It wasn’t long ago that the “under $500” batch of laptops were thought to cheaply made, with poor battery lives and underpowered processors. But in 2020, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and the current crop of fully loaded affordable laptops can make you wonder why you would even need to pay an arm and a leg for the latest gadget.
Over the past three years in particular, many people are now recognizing that the processing power on offer in modern budget laptops far exceeds their daily requirements. All of the laptops on our list can be used to browse the Internet, play high-definition movies and edit office documents without skipping a beat. For many consumers, this is more than enough.
From the sleek Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02 to the Asus Transformer Book T300CHI that will double as a tablet, here are the best laptops under $500.
Best Overall: 2020 Lenovo ideapad 320 15.6″
Lenovo delivers an excellent everyday laptop at a value price point, combining the latest generation of Intel processing with a high-definition 15.6-inch screen. The computer is powered by an Intel Celeron N3350 dual-core processor with 4GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive. The computer also includes a DVD drive, a 4-in-1 memory card reader for easy transfer of files, as well as Bluetooth 4.1 and USB 3.0 port. Expect fast streaming, thanks to the latest 802.11ac wireless internet. The computer is also great for college students looking to watch movies in their dorm room, with a 15-inch anti-glare screen that looks great from every angle.
Best Rugged: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6″
Dropping hundreds of dollars on a laptop that’s bound to be dropped itself might seem a bit stressful, but a rugged laptop like this ASUS Chromebook will surely put your nightmares to rest. It houses an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor with 2M Cache, up to 2.48 GHz, plus 16GB of flash storage. (You’ll also get 100GB of free Google Drive storage for the first two years.) Its 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 anti-glare display tilts back 180 degrees for viewing at all angles.
Being a Chromebook, it’s not as powerful as other machines on this list, but what it lacks in brains it makes up for in brawn. It has 3 millimeters of reinforced rubber around its edges, which passes the 3.9 feet drop test, and a spill-resistant keyboard that can endure about a quarter-cup spill. On top of that, its durable and modular design makes it easy to swap in and out parts, should it need repair.
Best for Creatives: Acer Aspire E 15 E5–575G-57D4
When it comes to creative work on a laptop, finding a machine that handles day-to-day work can be challenging until you find the Acer Aspire E-15. Powered by a 7th generation Intel Core i5 3.1GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD drive, the Acer brings more than enough power to the table to handle applications such as Photoshop or video editing. Additionally, the inclusion of a NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics card with 2GB of independent memory will aid in both entertainment and productivity needs.
All this work is done on a 15.6-inch full HD 1920 x 1080-pixel matte display which helps reduce glares and reflections. Utilizing an external mouse to aid in more fine-grain Photoshopping is welcomed thanks to a bevy of ports, including one USB 3.1 Type C, two USB 3.0 and an SD slot. As a bonus, you’ll even find a DVD drive, though it could have been removed to make the Acer slightly lighter. At 5.3 pounds, the Acer is no Ultrabook and even though it has a 12-hour battery life, there’s still a good chance this computer isn’t moving from a desk.
For the creative types that focus on editing video, the inclusion of Acer’s TrueHarmony speakers offers a rich audio experience that helps limit audio distortion and includes enough volume to fill a room. And if you’re working remotely, the HD webcam will help you jump on Skype and talk to your colleagues or clients anywhere in the world.
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Best 2-in-1: Asus Transformer Book T300CHI
Competition in the Windows 10 2-in-1 space heats up more and more every day, but it’s the Asus Transformer Book T300CHI that steals the spotlight. The inclusion of a fan-less Intel Core M processor, full-size keyboard cover and 12.5-inch 1080p touchscreen display offers exceptional value. The T300 comes with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, as well as Windows 8.1. At 12.38″ x 7.52″ x .63″ and 1.59 pounds, the T300 offers no additional ports save for the microUSB charging opening. When you attach the keyboard, the aluminum-based T300 build jumps to 3.2 pounds all while feeling far more expensive than its actual asking price.
As a 2-in-1, the 1920 x 1080 touchscreen display showcases clear and crisp text and offers a fantastic movie-viewing experience, while the included SonicMaster speakers are good enough for traditional use. The six hours of battery life means t’s a good idea to keep a charger nearby if you’re on the road.
Best Budget: Acer 15.6″ Chromebook Celeron N3060
Buying a budget machine doesn’t necessarily mean making a lot of sacrifices. One way around that is to purchase a refurbished device. This Acer Chromebook has been tested and certified to look and work like new and also includes all of the original accessories. So if you don’t mind buying a technically, used computer, you can get a fan favorite for about the cost of a one-year subscription to Netflix.
