Rest assured that, even at under $500, you can find a quality laptop. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when comparing laptops from numerous big names, such as Lenovo, Acer, ASUS and HP. But, just pay attention to the Operating System (OS), storage type, memory capacity, and various ergonomic features.
For students, professionals, or anyone in between, our top 10 budget laptops will help you make the right choice, even if you aren’t computer-savvy. In this era of accessible technology, having a mobile computing station isn’t something you have to break the bank for anymore!
How to Choose a Laptop Under $500 – Buying Guide
Before we introduce our recommended products, let’s talk about what sort of features to look for when comparing options.
For laptops, simple operation, memory space, battery-life, and portability are essential, compared to desktop computers. We’ll explain below how to compare these specs within the context of popular budget laptops.
Choosing a Suitable Operating System (OS)
Most people consider Windows and Macintosh as the two dominant operating systems. In terms of cheap consumer laptops, however, Windows is king. With that said, you may not be aware of alternatives like Chrome OS, so let’s compare the pros and cons of these two choices.
Windows: Reliable Standards, Widespread Usage, and Abundant Software
For conventional PC users at school, home, or the office, Windows has long been the industry standard. A major advantage of Windows is the rich selection of exclusive software, such as the widespread Word and PowerPoint programs.
If you often rely on the software and resources in Windows’ large library, then it makes sense to stick with the standard, rather than the more user-friendly Chrome OS. Gamers also usually swear by Windows.
Chrome OS: An Intuitive and Streamlined Alternative from Google
For absolute beginners who are mainly accustomed to using smartphones and tablets, Chrome OS bridges the new divide between mobile devices and PCs. Google’s reputation for intuitive and integrated design extends to their brand of OS, and we recommend it for users without specific software demands and who want to retain the feeling of more familiar handheld devices.
The selection of programs is smaller and less optimized for commercial software, resulting in some hangups with Excel, for example. However, the main system is generally faster and more efficient overall, since there’s less resource drain compared to Windows.
Key Specifications to Consider
Undoubtedly, computers are complicated products and comparing all of the available specs would be a time-consuming task. For the purposes of this guide, we will focus on a few basic functions that are most relevant to consumers looking for budget laptops for everyday use.
Storage Medium: SSD vs. eMMC
Storage is very important, so let’s compare the two options. With an Embedded Multimedia Card (eMMC) device, the storage is embedded directly into the laptop itself. It’s the cheapest option and conserves more power, but they’re slower and have less space than SSD devices. This is not necessarily a problem for people who will only be browsing the internet, but a Solid State Drive (SSD) is writes quickly and stores more files. They’re not available for laptops under 10.1 inches, due to physical limitations. HDD is also a common medium; it has higher capacity, but can be sensitive to shock. Not the best if you’re a butterfingers on the move.
Regardless of the medium, storage is limited for laptops. You can always supplement with an external drive if you find yourself lacking.
Increase Your Working Capacity with 4 GB RAM
For laptops under $500, you will likely have a choice between 2 GB and 4 GB of Random Access Memory (RAM). As this capacity increases, the amount of work that can be done simultaneously also increases. If you plan to use multiple programs at once, 4 GB is the better choice. 4 GB should suit the needs of most users–without all the frustrating lag.
Ergonomic Keyboard Features
Don’t neglect your good old keyboard. A deeper-set keyboard is good for preventing mistakes, while shallower keys reduce strain on arms and shoulders during prolonged use.
In addition, a numeric keypad is invaluable for those who frequently use the calculator or Excel. Note that numeric keypads are only features on larger laptops of 15.6 inches or more, but it’s possible to buy external keypads.
For 2-in-1 Devices: Ensure the Input Terminal is on the Tablet Side
A 2-in-1 notebook has the benefits of both a laptop and tablet, but pay attention to where the USB terminal is attached. It can be located on either the tablet or keyboard. We recommend choosing a laptop with inputs attached directly to the tablet.
The reason is that the power supply is unstable if it’s on the keyboard, and peripheral devices such as disk drives and portable HDDs may not function properly as they draw power. This problem can otherwise be addressed with a separate self-powered USB hub.
The Convenience of Having Both HDMI and VGA Terminals
If you intend to connect your laptop to various projectors, it’s convenient to have VGA terminal in addition to the HDMI terminal. Although HDMI is widespread, it’s not unusual to find projectors and monitors that only have analog input terminals. If you have both options, you’ll be ready for any situation and avoid a jog to Best Buy.
Check the Portability Features
If you are planning to use your laptop on the go, weight is a big concern. Also consider related features such as screen size, type of LCD, and even battery life.
14 Inches or Smaller with Non-Glare Liquid Crystal is Best
At home, having a larger screen is more desirable. But a size of 14 inches or less is better suited to people who use their laptop at school, work, or anywhere else.
Furthermore, we recommend non-glare LCD screens like frosted glass. Glare liquid crystals are shiny and reflective; take your laptop to an outdoor cafe or park, and you’re going to be squinting against the glare.
A Battery Life of 5 to 6 Hours is Usually Enough
Even if you carry a computer from morning till evening, there are few people who leave it running all day. For run-of-the-mill daily use and presentations, 5 to 6 hours will suffice.
However, if you’re going to use your laptop for office work or intensive editing on Word or Excel, a 12-hour battery life may be a safer bet.
Don’t Worry About Microsoft Office or the CPU
Don’t discount a laptop that does not come with Microsoft Office installed, as there are several other options available today, such as OpenOffice or Google Docs. Additionally, while the CPU is an integral part of the computer, at the under $500 range, there’s no big difference between the different processors and manufacturers on the market. It’s more important to understand the natural limitations of a budget laptop.
