasonable price – I’ll add photos in the near future to demonstrate manufacturer refurbishment packaging. I’ll also include links to the seller specifically if he agrees and include any info he’d like to add regarding refurbishments.

I’m 100% satisfied with this Dell Latitude – It’s quick, it’s pretty, and aside from needing to find a webcam driver – I think it likes me… :) I wanted to encourage you to use the vendor in the link above – he’s got amazing deals and has earned my trust and respect for taking the time to respond to all of my questions like a real pro!

Thank you Alex – I’ll shop your selection again, you are awesome!


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610 thoughts on “Buying A Better Computer On A Tight Budget”

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