This article was last updated by Digital Trends reviewer Mark Coppock on August 5, 2020.
The best laptop under $500 is the
. Laptops at this price point often have significant compromises, whether that’s in performance, the screen quality, or battery life. The Aspire 5, though, manages to have almost everything you’d want in a modern laptop at an impressive price discount.
The best laptops under $500 at a glance:
- The best laptop under $500: Acer Aspire 5
- The best 14-inch laptop under $500: Acer Swift 3
- The best 2-in-1 under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 2
- The best Chromebook under $500: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
- The best laptop under $200: Lenovo Chromebook S340
The best laptop under $500: Acer Aspire 5
Acer’s Aspire 5 has improved significantly in its recent update, bringing better performance, build quality, and battery life. The latest model is priced slightly higher right now, but it often comes in at well under $500 with an 8th-generation Core i3-8145U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 15.6-inch Full HD display.
If you’re willing to spend a little more, an additional $260 will net you a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a discrete Nvidia MX250 GPU.
That’s a lot of computer for not a lot of money. Better yet, this is a well-built budget laptop that inspires confidence in hand, and its keyboard and touchpad punch way above its class. Battery life is also a plus, with the Aspire 5 competing with laptops costing far more money.
The 15-inch 1080p display is very good for the price as well, though you’ll have to jump just outside the $500 budget to add touch-screen functionality. Since this laptop isn’t a 2-in-1 though, that is less of a concern for this sort of money.
Read our in-depth Acer Aspire 5 review
The best 14-inch laptop under $500: Acer Swift 3
Finding a 13-inch laptop for under $500 is nearly impossible. That’s a shame, as it’s the most popular size for a laptop. Fortunately, there are a couple of decent 14-inch laptops that just barely sneak under the $500 limit. The best is the Acer Swift 3.
Rather than cut any corners with a 720p display or a slow hard disk drive, the Swift 3 has the kind of up-to-date components you’d expect in a modern laptop. The performance is up to par too, sporting a dual-core Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM.
It’s not what I’d call a powerful laptop, but outside the Acer Aspire 5, it’s one of the faster Windows laptop you can get at this price.
You’ll have to dig a bit to find this under $500, but if you can snag it for that price, it’s a killer deal. For a few more dollars, I’d recommend bumping it up to the Core i5, which will do wonders for multitasking and running heavier applications too.
Read our in-depth Acer Swift 3 review
The best 2-in-1 under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 2
Microsoft’s Surface Go 2, now in its second generation, is the baby of the Surface range — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a capable little machine. Starting at a price well under our $500 limit, you might think that this is a little too cheap, even for what we’re looking at, but you’d be mistaken. Borrowing many of the excellent features from its more costly siblings like the Surface Pro 7, the Surface Go 2 is a sturdy, well-built detachable 2-in-1 that works just as well in tablet mode as it does as a laptop.
You will need to shell out a little extra for the Type Cover and pen if you want the full laptop and tablet experience, but that does leave you with the option of upgrading later if you want to spread out your costs. And, although its screen isn’t quite as detailed as something you’d find on a dedicated tablet like the iPad, it’s still one of the best we’ve ever seen for a convertible laptop at this price point.
The Surface Go 2 isn’t the fastest device in the world either, but the tablet packs a decent battery life and at this price point, you aren’t going to find a Windows 2-in-1 that can better it.
Read our in-depth Surface Go 2 review
The best Chromebook under $500: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
If you’re on a budget and want a detachable tablet that can meet your web browsing and light productivity needs, look no further than Lenovo’s IdeaPad Duet. It’s an attractively priced tablet at $279 ($299 with 128GB of storage), and best of all it includes a kickstand cover with a great keyboard with touchpad.
That makes the Duet one of the best values we’ve seen, coming in at hundreds of dollars less than competitive tablets once you spend the money on a keyboard cover. Performance is mediocre, but it’s fast enough for the tasks you’ll ask it to perform, and the display is surprisingly good for the money. It’ll run your favorite Android apps, and offers one of the best browsing experiences on a tablet.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad Duet review
The best laptop under $200: Lenovo Chromebook S340
The Samsung Chromebook 4+ might be prettier, but the Lenovo Chromebook S340 sells for an unbelievable price. Despite having the same components as Samsung’s (Intel Celeron N4000, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage), the S340 is a whopping $300 cheaper. The S340 even has a touchscreen to boot.
Its one significant compromise is the screen. It measures at a solid 14 inches, but is only a 1,366 x 768 screen resolution with a max of 220 nits. That’s not all that impressive or sharp, but for a $200 Chromebook, it’ll get you by. You’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop with more value than the Lenovo Chromebook S340.
Research and buying tips
- Are laptops under $500 any good?
- Should I buy a Chromebook?
- Can you buy a gaming laptop for under $500?
- What is missing from $500 laptops?
Are laptops under $500 good?
They can be, though finding one that doesn’t make compromises in multiple areas is difficult. Try to avoid laptops with a screen resolution under 1080p, Windows 10 laptops with a Pentium processor, or laptops without a solid-state drive. There are always exceptions, but those are the types of components that make a significant difference to your experience with a laptop.
Regardless of which you choose, you shouldn’t expect your $500 laptop to do complicated tasks like video editing or gaming. These are for basic computing, word processing, and web browsing.
Should I buy a Chromebook?
Chromebooks don’t offer Windows, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your opinion of Microsoft’s OS. As they’ve matured, Chromebooks have become viable alternatives to Windows PCs, especially in the lower price range. Because Chrome OS is a lighter OS with fewer features, Chromebooks often feel faster, and offer better battery life than their Windows counterparts (at a given price).
They even support Android apps through the Google Play Store, which gives you access to a huge portfolio of mobile apps and games. That said, the Android app experience can leave much to be desired, so you shouldn’t count on it.
The downside is that you can’t just go online and install any application. In fact, anything outside of what you can do in a web browser is off-limits.
Can you buy a gaming laptop for under $500?
For the most part, no. The cheapest gaming laptops
. Those laptops are already fairly underpowered for modern games, though if you play lighter games and are willing to play at low settings, they’ll get by.
None of the laptops on this list are a good choice for 3D gaming.
What is missing from $500 laptops?
Most $500 laptops are made out of plastic, unlike aluminum and other premium materials used in expensive laptops. You’ll also find faster performance in these more expensive laptops. Quad-core processors and 8GB of RAM are the norm in mid-range laptops, while most of the options on this list have less.
Expensive laptops often specialize in either battery life or graphics performance. The Dell XPS 13 will provide you all-day battery life, while the Razer Blade will let you play modern games at high frame rates. When you’re shopping under $500, you should expect a bare-bones laptop. It can handle most day to day tasks with ease, but gaming, photo/video editing, and other more demanding tasks may require a higher budget.