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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  • kgh00007 - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    I bought an Acer Aspire E 11.6 for a family member and I thinkit's basically the same platform. Celeron N2840 and 32Gb Hynix HBG4e. Overall I am impressed with how snappy the system is.

    The only problem is the Acer only has 9GB free, that's after uninstalling most of the bloatware. There is a separate 10GB recovery partition that Disk Management reports as being 100% free space, that cannot be deleted. Even after creating a recovery drive, there is no option to delete the recovery partition.

    Does anyone have any ideas on how to recover that 10GB? It looks like Acer's implementation of WIM boot is flawed. I've found quite a few people complaining of this in the Acer forums, but no solution.
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    When you have WIMBoot you can't remove the recovery partition because that's where the actual system files are. The flaw I see with WIMBoot (this is the first device I have reviewed which used it) are that they put too much stuff in the recovery partition - free trials to software, office, etc - and they all take up a lot of space. Since you can't remove the recovery partition it would be much better if they made it as lean as possible but depending on the OEM, it might be pretty large, negating the usefulness of it.

    The HP Stream was 7.2 GB because I'm pretty sure it has the full Office files in the WIM as well. Just make it a download... I'd rather download it once if I need it than take the space hit on something with such a small amount of storage. This version was the MS Signature edition though so it has less of the bloat than most, and yet it is still 7.2 GB. The Windows install I can download is ~4 GB so clearly they could do a better job with either the WIM compression or keeping extra software out and allow you to move that to a recovery USB.
    Reply
  • kgh00007 - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    Cheers Brett, on the Acer the recovery partition is 10GB, but when you make a recovery drive it only uses around 7GB, so it looks like they didn't even try to optimise the size of the recovery partition, just went with 10GB!

    And the windows installation takes up 10GB on the drive, so there's only 9GB user accessible space left out of the box, it just seems like they wasted a lot of space.

    On the stream does it actually have 17.5GB user accessible space free on the drive out of the box? The stream isn't available in Canada yet, but I might return the Acer's, I bought two of them for our mothers! They don't need a lot of space, but 9GB is cutting it fine I reckon!!
    Reply
  • kgh00007 - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    UPDATE: I returned the two Acer Aspire E 11.6's for a HP Stream 11 and a Stream 13.
    They just came in to the local Microsoft store, so I got the signature editions and they both have 17.5GB user accessible right out of the box, much better than the 9GB in the Aceer.

    Cheers Brett for the info, you helped me to make a more informed decision.
    Reply
  • Brett Howse - Sunday, December 21, 2014 - link

    Let me know what you think of them once you use them for a bit. Tweet me @BrettHowse

    I got this one from the MS Store in Canada so I was going to say yes you can buy them there :) Bit of a price premium over the US store but the CAD dollar has kind of tanked due to oil prices.

    The 13" with touch is not yet available in Canada looks like maybe end of January for that one but you just never know.
    Reply
  • Squinoogle - Sunday, December 28, 2014 - link

    RE: Wifi - you're looking at the Envy range before you'll get anything better than 2.4GHz only 1:1 N (and even then there are still some holdouts), so I don't see them including anything better any time soon.

    RE: Display - Yuck, I really hope you just got a dodgy example there.
    Reply
  • Lerianis - Tuesday, December 30, 2014 - link

    I've honest got to say "Boo hiss!" to these because they are expensive compared to the E5-571-5552 from Acer. Bigger screen, more hard drive space, more RAM, more powerful CPU (Core i5) for only twice the cost of this machine.
    Who are you trying to fool with these articles? These machines are craptacular for what you are getting. Not even worthy 90 dollars in the real world.
    Reply
  • avfreebird - Thursday, June 18, 2015 - link

    Do you mean that when I have 200$, I (magically) get more 200$ to get a laptop for browsing, officeediting, film watching instead of this "craptacular maschine"? Reply
  • Pstenney - Thursday, April 28, 2016 - link

    My son is having problems using flash player. Flash came preinstalled when we purchased it new Dec. 2015. Using it for school and some classes require flash. Keeps telling us that you must have flash but will not let us. Reply

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