You can get a good laptop without racking up a large number on your credit card. For less than $500, you could get a desktop replacement, a long-battery ultrabook, a 2-in-1, or even a gaming notebook.
You need realistic expectations though. When you’re buying budget laptops, you’ll get middling performance. You can play games, but not at max video resolutions. A desktop replacement will do everything that your current old desktop does, but not what a modern desktop today can do.
That said, $500 isn’t a small amount, and the machine will do the basics of the task you buy it for.
Best Desktop Replacement: Asus X555 DA AS11
If you aren’t a gamer or someone who needs tons of horsepower from their computer, stop using a desktop PC. It’s time to upgrade to a “desktop replacement” notebook. These do everything that the average user needs while offering a laptop’s portability and energy efficiency.
The Asus X555 DA is a stunning notebook with a 15.6-inch Full HD screen with an anti-glare matte finish. It has all the ports you might need for connectivity. On the downside, it’s missing an Ethernet port, but who cares when there’s Wi-Fi 802.11ac support. There’s even a DVD writer, which you don’t often find on laptops anymore. All in all, this is an ideal laptop for college students.
The X555 DA is powered by a quad-core AMD A10 processor and 8GB of RAM. I’d recommend sticking with the 256GB SSD for faster performance, but you can opt for a 1TB HDD at a $50 discount.
Spend a Little More: Acer Aspire E15 E5-575G-57D4
In case your budget lets you add $80, forget about the Asus and get the Acer Aspire E15. It’s a far superior laptop, and worth much more than the extra 80 bucks it costs.
Upgrades include a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 940MX graphics card, and significantly higher battery life.
I’d highly recommend you borrow or save up an extra $80 and get this one over the X555 DA.
Best Battery and Lightest: Lenovo ThinkPad 13
A laptop with a dead battery is nothing more than an oversized brick. If you need long battery life and portability, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is perfect, even if it’s $10 above the budget.
ThinkPads are renowned for their durability and toughness, so it will withstand all the bumps and drops of regular life. And it has that delectable ThinkPad keyboard with the trackball, along with an excellent trackpad.
In LaptopMag’s reliable tests, the ThinkPad 13 lasted for 9 hours of continuous web browsing, which is quite impressive. Lenovo improves on that with a USB Type-C port to charge it, as long as you have the right power bank for laptops.
The company claims to have solved all of the security reasons to avoid Lenovo, but familiarize yourself with them nonetheless. And be on your guard.
Note: The Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s price has fluctuated a few times. It debuted at $650, dropped to $510, and went up to $550 again. It’s still a good deal at $550, but if you don’t want to spend that much, wait for it to drop again.
Best 2-in-1 Hybrid or Convertible: Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi
When we looked at the best $500 laptops in 2016, I said that the Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi was an exceptional deal. And it continues to be the best budget choice for 2-in-1 hybrid or convertible laptops.
The specs are perfect: a 12.5-inch Full HD IPS touchscreen, an Intel Core M processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD. And there’s all the bells and whistles you expect, like a micro USB port, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and so on.
The T300 Chi “transforms” from a regular laptop into a tablet by detaching the screen. And Windows 10 is primed to work with touchscreens anyway. Connect the two pieces back together and you’ll get over eight hours of battery life. What’s not to like here?
Best Chromebook: Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA
The Chromebook has gotten better and better with age. When you’re ready to ditch Windows, don’t even think twice and get the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA. You’ll never look back.
The Chromebook Flip does not skimp on the hardware, unlike most other Chrome-based laptops. It has a fantastic 12.5-inch Full HD screen, an Intel Core M processor, 4G RAM, and 64GB SSD. And hey, you get a USB Type-C port too. All put together, this is a well-performing machine that will feel fast and powerful on its Chrome OS.
One of the things to keep in mind when buying a Chromebook is Android support. Some current and all future Chromebooks will support Android apps, which makes them far more useful than ever before. Asus has also confirmed that the Chromebook Flip C302CA will work with Android. Since it has an excellent touchscreen and the ability to flip the screen back, you get two devices for the price of one.
Best “Get Things Done” Laptop: Acer Aspire E15 E5-575-33BM
Just because your budget is $500 does not mean you need to spend the whole amount. If you can get things done and save a few bucks, why shouldn’t you? The Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM is the top choice on Amazon, as well as the recommended notebook from several reviewers.
It meets the minimum requirements of a “good enough” laptop, with 4GB RAM and a 7th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. There’s even a USB Type-C port to charge the device, and a DVD writer to make it a decent desktop replacement.
In short, it lets you be productive without spending a bomb. The Aspire E15 E5-575-33BM is ideal for web browsing, Office work, and basic multimedia.
An Untested Gem: ASUS F402BA-EB94
We try not to judge a device by its specifications alone, since those can overpromise and under-deliver. That’s why I’m not comfortable recommending the Asus F402BA right now, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
The hardware on this device is unbelievable for $500, including a 14-inch Full HD screen, an AMD A9 processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB RAM. There’s a USB Type C port too. And even with all that, it weighs under 4 pounds and is less than an inch thick.
Perhaps the best part is that the Asus F402BA is preloaded with Windows 10 Signature Edition. This is a “pure Windows” version with no bloatware to get rid of.
The Asus F402BA hasn’t been tested by reliable sources, and there aren’t any Amazon product reviews you can trust. But if it delivers what it promises, this is a killer machine for $500.
Can You Go Cheaper?
Chromebooks and Intel’s new line of low-cost processors have made it possible to go even cheaper than $500. In fact, we have an entire guide on the best laptops under $300, including which processors to get and avoid.
Do you think $500 is necessary to get a good laptop these days or would you go even cheaper? What’s your pick for the best budget laptop?