Top 10 Best Laptops Under $500 to Buy Online
Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of what to look for, please refer to our top 10 list below. It’s time to hunt for the best affordable laptops available today.
10. HP High Performance 15.6″ AMD A6-7310
All-Around Performance at a Reasonable Price
The HP High Performance 15.6″ AMD A6-7310 is a popular product on Amazon. It’s a good all-around laptop under $500 with Windows OS. It has a fairly large 500 GB storage, but that’s because it uses the less durable HDD system rather than SSD or eMMC.
But, you may think, it’s so cheap and it performs, so what’s the catch? Answer: the bulkiness and weight. Nonetheless, it has plenty of RAM and a dual processor, so it makes for a reliable and powerful Windows laptop at a reasonable price–great for general Windows OS users.
9. Samsung Chromebook 3
Simple and Easy to Use for Basic Internet Browsing
Boasting a comfortable, slightly rounded spill-resistant keyboard and an extremely bright LED display, the Samsung Chromebook is a lightweight laptop that can be easily used on-the-go. Although Chrome OS has more limitations, it comes at a lower price than comparable Windows laptops.
As a Chromebook, it is important to note that the main functions and storage depend on Google Drive–and internet connection. The basic specs make it best suited for those looking for general programs and web browsing away from home.
8. Acer Chromebook R 13
Powerful Convertible Features with an Intuitive Interface
Equipped with the intuitive and efficient Chrome OS, the Acer Chromebook R 13 is a convertible keyboard and tablet device that has a surprising amount of power under the hood. A quad-core processor, 4 GB RAM, and 12-hour battery life allow this laptop to shine all day on a single charge.
This Chromebook is heavier than average, and comes at a higher price in return for performance. While not everyone enjoys the convertible style and 360-degree hinge, those looking for flexibility and power can’t go wrong here.
7. ASUS Chromebook C202
A Rugged Laptop Built for the Classroom
The Chromebook C202 from ASUS is marketed as a rugged laptop for students. The 180-degree hinge, spill-resistant keyboard, anti-glare screen, 10 hour battery life, and reinforced rubber frame make it well-prepared for the classroom. And it’s an attractive product for anyone looking for the simplicity of Chrome OS and a hardy, yet lightweight device.
Typical of a Chromebook, it’s best used in conjunction with online storage like Google Drive. With that in mind, the amazing lightness, simplicity, and easy-to-repair design have made this a popular, hassle-free budget laptop.
6. ASUS Chromebook C201PA
Bold, Comfortable Design Paired with High Mobility
In the same line as the previous entry, the ASUS Chromebook C201PA is also worth mentioning for its enhanced performance and bold design, which have made it an Amazon darling. Slightly smaller and lighter than the C202, it’s a highly mobile device with an impressive 13 hours of battery life.
Though it has the same local storage limitations, it’s a sleeker alternative to the rougher finish of the C202. It retains the best features and more; plus, it suits any fashionable consumers beyond the student market.
5. Lenovo IdeaPad 320
A Powerful Multitasker for Work and Media
With a powerful dual processor and expandable 4 GB RAM, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320 is a high-performing laptop capable of handling intensive programs with ease. It has a relatively short battery life of 4.5 hours, because with great performance comes great power consumption.
Its thin profile and lightweight design compensate for the some of these drawbacks, making it a solid and mobile workstation. This is a good choice for workers on the move that need to use a variety of programs simultaneously.
4. HP Stream 14
Portable and Distinct for Younger Users or Light Use
At 11 or 14 inches and with a non-glare LCD, the HP Stream makes for an exceptionally portable and affordable product. The playful color scheme makes it ideal for children, or as a second PC for enjoying media or lighthearted internet browsing.
The long battery life and light weight mean you can use the HP Stream wherever you find yourself in the world. It’s not the most powerful laptop on the list, but it’s cheap, easy to throw into a bag, and boasts Windows.
3. ASUS L402WA-EH21 Thin and Light 14” HD
Comfort and Luxury Without Breaking the Bank
With an ergonomic design despite its small 14 inch size, the ASUS L402WA is easy to use, gentle on the wrists, portable, and packed with the full Windows OS. The keyboard’s shallow keys don’t strain your arms and are easy to navigate, even if you have large hands.
This laptop strikes a balance between portability and performance, which has given it an edge over the competition. The low price makes it a highly accessible budget laptop. It meets all the demands of the general user–a real crowd pleaser.
2. Acer Chromebook 15
Fast, Intuitive, and Sleek for Casual PC Users
The Acer Chromebook comes with Chrome OS installed, and offers an intuitive experience for new PC owners. The beautiful and simple design is a pleasant contrast to typically black devices. It also has SSD storage for consistently quick booting, a rarity for budget laptops.
Again, please note that Chromebooks are mainly designed to be used online. Ideal for casual use, browsing the internet, or enjoying music and videos, the Acer Chromebook line blends style, comfort, and ease of use together into an attractive package.
1. Acer Aspire E 15
Full-Sized and Powerful for Work or Play
This large 15.6 inch laptop boasts a huge resolution, long battery-life, full keyboard, and plenty of connection ports. It also features blue-light reduction modes to ease eye strain–so you don’t need to go out and get special glasses or programs.
The HDD storage medium, along with the weight, mean it’s not as portable as other options. It is, however, a powerful machine for intensive projects and media. It has most everything you’d come to expect from a Windows PC at a low cost, making it a #1 seller on Amazon.
Buying a laptop can be a headache, since you’ve got to sift through all the numbers and unfamiliar terms in the specifications. And it’s important to be realistic about the inherent limitations of budget laptops.
Now that you’ve read our guide, we hope that the process seems a little less daunting. Hopefully, you can find the perfect PC with all the features you need, and more!