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There are countless laptops on the market, and finding the best laptop for you may be an overwhelming process. Evaluating a laptop’s display, battery life, processor, memory, storage, and ports, among other features, can be exhausting. Computer manufacturers have designed laptops for every possible use. In addition to the sheer volume of laptops, the pricing can also vary, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
You may find it surprising that some of the best laptops under $500 do nearly everything that more expensive models do. Buying a budget-friendly laptop doesn’t mean you have to compromise on what matters most. The worthiest laptops are portable, have a brilliant display, and are easy to use. For people with a more specific use, such as business or distance learning, additional features to consider might be versatility, wireless connectivity, and the ability to boost memory, storage, or graphics.
Whether you’re shopping for a laptop to boost your productivity, play video games, or stream movies and music, we have you covered. Not only have we analyzed several laptops, but we’ve also created a short list of things to consider when purchasing the right laptop for you. From our list of the best laptops under $500, we’ve identified laptops suitable for students, families, and professionals alike.
ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS04
If you need a basic laptop on a budget, the ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS04 is the computer for you. Even though the Chromebook C202SA-YS04 has only a 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron N3060 processor and 4GB of RAM, it has a remarkable battery life of up to 10 hours and one free year of 100GB Google cloud storage.
Weighing in at slightly under 3 pounds with a small 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display, the Chromebook C202SA-YS04 is extremely compact. Due to its tiny size, ASUS incorporated a protective shell and a durable keyboard. The Chromebook C202SA-YS04 is enclosed in a heavy-duty protective rubber that shields the computer against drops of nearly 4 feet high. Additionally, the durable keyboard can withstand the occasional coffee or water spill (up to 66 cubic centimeters of fluid) without much alarm.
The Chromebook C202SA-YS04’s petite size presents a unique set of challenges. The modest display may make it difficult to read the screen and may be subject to glare. Fortunately, the limited viewing area and predisposition of the screen to glare are offset by the anti-glare coating and the ability to flex the hinge completely flat for viewing the screen with others. The Chromebook C202SA-YS04’s small size doesn’t impact its connectivity options, as users have several USB ports for storing files on an external drive and accessing the Google Play Store for downloading supported Android apps.
“The C202SA has a unique enough look while not crossing the line into looking like a child’s toy. For those who don’t need all the bells and whistles for a computer, the C202SA will get the job done.” —
Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Best for College Students:
ASUS VivoBook L203MA
Most college students need an inexpensive computer that can handle research, writing, and collaboration with peers. For the typical studious multitasker, the ASUS Vivobook L203MA-DS04 is ideal for getting schoolwork done. Students will have no problem carrying the laptop around campus since it weighs a little over 2 pounds with the battery included. Speaking of its battery, frequent charging isn’t necessary since the battery lasts up to 10 hours.
Being so lightweight, it’s no surprise that the screen is 11.6 inches. However, the screen’s 1366 x 768 display makes it easy on the eyes. The fold-flat display makes it easy to share work with classmates and professors. If you’re a math or science major, beware of the keyboard’s lack of a keypad.
To keep up with multiple projects without delays or sluggish loading times, Vivobook L203MA-DS04 offers an Intel Celeron N4000 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash storage. This speedy computer should provide any student with more than enough flexibility for schoolwork and leisure. Since most students use a variety of Microsoft programs, ASUS caters to them by offering a free full year of Microsoft 365, which increases productivity.
HP 14t-dq200 Touch Optional Laptop
Shoppers interested in an affordable laptop under $500 that can do more than just the basics will find a fit in the HP 14t-dq200 Touch Optional Laptop. The 14-inch display doesn’t have the thinnest bezel on the market, but it’s more minimal than some and creates a balanced 78 percent screen-to-body ratio.
This model houses an Intel i3-1115G4 processor that delivers reliable speed for a variety of tasks. You can also rely on smooth and speedy loading times and sufficient storage, thanks to the 8GB of DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD capacity. That means this laptop is capable of your average computing demands as well as performing more intensive tasks such as photo editing and mid-weight gaming.
While the battery is capable of reaching 8 hours, more taxing programs could shorten that capacity. The good news is that a quick charge of 45 minutes should restore the battery to half full.
