The low cost Windows laptop world has been a rather frustrating experience over the last several years. Manufacturers created big, bulky designs packed with low resolution TN displays and some of the slowest components they could dig up. We are still at a point where the average consumer thinks more is better, so low cost laptops would always have low performance mechanical hard drives. If you wanted a traditional clamshell laptop running Windows, it was just accepted that it would be large, heavy, have poor battery life, and generally have an unattractive design.

Google’s Chrome OS has redefined the price point for an inexpensive laptop. With low system requirements and a (mostly) constant connection to the internet, processor requirements were low, and storage requirements could shift to 16GB or so of flash storage; due to the random access nature of flash, this allowed good performance with less than amazing specifications. The fact that Chrome OS was free also allowed the manufacturers to keep the price down and move the low cost definition even lower.

This is not the first time Microsoft’s Windows operating system has felt pressure from beneath. The original netbook design moved the price down by using the free and open source Linux operating system as the basis. To combat this, Microsoft released a lower cost version of Windows XP, and eventually Windows 7, and took back the market for netbooks; however, while many netbooks were purchased between 2009 and 2012, the overall experience was often lacking and tablets eventually killed off most netbook designs. Now the world has shifted, and Chrome OS has advantages beyond price. It is simple and quick, and with the rise of Android on smartphones, many people are already using the Google ecosystem to do their daily tasks.

Microsoft earlier this year announced “Windows 8.1 with Bing” which is a low cost (as low as $0) version of Windows that has the specific requirement that Bing must be left as the default search engine in Internet Explorer. Manufacturers who go this route will not be able to get paid by Google or Yahoo to set their search engine as the default; end users however can set it to whatever they prefer. Some devices, such as the HP Stream 11, also come with a free year of Office 365 personal (one copy of Office for a single PC, one tablet, and one phone, plus unlimited OneDrive storage) which normally retails for $70.

Microsoft also announced at their Build conference that the system requirements for Windows 8.1 Update would be lower too. Minimum RAM is now 1GB, and the minimum storage requirements are now 16GB due to a new method of storing system files called WIMBoot. These changes will allow PC makers to offer Chromebook-like PCs but with a full operating system installed.

HP has taken advantage of these changes to produce their Stream series. There are currently three laptops and two tablets in the Stream product line, and all offer a very low starting price. The model we will be reviewing today is the HP Stream 11, which has an 11.6” display and some low priced components to allow HP to offer the Stream 11 for only $199.

HP Stream 11 Specifications
Processor Intel Celeron N2840 (Bay Trail-M)
2C/2T, 2.16 GHz Base (2.58 GHz Burst)
1 MB L2 Cache
7.5 W TDP
4.5 W SDP
Chipset Intel Bay Trail Host Bridge
Memory 2GB DDR3L-1333
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
4 EUs at 311-792 MHz
Display 11.6" Matte TN 16:9 1366x768
CMN 1136 LED Backlit non-sRGB
Storage 32GB eMMC with WIMBoot
Hynix HBG4e
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n WiFi Realtek RTL8723BE
1x1:1 72 Mbps capable 2.4GHz w/20 MHz Channels
Miracast enabled
Realtek Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek HD
Stereo Speakers (bottom)
DTS Studio Sound
Headset jack
Battery/Power 3 cell 37 Wh
45W Max AC Adapter
Left Side SDHC Slot
Kensington Security Slot
AC Power Connection
Right Side Power LED
HDMI Connection
1 x USB 2.0
1 x USB 3.0
Headset Jack
Back Side N/A
Operating System Windows 8.1 with Bing 64-bit
Dimensions 11.81" x 8.10" x 0.78" (WxDxH)
299.97 mm x 205.74 mm x 19.81 mm
Weight 2.72 lbs / 1.23 kg
Extras 720p HD Webcam
Office 365 Personal (1 year)
HP Connected Apps
Colors Horizon Blue
Orchid Magenta
Pricing $199 MSRP

It's interesting to note that sales of the Stream 11 have apparently been so good that HP currently lists it as being out of stock. You can find other resellers online, but the price is currently up 33% or more over MSRP depending on the reseller and their inventory. That's unusual, but it's a combination of the holiday shopping spree with a low cost laptop. We should see pricing return to MSRP in the future, but it could take a few weeks or more. Checking around, the device appears to be in stock at the Microsoft Store for the MSRP of $199.