The Chromebook’s bright 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display is the biggest you’ll find on a Chromebook, and it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash storage. It also has great speakers that deliver impressive sound for a laptop, making it great for playing music or watching YouTube videos. It’ll serve you well for all your surfing and Word processing needs, and if you need more storage, just pop in a flash drive.
Best Design: Samsung Chromebook Plus Convertible Touch Laptop
Samsung has made many well-designed electronics in the past, including high-end laptops, TVs and smartphones. So we’re not entirely surprised to see a cool new entry from Samsung in the budget laptop arena. Say hello to the Samsung Chromebook Plus, a hybrid laptop/tablet that lets you use it in nearly any way you can imagine.
The Samsung Chromebook Plus measures 8.72 x 11.04 x .55 inches and weighs 2.4 pounds. It has a 12.3-inch LED screen that rotates 360 degrees and it is made with Gorilla Glass 3 to be more durable. On the inside, this machine has 4GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB of flash memory storage, which will keep your apps and browser tabs running smoothly.
Chromebooks have gotten much more powerful and versatile in the last few years. They still run the Chrome OS and center around using the browser or Google Play Apps, but the experience is much more seamless now. This model is no exception and can do nearly anything a Windows PC can do, so we have no problem recommending it.
Runner-Up, Best Budget: HP Notebook 15
The latest edition of the HP Notebook 15 is a surprising Windows 10 Laptops that packs a lot of features into a sub-$300 machine. This laptop may not impress power-hungry users, but it will do the job for casual users that need to accomplish basic tasks in a timely fashion.
The Notebook 15 has a 15.6-inch screen with 1366-by-768 resolution, a 500 GB hard drive, an SD media card reader, a DVD/CD burner, as well as a VGA webcam with a digital microphone. For ports, there’s one Ethernet, one HDMI, two USB 2.0, one USB 3.0 and a headphone/microphone combo jack. One of the standout features of this model is its 4GB of RAM, which is incredibly important for keeping your machine running smoothly and not something we often see on models in this price range. (Usually you’ll see models with a paltry 2GB of RAM, which is often not enough to keep things running at a fast clip.)
This machine measures 10 x 15.1 x .9 inches and is a little heavy at 4.74 pounds, so it’s probably not one you’ll want to carry around everywhere. It would make sense as a home or work laptop that’s mostly used in one place. Thankfully, it does offer 5.5-hour battery life, so if you do need to take it anywhere, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Best for Portability: Microsoft’s Surface 3
Microsoft Surface 3 has the perfect combination of power, portability and popularity. The magnesium-alloy body holds a 10.8-inch 1920 x 1280 display, Intel Atom Z8700 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 64GB flash storage drive. The Intel Atom processor can’t match up to the Pro’s Intel Core-series, but it offers more than enough speed to perform all the daily tasks you want and then some. With Windows 10 on board out of the box, it’s pretty much “touch” and go right when you receive the Surface 3 in the mail.
Microsoft has positioned the Surface 3 Laptops as a tablet that can replace your laptop and portability is a central piece of that argument. At 1.37 pounds before the keyboard, the Surface 3 feels premium and now includes a more user-friendly Micro-USB charging port. The adjustable kickstand on the rear works at three separate angles. Perhaps the lone drawback of the Surface 3 is the separate purchase of the keyboard.
Portability aside, the Surface 3 retains a slew of ports to help you not miss a beat while traveling, including a microSD card reader for extra storage and MiniDisplay port for connection to a larger monitor. Microsoft includes a one-year subscription to Office 365 alongside a bevy of other applications that are must-haves. Additionally, with 10 hours of battery life, there’s enough juice for a full day at work and Netflix at night.
Best Flipbook: ASUS VivoBook Flip 14
Flipbooks are great for watching movies, giving presentations and drawing. This ASUS VivoBook Flip 14 is one of the best on the market for this price range, with a razor-thin 15.4mm profile and a 14-inch screen. The ultra-narrow bezel enables you to use the Laptops as a tablet or tent with ease. It is powered by an Intel Quad-Core Pentium N4200 Processor for impressive performance.
Best Touchscreen: HP — 15.6″ Touch-Screen Laptop
If you are a tactile learner, a touchscreen computer can come in handy. This entry-level touchscreen from HP Laptops is an amazing value at just under $500. It has an Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. The BrightView glossy 15.6-inch screen is powered by WLED backlight and shows movies and photos in 1366 x 768 HD. The 2 SuperSpeed USB 3.1 ports make transferring media a breeze, while built-in Bluetooth makes it easy to sync with mobile devices. Finally, an Intel HD Graphics 620 card can handle photo editing and even some basic gaming.
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