HP Chromebook x360 (2020 Model)
The convertible HP Chromebook x360 offers several use modes including laptop-style, tented, and tablet for those in the market for a versatile laptop. Irrespective of the mode, the laptop affords touchscreen prompts, keyboard fluidity, and trackpad flexibility so you can adapt the way you interact with the machine.
Its 14-inch FHD display maintains a ratio of 88 percent, giving the impression of edge-to-edge viewing. The brilliant sizable display is showcased with the laptop’s HD camera supporting a broad 88-degree viewing angle that is perfect for group video chats.
Along with the versatility and superior display, the convertible Chromebook x360 includes Bang & Olufsen dual speakers, 64GB of flash storage, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, gigabit Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6 support. It also has extra security measures including a fingerprint reader and camera privacy cover.
The laptop’s premium features come with downsides. For instance, for a typical Chromebook, the x360 is heavier and larger, weighing in at 3.5 pounds. Though not the most portable, this well-designed 2-in-1 is equipped with an astonishing 12.5-hour battery capacity. Not only does the battery last longer than most laptop batteries, but its fast-charging capability also restores the battery to 90 percent in just 90 minutes.
HP Stream 11
It’s possible to get a great computer for a little over $200 with HP. For $220, the HP Stream 11 gives you a notebook laptop with media streaming capabilities. For example, the computer includes a built-in Netflix app for quick launching and streaming. When you’re watching Netflix, listening to music, or pursuing an ebook, you’ll notice exceptional stereo speakers. Even though the speakers are located at the bottom of the Stream 11, they’re clear and free from muffling or echoing.
For a media-streaming-centered laptop, the 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 HD display isn’t very generous or bright. But if you’re in the right lighting and at the right angle, the display is sufficient for your steaming needs.
The processor and memory aren’t anything to write home about. The Stream 11 has an Intel Celeron N4020 1.1Ghz processor and 4GB of RAM, which could lead to sluggishness when multitasking for work or school. Nonetheless, this HP’s computing basics, hardware, decent battery life of 8 hours, and connectivity options such as HDMI, USB (including USB-C), and microSD ports are worth the attractive price.
“The HP Stream 11 performs the basics well in a portable form factor and with a capable battery and impressive speakers.” – Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
Best for Productivity:
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
The Lenovo Chromebook Duet is perfect for movers and shakers on the go as the laptop supports productivity and is easily portable. The Chromebook is light as a feather, coming in at less than 1 pound, and is compact enough to fit snuggly within a large jacket pocket. This 2-in-1 Chromebook gives you the option to detach the keyboard or leave the keyboard intact with a display and cover.
Even with attaching the keyboard and convenient kickstand, the Chromebook Duet’s weight increases to a total of 2 pounds. The laptop’s portability may present problems for some. When placed in laptop mode, the device and its touchpad are relatively small. There may be awkward arm and hand positioning for users to avoid cramping from prolonged use.
The Chromebook Duet’s 10.1-inch 1920 x 1000 display is an FHD screen that’s compatible with the USI stylus for greater user flexibility. Unfortunately, the processor and RAM don’t provide the same flexibility. The MediaTek Helio P60T Processor and 4GB of RAM aren’t robust enough to support demanding workloads. But even if the Chromebook Duet’s specifications aren’t designed in accordance with intensive use, the specifications are sufficient for regular multitasking between apps, streaming, and web browsing.
For such a workload, the battery can last for up to 10 hours on a single charge. When you’re ready to take advantage of the generous battery life, you’ll notice the Chromebook Duet boots quickly in under 10 seconds. This Chromebook is ideal for those desiring ultimate portability, on-the-go productivity, and the Chrome OS.
“This compact 2-in-1 serves up ample portability and versatility for lightweight multitasking. The petite Chromebook Duet can handle your basic needs on the go.” – Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
The Acer Aspire 5 A515-56-3453 offers everything the average person needs in a laptop. The Aspire 5 has a speedy processor, stellar 15.6-inch display, Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, input variety, and upgradeable internals. Not to mention its affordability, which is an added benefit to supporting your day-in and day-out productivity.
If you’re in the market for a convertible laptop, we recommend the HP Chromebook x360. Users have the option to use this versatile x360 as a notebook, tablet, or in a tented orientation. While it’s at a higher price point than the Aspire 5, the Chromebook x360 provides a bit of everything for under $500. You can find a generous FHD display, B&O speakers, a fingerprint reader, and a battery that lasts almost 13 hours within the versatile laptop.