To hit this kind of a price point, some sacrifices were clearly made, but the overall product is a nice looking, reasonably performing laptop. We cannot excuse all of the choices made, but when you are looking at a laptop with a $199 price point, expectations need to be moved down. The 1366x768 TN panel is no surprise, even though we would of course much prefer something with IPS. Touch is also not available at all on the Stream 11, though its bigger brother the Stream 13 has optional touch. Having eMMC storage rather than a "real" SSD is also expected, but the performance of the eMMC in the Stream 11 is actually pretty good. One thing that HP really did well though is the design.

Design
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  • name99 - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    It's interesting to compare against the iPad Air 2 which,for most benchmarks, comes out as 1.5 to 2x as good.
    I say this not as a "rah rah Apple" --- an iPad Air 2 is about 3 to 4x the price of this thing --- but more as a "who says ARM isn't appropriate for laptops?" I'd want rather more oomph from my laptop, which I run Mathematica on, but there certainly appears to be a market for which ARM levels of performance are acceptable. Which means hurdle number one has been overcome...

    There are some remaining hurdles...
    We need an OS. Ubuntu probably ain't gonna cut it. God knows what the new, panicky and flailing, MS will do. They could offer up Windows RT for this class of devices. Or is Win RT dead and buried? Chromebooks may continue their slow burn trajectory --- I don't think anyone can predict how those will play out.
    And we need a CPU. Snapdragon 810 seems to be MIA for a few more months (and who knows how it will perform when it ships). The server level CPUs seem very inappropriate. But Denver is a serious possibility, and Samsung may one day ship an A57 Exynos that isn't embarrassing.

    So I could see Chromebooks firing back with equivalent level HW, and higher performance in the form of a Denver CPU.
    If Google could then get its head out of its ass long enough to
    (a) make a deal with Citrix for a Citrix front end on Chromebooks that doesn't absolutely suck (one star on the Chrome Store! that's some fine going, Citrix!)
    (b) get Android apps (pretty much all of them) to run on Chromebook
    they might have a product that catches fire.
    (But WITHOUT BOTH of these, I suspect they're relegated to the "meh, interesting but not for me" category.)
    Reply
  • savagemike - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    ChromeOS does not exactly restrict you to Google's ecosystem. And while this might have more onboard storage than typical ChromeOS devices - the paradigm is a bit different for ChromeOS. Onboard storage is not as necessary as it has traditionally been on Windows. Reply
  • Mobile-Dom - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    Is the Wireless card Mini PCIe? or is it soldered down? because im sure you can find 802.11ac Mini PCIec cards on ebay for like £25 Reply
  • Brett Howse - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    Although I didn't crack mine apart, I believe it's mini PCI-E from what I could find.

    Yes, you should be able to change it, but that doesn't excuse the one put in there. Also when you're dealing with something with a $200 price point, saying "just add a better card yourself" and it's $30 means that you are now 15% over the original asking price. That's a lot. Add in a new wireless and a good SD card and you're going to be closer to $300 that $200 and then your options for other devices increases.
    Reply
  • jabber - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    Well when I look at a customers laptop and I mention "Oh it's got Wireless N!" to a customer they will always say "what's that?"

    You spec according to the average Joe.
    Reply
  • amdhunter - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    The wireless is horrible. I knew it was 1x1 when I bought it, but didn't expect it to be as bad as it is. It took a lot of playing around with my router to get around all the interference in my area, but most of the time I am tethered to my gigabit Ethernet adapter so it doesn't bother me much.

    From the breakdown manual, you can replace it, but I don't know if HP still blacklists cards or not.
    Reply
  • greenwavelet - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    The Stream, doesn't have Ethernet according to the specs.
    Are you using a USB3 Ethernet adapter for this?, you're still not getting anywhere near Gigabit speeds, not to mention you lose the single USB3 port for other devices (backup drive...)

    This looks like a reasonable laptop as a standalone PC, but not suitable for any networking use more than browsing.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    Surprisingly good. Move to an IPS screen, quad core CPU (with silent fan) and 64 GB of NAND and it should easily sell for ~250$, with better WiFi and higher resolution maybe even 300$. It would be nice to have both options. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Thursday, December 18, 2014 - link

    Considering that i get 60-90fps in league of legends with good old amd 790gx (2008) integrated gpu @1024x768 medium/high details, how bad can be intel graphics? Reply
  • Morawka - Friday, December 19, 2014 - link

    its a shame none of these stream books have RJ 45 Ethernet. This is a perfect low cost laptop to use in the field fixing routers, AP's, and other networking gear.

    ATM i'm using a venue 8 pro with a USB OTG ethernet adapter. It's a pain in the ass to lug all that stuff around but it'll have to do until someone makes a decent laptop with RJ45 priced $200 or below
    Reply

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