One of the most important perks of the amazing technological development we’re currently experiencing is how cheap technology can actually become. Devices that would have probably cost thousands upon thousands of dollars only a few years ago are today only a few hundred, and it’s definitely not because the dollar has increased in value (although it did, a bit). This particularly applies to things like laptops and smartphones, which become slimmer, lighter, and more powerful every year. As such, it’s not such an exaggeration to believe that you can get a decent laptop with a less-than-$500 price tag; in fact, you can get something that you’d have bought for $1500 back in 2010 if something like that existed back in 2010.
In order to give you just a little bit more help, we’ve done the research and compiled a list of laptops you may like within the $500 budget. Rest assured: all these models will perform well and it’s more of a matter of preferences rather than quality. Here’s what we personally liked (not in any particular order):
1. Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-52RJ
A classic laptop to the bone, this laptop is not exactly designed for gaming, but not too far either. Preserving the principles behind what we still know as “normal” laptops, but with a design that we honestly consider quite classy, this laptop is not too bulky (at only 23-30mm thickness) nor too heavy (at 2.23kg), so we can safely say that it’s about as portable as it can get within the product category.
At the heart of this machine lies an Intel i5-6200U, dual-core, 2.3GHz, overclocked up to 2.8GHz. It has an nVidia GeForce 940MX graphics card, with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM, as well as 8GB DDR4, which is really neat. Add a 1TB HDD and you’ll get the unquestionably best all-rounder laptop on this list, which can perform tasks ranging from Excel tables and Internet shopping to medium-level gaming and 3D graphics rendering.
2. HP 15-AY013NR
Not a gaming-oriented laptop this time, this HP model is rather what you’d take with you on a business meeting or simply at the office without being afraid you’d look like a cheapskate. It does look pretty premium indeed, although design has never really been one of HP’s strong points. It weighs a bit less than our nr.1, at only 2.1kg, and it’s also a bit thinner. As it doesn’t have a discrete graphics card, the battery life is also not half-bad, with a 7.5 hour rating.
This laptop is built around an i5-6200U, just like our nr.1. Without a dedicated video card, it instead relies on the integrated Intel HD 520, with up to 4096 MB memory. There’s plenty of memory to spare as well, as it has 8GB DDR3L SDRAM, as well as a little surprise: a 128GB SSD which will show you reading and writing speed incomparably superior to the fastest HDD. 3-second Windows boot, here we come!
3. Lenovo IdeaPad 310
Our first Lenovo model and also the first AMD-based laptop is yet another 15.6” classic. It has one of the sexiest designs around, or at least that’s what we think, and it features the absolutely best keyboard, based on the Lenovo proprietary AccuType technology. It’s quite beautiful on the inside as well – although obviously not a powerhouse, it will still perform quite well and, despite the fact that we’re not really into AMD, we’d totally buy this if it were the case.
The processor is an A12-9700P, quad-core, clocked at 2.5GHz, overclocked up to 3.4GHz, which reviewers state that it’s similar to 5th generation i7 processors. This is paired with a Radeon R5, as well as a really, really nice 12GB DDR3L, more than enough for all practical purposes. There’s also a 1TB HDD and all the necessary connectors, as well as a useful SD card reader.
4. Acer Aspire F15 Touchscreen
Yet another Acer model, this one slightly deviates from the beaten path of classic laptops and wanders off into the world of touchscreen devices. It does look pretty similar, on the outside, to our nr.1. However, instead of the FHD display, it features an HD capacitive touchscreen, with 10-point multitouch support.
This F15 model features a 4th generation Intel i5-4210U, dual-core, 1.7GHz and up to 2.7GHz with Turbo Boost, coupled with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4400. The 8GB DDR3L SDRAM is to be expected, as is the 1TB HDD. It’s a modern device all over, with a beautiful design and relatively good battery life (6h rating).
5. Asus F556UA-AB32
While we’re not really used to Asus bringing a hot design to the table, we really have to admit that this one looks really good. It has a very slim metal chassis, with beautiful lines, that is only 25mm thick and 2.3kg heavy. This is probably one of the best deals around here, in spite of not being as powerful as some of our other models, and it’s definitely a model that could make its way without concern into a business meeting or on a professor’s desk.
This model is based on an Intel i3-6100U, dual-core, 2.3GHz, based on the energy-efficient 14nm micro-architecture and accompanied by the Intel HD 520 graphics chip. It only has 4GB DDR4, but it’s upgradable, so no worries on that side. The 1TB hard drive is also pretty satisfactory, although we’d have preferred an SSD on this one. Add the amazing cooling capacity of an Asus laptop and you’ll get something you can actually hold on your lap without burning your thighs.
