Finding a laptop that can keep up with the day-to-day life of a college student doesn’t seem like it’s that difficult of a task to handle, but once we start talking about a $500 budget, it does start to look a little bit tricky. Tricky, but possible! So in this guide, we’re going to be looking at the best laptops for college students under $500.
I’ve considered the needs of most college students (sorry anyone involved in more graphic intensive courses!) to find the very best laptops that will fulfill their needs. Heck, most of these laptops will fulfill the needs of most people that are looking for a good laptop that can handle some moderate use with good battery life.
If you’re in a rush, here’s a quick overview of the best laptops for college students under $500, followed by my top recommendations.
The best overall laptop for college students under $500 is the Acer Aspire 5. With fast hardware, good battery life, and a display you don’t often find under $500, it’s a great laptop for college students and others who require a device that can easily handle a moderate workload. You can check out the latest price on Amazon here.
The best laptop for college students under $500 that do most of their writing and tasks in the cloud, is the ASUS Chromebook Flip CM5. With a touch-screen that allows the device to double as a large tablet, the Chromebook Flip CM5 is a good option for those that aren’t limited to desktop-based programs and have a good internet connection. You can check out the latest price on Amazon here.
For a more detailed look at all of these devices, scroll down, but first, let’s take a look at what you should consider when looking for a laptop for college.
How To Choose The Best Laptop For College
Finding the perfect laptop for college at a reasonable price can seem like a daunting prospect when you first start looking. There are so many different devices on the market with many features that just drive the price up without providing much value if your laptop should be used primarily for college, university, or other studies.
To make things easier, I’ve broken down exactly what you should look out for as a college student on a budget, looking for a good laptop.
1. Battery life
Good battery life is important when you can’t connect to a power source throughout the day. Being able to keep your laptop running when you’re in a lecture, out and about, or just away from a desk is probably the most important factor to getting your assignments done, attending online classes, or taking notes effectively.
Battery life of at least 6 hours of moderate use should be the minimum requirement, but preferable would be around 8 hours battery life with moderate use.
Another factor that you should consider when looking for a laptop for college is the size and weight of the device, i.e. Portability. As you’ll be carrying this around campus, your dorm, to cafes, and wherever else you plan on going, it makes sense to have a device that does not weigh a ton and isn’t the size of an early 2000’s plasma TV.
Ideally, you should aim for a device with a display that isn’t bigger than 16 inches and isn’t smaller than 13 inches, so that you don’t strain your eyes on a screen that is too small. The body of the device should not be excessively large, but most modern laptops in this size range tend to be quite thin.
When looking for a device below $500 there are bound to be some areas where the manufacturer will look to cut costs and very often this cost-cutting happens with the display. Most devices in this range will have an “HD” display, which is just a nice way of saying 1366 x 720 resolution, or something similar.
I would suggest looking for a full HD display, as the quality is quite a lot better. If you’re willing to compromise though, these 720p displays should have slightly better hardware for faster performance. But again, I would favor the 1920 x 1080 resolution over the very marginal performance increase you may get (oftentimes it’s unnoticeable).
Additionally, if you go the Chromebook route, you can find some great laptops with touch displays so you can use them as a 2-in-1 convertible laptop, which can be great for reading and scrolling the web.
With performance, you’ll want this device to be about as powerful as possible, but with a $500 limit, that power can only really get you so far. Here the processor is not really going to make a world of difference and modern gen. Intel i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 will do the job perfectly fine.
Where you will be able to see a noticeable difference in speed is by having an SSD drive (or eMMC drive on Chromebooks) over a traditional HDD. These flash drives are much faster at reading and writing data, and your laptop will have much less lag.
In addition to the storage type, the amount of RAM can also impact the “feel” of the laptop’s speed. Here you want at least 4GB of RAM, and with a Windows-based device preferably more.
The price of the laptop will of course play a big role in which laptop you choose, but if you can, spending a little it means you can get a much more powerful device which can last you much longer and you’ll be able to do more with the laptop. Like with this Dell, for example, you’ll be able to get started with more graphic intensive processes (or games when you pack the books away), not something that is generally possible for sub $500 devices.
Chromebooks vs Laptops: Which is better for college students?
A Chromebook is a good option for most college students as these are largely cloud-based devices running Chrome OS. This is a much lighter operating system without bloatware, meaning they require less processing power to do general tasks while using less energy at the same time, which tends to give them a longer battery life than windows-based laptops.
The drawback for Chromebooks vs laptops is that they are designed for cloud-based work, so you generally need an internet connection in order to get the most out of them. They also tend to have smaller storage capacity compared to other laptops.
A Windows-based laptop has its benefits over Chromebooks when it comes to running desktop-based programs, like video editing, CAD, graphic design, etc. software. For under $500 however, these laptops will generally struggle with that type of processing, but should not have any problems with standard word processing, internet browsing, video consumption, and conferencing.
If you’re looking for a laptop with more processing power, but at a higher price point, check out this guide I put together of the best laptops for working from home here.
When it comes down to it, Chromebooks provide slightly more in terms of portability, whereas other laptops offer more offline options. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can find my top picks in each category below.
Best Laptops For College Students Under $500: My 5 Top Picks
1. Acer Aspire 5
The Acer Aspire 5 is my top recommendation if you’re looking for a windows-based laptop as opposed to a Chromebook. This laptop has a Full HD display and is just about as big of a laptop as I would recommend for college students at 15.6 inches (display size) and weighing in at just under 4 pounds.
What’s impressive about this laptop is that even though you get that screen real estate, as well as a capable processor from AMD, the battery life is very respectable. A full charge should last you around 7-8 hours with moderate usage.
These laptops can be quite similar, but the extra 500GB hard drive that comes with this device is what elevates it above the rest. With a 128GB SSD for your operating system and program files, along with 8GBs of RAM, the Acer Aspire 5 will be able to handle most moderate tasks without trouble.
ASUS Chromebook Flip CM5
The Chromebook Flip CM5 from ASUS is my top recommendation for any students that are doing mainly cloud-based tasks. With a full HD touch display, this Chromebook is perfect for anyone that spends a lot of time surfing the internet and reading through assignments.
While the RAM and storage may seem low, thanks to Chrome OS, this laptop is still very fast and you won’t notice any lags with daily activities. Add to it the good battery life of over 8-10 hours of moderate use, you should be able to last the whole day on one charge and bring your laptop with you wherever you go.
ASUS VivoBook 15
There’s not much separating the ASUS VivoBook 15 from my top recommendation apart from the processor and extra hard drive on the Acer. The VivoBook does have some benefits over the Acer though, with a USB-C port available and a fingerprint reader for easy access.
The VivoBook is all-in-all slightly smaller than the Acer, as well as being slightly lighter, and with the smaller frame, the ASUS is the better-looking laptop.
Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5
The Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 is a great alternative Chromebook that offers all of the benefits of the ASUS in the 2nd spot in a much smaller and lighter frame. This means that you can much more easily handle the device and use it while on the go. Great for use on the train, bus, and between classes.
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is a good laptop let down by a poor 1366 x 768 resolution display and average battery life.
Like all of the devices I’ve listed already, the Lenovo has a good build quality, something far greater than what you would expect at this price point, and with a good amount of ports and a large 256GB SSD for storage, it could’ve been great with a better display.
If you have a secondary monitor then this could still be a good option for you.
About David Woutersen
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