Inexpensive Windows PCs hitting the market with help from Microsoft

PC makers are selling laptops with Microsoft's royalty free Windows 8.1 with Bing OS starting at $249

Lenovo's G40 laptop

Lenovo's G40 laptop

Microsoft is helping hardware makers build low-priced Windows PCs to combat Chromebooks and the early results of that effort are hitting the market.

Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo are selling laptops priced less than US$250 that run on Windows 8.1 with Bing, a royalty-free version of the OS. The OS is the same as Windows 8.1 but with Bing as the default search engine in Internet Explorer.

Microsoft is using Windows 8.1 with Bing, which was unveiled in May, to spread Windows to more low-cost PCs and tablets. It's also an attempt to take on Google's free Chrome OS, which is used in Chromebooks, an inexpensive and lightweight laptop growing in popularity among the Web-based computing audience.

The first PCs with Windows 8.1 with Bing were shown at Computex in June. The cheapest PC is a desktop sold by Lenovo for $225, while the laptops start at $249. Microsoft has promised to bring down laptop prices to $199 with HP's Stream 14, which has not been unveiled, although information about it has leaked out.

Some Acer Chromebooks sell for less than $200, but HP, Dell and Lenovo are selling Windows laptops that are priced less than their Chromebooks. The laptops have basic processors and specifications, much like comparable Chromebooks.

The Windows laptops have common features such as 1366 x 768 pixel resolution screens, hard drive storage and HDMI ports. The processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are good for basic computing and casual gaming, but the laptops have some deficiencies.

HP is shipping the 15z, a 15.6-inch non-touch laptop, and the Pavilion 10z, which has a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Both are priced at $249.99 and run on AMD's low-end processors. Features include Wi-Fi, up to 500GB of hard-drive storage and a maximum of 4GB of memory. The laptops have poor battery life, with the 15z offering four hours and 15 minutes, and the Pavilion 10z offering four hours.

Lenovo's G40, which has a 14-inch screen, and the G50-30, which has a 15.6-inch screen, are priced at $249. The laptops have 320GB hard drives, 2GB of memory, and Intel's Celeron 2830 processor, which is based on the Bay Trail architecture.

Dell's $249.99 Inspiron 15 Non-Touch laptop has no USB 3.0 port, but is instead equipped with two USB 2.0 ports. PC makers often sacrifice some hardware features in inexpensive laptops. The Inspiron also has the Celeron 2830 CPU, 500GB of storage and 4GB of DDR3 memory.

The least expensive Windows 8.1 with Bing PC is Lenovo's Q190 mini-desktop, which is selling for $224.99, compared to the $285.99 Windows 8.1-only version of the desktop. The desktops have Intel Celeron 1017U CPU, which is based on the older Ivy Bridge microarchitecture.

The desktop is priced much lower than the $490 IdeaCentre Q190, which shipped with a Core i3 processor and Windows 8 last year.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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