Microsoft caused a major hubbub when they announced that Windows 11 will not be supported on systems that are more than about 3 and 1/2 years old. That means a lot of still usable systems have to stay on Windows 10 until Windows 10 goes end of life. Here are some cheap Windows 11 PC options. I’ll mostly cover desktops here, as the market for laptops is rather different.
New cheap Windows 11 PCs
Right now, “new cheap Windows 11 PC” is an oxymoron. I’m just not finding much in the way of new desktop PCs for much under $500. I’d say most of what I’m finding at that price is priced fairly, but what you get is a current-generation i5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It’s fair. Not mind-blowing. And there are no low-end systems to be found. You can get low-end laptops, but I’m looking for expandability.
Used systems capable of running Windows 11
When it comes to used systems, the easiest systems to find are eighth generation Intel I series systems. The i3-8100 looks like a good bet, but systems with that chip are not always easy to find. It really seems that the i3 exists mostly to convince people to buy i5s. The 8100 is an extremely underrated chip, but it’s in a tough spot because they’re just aren’t enough of them out there. When I went looking for them, the price difference between an 8100 and a comparable system with an i5-8400 was only around $25. For $25, I’d rather have the I5.
Off lease corporate systems of this generation are fairly difficult to find, and I expect they will remain that way, as corporations hold on to them for testing Windows 11 deployments rather than disposing of them. That leaves consumer grade systems. I’ve had good luck finding Dell Inspiron 3740 systems. The HP Pavilion 590 is another common system. Just be certain to check the description carefully, as there are some similarly named older systems that do not support Windows 11. Make sure it has a current-generation processor in it. If the system looks old, assume it’s too old. Also make sure it works.
What about AMD?
AMD Ryzen processors with model numbers of 3100 or higher are supported in Windows 11. I’ve had a harder time finding them, and most of what I did find didn’t have an SSD and only had 8 GB of RAM. But your mileage may vary. The good news is, if you want a laptop, I find about as many Ryzen-based laptops when I search as I do desktops. Don’t get me wrong, I like AMD. But so does everyone else, it seems, so they’re keeping their systems instead of selling them cheap to you and me.
What to pay
I loaded Windows 11 on some Inspiron 3740 systems with i5-8400 processors. They run well, and gave me no issues. You can pick those systems up for around $250 with shipping. Pro tip: Look early in the week for the best selection.
They have some limitations, but then again, the new $500 systems have very similar limitations. But if you get one with an SSD, or put a fairly inexpensive SSD in them, they perform well.
I have also had some luck finding SFF systems with i3-8100s in them for around $200 for consumer-grade units, and closer to $250 for business-class. If you don’t need to put a video card in it, that’s a reasonable system for the money. And the Pentium Gold 5400 CPU may be something of a sleeper. Windows 11 fully supports it, and it was fairly common in low-end business desktops. If you can live with a small form factor system, with some luck, you can get a Pentium G5400 for under $200, shipped. The i3-8300 thoroughly outperforms it, but if you can live with the lack of expandability, you can get business-grade quality for half the price of a business-class i5, and upgrade the CPU when prices come down.
If you’re in the market for a system now, there’s no point in buying something that won’t support Windows 11 and end up having to replace it in four years. I expect an 8th-gen i-series chip to have seven years of usable life left in it at minimum.