It’s Microsoft’s fault cheap Windows laptops don’t use better hardware – Geek

If you look at the low-end ($200-$300) Windows laptop market in 2016 you’ll notice that the hardware spec is mostly the same regardless of which brand name is on the casing. We get the same low-end processors, RAM limited to no more than 4GB (but usually 2GB), and those infuriating 32GB SSD/eMMC drives that are quite slow and way too small to be useful.

You may think the spec is so limited because manufacturers have to hit a target price to retain a profit margin while still being able to sell in the $200 range. While that’s true, it’s actually Microsoft who is imposing a strict upper limit on the hardware available in this category of laptop.

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It all comes down to Windows 10 licensing rules and restrictions. Microsoft offers large discounts to manufacturers on volume licensing depending on what type of device they want to install Windows on. In the case of laptops, a Windows 10 license can be had for between $15-$30, but only if the hardware spec comes in below a Microsoft-imposed limit.

What that translates to is laptops with displays no larger than 14.1-inches, a low-end CPU (Bay Trail, Cherry Trail, Braswell, or Apollo Lake), no more than 4GB RAM, mandatory use of an SSD/eMMC with no more than 32GB of storage space, and no option of a hard drive or optical drive. Hence, we get lots of cheap laptops costing roughly the same and all bumping up against this Microsoft-imposed hardware limit in order to ensure a cheap Windows license.

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Increasing the spec beyond this limit means paying full price for a Windows license, which will increase the price considerably and make a laptop look expensive compared to the competition. It may include a faster processor, more RAM, and a usable amount of storage, but then it’s going to be at least $100 more expensive I imagine. Geeks will notice the spec bump and know the extra $100 is worth it, but the general public? They’ll opt for the $200 machine they’ve seen also runs Windows and without knowing the severe limitations such configurations have.

The only way this will change is if Microsoft relaxes the restrictions. Then we’d see a more variations in hardware spec and more competition, which is great for consumers and the market in general. Microsoft would likely sell a lot more $30 Windows licenses, more than making up for previous volume license sales at the higher price/spec tier.

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