Inexpensive Windows PCs hit 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

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 $250 that run on Windows 8.1 With Bing, a royalty-free version of the company's flagship operating system. Windows 8.1 With Bing is the same as Windows 8.1, but it has 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, the inexpensive and lightweight laptops that are growing in popularity among the Web-based computing audience.

The first PCs featuring Windows 8.1 With Bing were shown at Computex in June. The cheapest is a Lenovo desktop model that costs $225. Laptops start at $249. Microsoft has promised that laptop prices will fall to $199 with HP's Stream 14 model, which has not been unveiled -- though 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 lower 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 do have some deficiencies.

HP is shipping the 15z, a 15.6-in. nontouch laptop, and the Pavilion 10z, which has a 10.1-in. touchscreen. Both are priced at $249.99 and run on low-end AMD 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 4 hours and 15 minutes, and the Pavilion 10z offering 4 hours.

Lenovo's G40, which has a 14-in. screen, and the G50-30, which has a 15.6-in. 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 PC featuring Windows 8.1 With Bing is Lenovo's Q190 mini-desktop, which is selling for $224.99, compared to $285.99 for the Windows 8.1-only version. The desktops have Intel's Celeron 1017U processor, 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 the IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's email address is agam_shah@idg.com

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