What's your budget?
I'm glad you asked this question, I've been meaning to draft something about computers and calculated misery.
The Expensive Side of Cheap Computers: I spent a lot of my life buying 'cheap' computers thinking I didn't need anything fancy for web browsing and word processing and such, only to discover that these computers would break down and needed to be replaced at a rate of one a year and after buying three, I reached the point where I would have been better off putting the money spent on three bad laptops into buying one good one. An inexpensive computer can, through poor quality control or lousy manufacturing, cost you more than a pricier model or prove unusable.
Calculated Misery: Past cheap computers I've bought had quirks like dust getting under the screen. Or a touchpad that would become unresponsive every 4 - 5 minutes. Or a display that would get stuck in the upside down orientation. Or a spacebar that would stop producing spaces. Or wifi that would switch off if bluetooth were on. When manufacturers aim to hit a low price point, they don't bother to ensure that their hardware functions, thinking customers will be reluctant to refund something that cost so little and grudgingly tolerate it, or that the customer will even return it and buy a more expensive model from them. The term for this is "calculated misery," deliberately making a product difficult to use so that the customer will feel inclined to spend more money for basic functionality. There are entire lines of processors and storage drives and motherboards designed specifically for laptops intended to produce calculated misery.
Specifications: While you may consider your computing demands modest, the truth is that cheap computers can be too weak even for web browsing and word processing. I have thought as you have in the past, buying Intel Atom / Pentium / Core M processor computers with 4 GB of RAM and eMMC or spinning drives, thinking I didn't need better. Then I'd discover these machines would freeze up loading web pages. Or that when typing, there would be a 1/3 delay between my finger tapping the keyboard. Or they would crash when running word processing software because of poor driver support.
Minimums: Despite your humble intentions, nobody in 2021 should buiy a computer that isn't at the very least: an Intel i3 processor with 8GB of RAM and a solid state drive (SSD). Intel Core Ms, Pentiums and Atoms are not fast enough to run Windows properly. 4GB of RAM is not enough to run meet a web browser's memory demands reliably. A spinning hard drive or an eMMC drive (cheap flash memory) is not quick enough to load applications responsively.
You can get decent AMD processors, but I'm not sufficiently familiar with AMD's product line to know which ones are okay and which ones are designed for calculated misery.
Storage: The SSD should have at least 128GB. That's not a lot for all your family photos, but it's enough to store and run Windows programs and you can store personal files on an external drive (which can be spinning). Make sure it can run Windows 11 which is coming soon.
Refurbished Computers: I've had some good(ish) experiences with buying refurbished computers off eBay. One time, what I received wasn't what was advertised; I got a refund. It's guaranteed by eBay. Another time, I got a great deal on a business laptop that arrived with a broken keyboard; I got a guaranteed exchange, but the replacement had a severely worn battery that had to be replaced. It was still a great deal, but it was troublesome and might be difficult for someone who doesn't live near a trustworthy computer repair shop that can supply and install replacement laptop batteries. At full price, this model would have cost several thousand dollars; I was able to get it for a mid three figures -- but not everyone will go to maximum effort for maximum computing and minimum cost. Not everyone will take two weeks to get the laptop, another three to get it exchanged and another week to get the new battery.
Retailers: For the average person who knows nothing about computers, your best buy is likely a Best Buy. It's more expensive than buying refurbished, but that might be best because Best Buy is a retailer that's thrived in a retail apocalypse for two reasons: they do price matching to compete with online retailers. And due to the price of retail floorspace and the need to keep products going out, Best Buy does its very, very best to avoid selling brands and products that are prone to defects.
They don't want customers constantly returning items due to buyer's remorse over buying a low quality product at a low price; they try to only sell products that are likely to leave their stores and create such buyer satisfaction that the product will never come back. That said, Best Buy can't catch everything; my Fitbit watch went dead and one laptop I bought from them cracked open when I opened it. This brings us to our next subject --
Extended Warranties: The internet is filled with articles telling you that extended warranties from big box stores are not worth it, that it's cheaper to find independent repair services. However, this is highly situational and dependent on hardware. Best Buy's return policy is that you have 15 days to get a refund on your laptop. The manufacturer will generally offer a one year warranty, but Best Buy may not facilitate returns and exchanges after the 15 days, leaving you to the calculated misery of having to set up a delivery with the manufacturer and a lengthy period without your computer.
An extended warranty can get you up to three years where you can get a refund or exchange at the store. And it can cost several hundred dollars in addition to the cost of the laptop. This extended warranty is only for hardware failure, not accidental damage.
I find it grossly exploitative for any retailer to charge you for the right to get an exchange or refund for a defective item that they've sold to you. If it won't last, they shouldn't sell it; if they sell it and it fails, they should refund or exchange it within one year, not 15 days. But the reality is that sometimes, the extended warranty may be the best option for the product or the customer.
Repairability: Some laptops are modular and designed for easy replacement of storage drives, screens, keyboards, wifi and bluetooth modules, etc.. Some laptops have all the hardware soldered onto the motherboard and may be impossible to repair, only exchanged. Not every customer can tell the difference; not every customer lives near repair stores that would be cheaper than a Geek Squad plan; not every customer can identify a capable repair service and an inept and overpriced one.
Anyway. Here's the Best Buy listing for what meets my standards:
https://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage … Categories