6. Acer Chromebook 15 CB5-571-58HF
Although originally Chromebooks are designed to be really low-budget notebooks, there are also a couple of exceptions to the rule. Among these Google-operated laptops, this Acer model is definitely a powerhouse. It looks like every other Acer Chromebook, but it’s a full 15.6” and it has an FHD IPS screen, as well as an amazing 9h-rated battery, the absolute highest on this list and generally quite a lot for a full-size notebook.
The processor, quite uncommon for a Chromebook, is an i5-5200U, clocked at 2.2GHz and up to 2.7GHz with Intel Turbo Boost. It comes together with the Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics chip, as well as 4GB DDR3L SDRAM and the 32GB SSD we’re already used to seeing in this category of notebooks. Fortunately, it also features an SD card reader which can help expand the storage quite a lot.
7. Dell Inspiron 15 – i3543-2000BLK
This Dell model is another budget touchscreen laptop, although you wouldn’t say so at a first glance. It doesn’t really have the slender lines of Acer or the sharper corners of Lenovo and, in all honestly, it looks like a laptop-shaped chunk of plastic, but it’s nonetheless a pretty great pick for the price tag. This is also due to its relatively long overall endurance rating – the Dell researchers even tested how many times you can remove and reinstall the battery, which is more than 750 times (why would anyone do that?).
This laptop is powered by an Intel i3-5005U, dual-core, 2.16GHz, 3MB cache, with Intel HD 5500 graphics chip. It comes with 4GB DDR3L, which is not all that amazing, and a 500GB hard disk drive. According to the reviews, it also seems to have a pretty good keyboard as well.
The types of laptop you can buy for this budget have been diversified lately. Not only do you have available the good old classic 15.6” notebook, but you can also acquire a laptop sized 11.6” to 17.3”, flip screen, touchscreen, an ultrabook if you want, a Chromebook and a couple of other options as well. As such, the last thing you should be afraid of is that you won’t find what you need within the price range.
Of course, it’s not as simple as pointing towards a device and saying “I want that”. You could do that, but it would probably result in you paying $500 for something that’s not particularly great. You have to carefully consider a couple of things if you don’t want to waste your money, including the very purpose for which you buy the laptop and the environment in which you’re going to use it. If you’re a primary school teacher, you may want to get a cheap and super-resistant Chromebook that can take a fall from your desk. If you’re a student, you want the same thing. If you’re an office worker or you own a small business, you probably prefer something more business-looking, with a slimmer design and more beautiful lines. Finally, if you’re just the average person who wants a laptop, then a nice, classic all-rounder should be perfect for you.
You should pay attention, in particular, to the key components of any computer: the CPU, the graphics card, the memory, and the storage. The CPU is the very core of your machine – if it’s crappy, then the entire laptop will perform as such. For this price, you may very well find an Intel i5 or at least an i3, so try not to settle for less. Some lower-end processors work well with Chromebooks, but other than that, do your best and find a good processor first and foremost. You’ll thank us later.
Starting from this price range, you can actually find laptops with dedicated graphics cards. Not exactly gaming rigs, but at least gaming-oriented models. The newer the graphics card, the better – basically, the higher the model number, the better the card. In general, nVidia cards work better than their AMD counterparts in the same price range. You can’t expect to get a GTX 1060 for less than $500 (only the card by itself is more than that), but you’ll still get a 920M, 935MX, or even 940M for that kind of money. As far as AMD cards go, you will probably only find entry-level ones for within that price range.
The memory is important as well, especially if you’re multitasking a lot. You can see the difference between 4GB and 8GB RAM when you have 80 Chrome tabs open, and from a certain point, you can even tell the difference between DDR3 and DDR4. At any rate, more is better and try your best to get DDR4 if possible. The ideal amount is 8GB if you can get that much; if not, at any rate, don’t settle for any less than 4GB.
Storage is also of concern. For up to $500, you can get a 128GB SSD or even a 256GB one, if you’re lucky, and we really advise that you get that. There’s an immense difference in speed and overall performance between an HDD and an SSD and you can always get a high-capacity external storage device if you want. If you can only find an HDD-based laptop, at least let it be no smaller than 500GB, though 1TB hard drives are pretty common for this budget as well.
There are also other concerns, including the case material, screen size and resolution, ports, upgradability, Wi-Fi standard, and so on. However, these are of secondary importance. What’s more, a laptop that has great basic specs will probably also have at least good secondary specs.