If you need a new laptop, but don’t have a ton to spend, we have 10 winners for less than $500, along with some free shopping advice.
How to Get the Best Laptop Under $500
Gone are the days when a decent laptops would cost you north of $1,000. In this market, manufacturers are inventing new ways to outsell each other, including aggressive price cutting. Now we’re seeing full-size and ultraportable Windows 10 notebooks with processors powerful enough for use at home, school, or work, as well as full-featured chromebooks and hybrid systems that give you both laptop and tablet functionality in one device.
Components and Features
And you’ll have to accept fewer compromises with the budget laptops of today than you did in the past. Intel’s Atom and Celeron processors have evolved to the point that they can support most of your Web browsing and basic productivity needs without being overly slow. The newest integrated GPUs can hold their own in browser-based Flash games and even some online games like World of Warcraft, but meeting the higher demands of AAA titles still requires a discrete GPU, which you won’t find in this price range. If money is no object, check out our top-rated gaming laptops.
Memory (or RAM) is relatively inexpensive now, so you’ll find that many budget laptops will come with 4GB of DDR3 memory (though you may be able to make do with less). In terms of batteries, an ideal budget laptop has one with six cells or more. The battery life for a cheap laptop is at least five hours, and these days many can last quite a bit longer.
When it comes to storage, many inexpensive systems offer up to 500GB of hard drive space. Others, particularly chromebooks and Windows-based chromebook competitors like the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S, will only have a small allotment (16 or 32GB) of flash storage, but compensate for it with generous offers of additional free cloud storage. But, as with anything cloud-based, you’ll need to be online to access it.
In terms of features, budget laptops will come with USB 2.0 ports, and possibly USB 3.0. There may also be an SD slot and 802.11n wireless connectivity, and an HDMI port or a USB-C port are a definite plus. You shouldn’t always expect a touch-screen display, however.
See How We Test Laptops
Chromebooks used to be glorified netbooks running Google’s Chrome OS. While these Chrome OS–based laptops are still Web-centric, they now have a relatively full feature set. If you spend most of your working hours in the cloud, a chromebook will offer you just as much functionality as a regular laptop, and have longer battery life. It will also likely cost you a lot less than other types of notebooks, as many chromebooks cost less than $300. Just be sure you have easy, constant Wi-Fi access, as there is scant local storage on these systems.
Tablets and Hybrids
In recent years, tablets have exploded in popularity, and though we have plenty of reviews of those—take a look at our overall roundup of the best tablets, as well as our favorites running the Windows and Android operating systems—those are sufficiently different enough from traditional clamshell-style laptops that we’re not covering them here.
They are, however, an important part of a new category that has also emerged: the laptop/tablet hybrid. These machines let you flip between a laptop and a tablet, either by folding the keyboard out of the way or docking a tablet on a keyboard accessory to get laptop-like functionality. You should consider a hybrid system if you want both the typing capability of a laptop and the convenience of a tablet. Read our story The Best 2-in-1 Convertible and Hybrid Laptops for more information about this burgeoning sector of the laptop market.
The Right Balance of Price and Performance
If you’re on a strict budget, don’t lose heart. There are PCs that will offer you enough performance to tackle your day-to-day tasks without a stutter, and without breaking the bank. We update this list frequently, so you’re always seeing our top recommendations for the highest-performing affordable laptops.
For more budget picks, take a look at our roundups of the best laptops for college students and the best chromebooks. For more general factors to consider when choosing a laptop, take a look at our buying guide with top laptop picks overall.
Featured Cheap Laptop Reviews:
Acer Swift 1
Bottom Line: How much laptop can you get for $329? Acer’s Swift 1 is a surprisingly strong answer, a little short on storage but with a slim build and a 1080p IPS display.
Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4)
Bottom Line: The Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4) might be more expensive than the average chromebook, but its rich selection of features makes it well worth the extra money.
Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM)
Bottom Line: The Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM) is a fully featured laptop for a low price, with a large HD screen, solid performance, and best-in-class battery life.
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (2017)
Bottom Line: The second generation of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is stylish, durable, and lasts more than 12 hours on a full charge. It’s the laptop to get for your small business or home office.
Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA
Bottom Line: Students or parents looking for a laptop that will survive an intense day at school will like the Chromebook Flip C213SA’s all-day battery life, sturdy build, and multiple viewing modes.
Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is a well-equipped and semi-rugged convertible-hybrid laptop that offers just enough features to make it a strong bargain over other budget laptops.
Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1 (3179)
Bottom Line: The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series 2-in-1 is a convertible-hybrid laptop that has a better processor and subsequently higher performance than rivals, but makes a few compromises to meet its re…
Dell Latitude 3189 2-in-1 Review
Bottom Line: Dell’s Latitude 3189 2-in-1 is a Windows 10 Pro convertible laptop with long battery life and a durable build, but its middling performance and lackluster screen keep it from standing out.
HP Stream 11-y010nr Review
Bottom Line: The HP Stream 11-y010nr’s rockcbottom price and cute design make it a good choice for a kid’s first notebook.
Lenovo IdeaPad 120s
Bottom Line: Lenovo’s petite IdeaPad 120S is a budget ultraportable that offers good-for-the-cost performance, but you can find better screens and keyboards by stepping up to the next highest class.