About Our Trusted Experts
Nicky LaMarco has been writing and editing for more than 15 years for consumer, trade, and technology publications about many topics including: antivirus, web hosting, backup software, and other technologies.
Yoona Wagener is an experienced technology and commerce writer. She has been with Lifewire since 2019. Prior to Lifewire, Yoona wrote for Idealist Careers, nonprofit organizations, and small tech companies. Her focus is on Home Theater and Entertainment, Computers and Computer Peripherals, Streaming Devices, and Smart Watches.
Jeremy Laukkonen is a technology ghostwriter serving major trade publications. He attributes his success in technical writing to experiences that taught him the importance of breaking down complex technical subjects in understandable ways. In addition to writing about technology, Jeremy creates content for his automotive blog crankSHIFT.
Patrick Hyde has over four years of experience writing about technology. He has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Reactual, Rawkus, and Waremakers. Patrick specializes in consumer technology, consumer electronics, android devices, and headphones and earbuds. When he is not writing about technology, Patrick also serves as a digital marketer and copywriter.
Taylor Clemons has over three years of experience writing about games and consumer technology. She has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar and her own publication, Steam Shovelers. Taylor has proven herself knowledgeable about PC components, operating systems, and gaming console hardware.
Emmeline Kaser is an experienced product researcher and reviewer in the field of consumer tech. She’s been with Lifewire since 2018 and since her arrival, Emmeline served as an editor for Lifewire’s product testing and recommendation round-ups. She has extensive experience researching and reviewing the e-commerce market to identify the best products to meet consumer needs.
What to Look For in a Budget Laptop
One of the constants of the tech landscape is the computer. Specifically, the laptop is the center of most people’s digital lives. There are a dozen of factors to consider prior to your purchase. Important factors include, but are not limited to, the complexity of your workload, operating system, RAM, storage, graphics, ports, display, weight, and size.
With the number of things to keep in mind when buying a laptop, we’ve put together a brief guide of the top three considerations to alleviate any stress during your purchase. But buying a laptop hasn’t necessarily become any easier. In fact, thanks to technology improvements that allow for things like 2-in-1s (laptops that double as tablets), buying a laptop may well have become more difficult.
The Computer Processing Unit (CPU), called a processor for short, is known as the brain of a computer. Every action you take on a computer undergoes some type of processing, whether it travels through a CPU or Graphics Processor Unit (GPU). As such, a computer with a decent processor is important.
In examining processors, understand that the clock speed is critical as it determines how quickly a process performs. Also look at the number of cores, if any, a processor has. The particular number ascertains how many tasks a processor can handle at once.
Intel’s processors are the most common chips. Consequently, no matter what the operating system and form factor, you are likely to buy a laptop with an Intel processor. Whether a laptop has an Intel chip or that of another manufacturer, keep in mind that the newer one is almost always better. While shopping, if you have the choice between a laptop with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 chip and one with a 6th-generation Core i5 chip, go with the 8th-generation device as it’s the newer chip.
Random Access Memory (RAM) dictates how much available space the computer has to store files for immediate use. Opened applications and services running on your laptop are stored in RAM where the processor—like discussed above—can quickly access them. Typically, the more RAM, the better. Yet, that’s not always the case. More RAM can exhaust your battery quicker and can cause you to spend more on your laptop purchase.
For the average laptop user, 8GB of RAM seems to be sufficient. If you plan on using your laptop for web-browsing and basic media streaming, 8GB is more than enough and you can get away with fewer gigabytes. On the other hand, if you plan on using your laptop for more than the web and media, you’ll need no less than 8GB.
How much storage you need will depend on the type of files and the size of files you’re storing on your laptop. Though storage seems simple, complexities arise when considering different types of storage. For instance, there are hard drives and solid-state drives (SSD) that can store your files and media.
Hard drives used to be the end-all-be-all of storage types, but that’s no longer the case. SSDs are faster, slimmer, and don’t have any moving parts, which means that they’re less likely to fail. Although SSDs are the premier storage type, they’re pricier than computers with hard drives. To save on your storage, you can purchase a laptop with a smaller SSD and combine it with cloud storage such as DropBox or Google Drive.
Whether you get a hard drive or SSD, you’ll want roughly 256GB or more of storage. If you won’t store much on your computer and you’re good at offloading files via cloud storage, 128GB will suit your needs.