It’s surprising how little you have to spend to get a good laptop these days. Whether you’re getting ready to go back to school or just need a new notebook PC for work, you can get something that meets your needs for less than $500.
From lightweight notebooks with long battery life to hybrids and convertibles, the new budget laptop market has something for everyone without compromising on quality. Heck, there’s even a decent gaming machine if you’re ready to extend your budget by about $30.
So save yourself the trouble of scouring through Amazon and other shopping sites because we’ve got the best laptops under $500 in 2016 right here.
Best Battery and Lightest: Asus VivoBook E403SA-US21
If you’re a student who needs portability and probably will be away from a charging point for hours, the Asus VivoBook E403SA-US21 is a godsend.
The VivoBook’s battery offers 57 Wh (watt-hours) of juice, which is exceptional battery life. It uses a non-removable lithium-ion though, so you should take care of your laptop battery nonetheless. Measuring just 0.7-inch thin and weighing 3.3 pounds; it’s the ultimate portable laptop in the sub-$500 price range.
The good news is that you still get a 14-inch Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) screen with a matte finish. The VivoBook guts include a 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Atom Braswell N3700 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. It’s enough power for browsing the web, working in Microsoft Office, watching high-definition movies, basic image editing, and more. It’s too slow to use for high-end PC gaming, professional coding, or video editing.
The best part? The Vivobook E403SA is equipped with a USB Type-C port and can be charged through it, which means that if you have a smartphone with a Type-C port, you can use the same charger for both devices. It’s no wonder LaptopMag picked the Vivobook as the best sub-$500 laptop.
Best 2-in-1 Hybrid or Convertible: Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi
If you’re on a budget, it might be unfeasible to purchase a laptop and a separate tablet. That’s why 2-in-1 hybrids or “mini PC tablets” are so popular these days and a sensible fiscal choice. The best of the lot again comes from Asus.
The mobile-friendly Intel Core M processor powers the Transformer Book, which combines the battery efficiency of an Atom with performance approaching a Core i3. In addition, the Transformer includes 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD .
The aluminum body makes the 12.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) touchscreen feel premium when used as a tablet. Snap the tablet into the keyboard dock and it’s just like any laptop you’ve ever used. Overall, you can expect about 8 hours of battery life on a single charge.
This Signature Edition also removes Windows 10 bloatware, so it’s just the pure Windows experience here.
We think the Transformer T300 is the best you can get in this segment, but if you specifically want a convertible and not a hybrid, then the HP Pavilion x360 (UK) is the best choice. The 13.3-inch HD (1366×768 pixels) touchscreen flips back completely to turn it into a tablet, and it has solid hardware on board too, including a 6th generation Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM, and 1TB HDD.
Best Desktop Replacement: HP 15-ay013nr
Being on a budget often means you need a laptop that can also be a desktop replacement and is future-proof. You want a big screen, an optical drive (just in case), loads of RAM, and you want it to support the Wireless AC standard. These elements add bulk and weight, but you’ll get all this and more in the HP 15-ay013nr.
Inside the laptop, you get a 6th generation Intel Skylake Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM — one of the few notebooks in the sub-$500 range to have both those elements. That’s powerful enough for any work you might have. There’s even a DVD burner. And all of it comes together inside a large 15-inch Full HD screen.
HP is giving users the option to fit in a 128GB solid state drive (SSD) or a 1TB hard disk drive (HDD). We usually recommend an SSD because of its speed and drop resistance. But if you’re going to load your laptop with, ahem, legally obtained high-definition movies, then the 1TB version will serve you better.
Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook 14
The budget market these days is dominated by Chromebooks, especially since so many schools are now employing it in classrooms. In this crowded field, the Acer Chromebook 14 stands head and shoulders above the rest.
The aluminum chassis and the 14-inch Full HD matte screen are not elements that you often see in low-cost Chromebooks. Plus, it packs 4GB of RAM, which aids when multitasking on a Chromebook. Coupled with the 1.6GHz Intel Celeron N3160 processor, it can handle all the things you can do on a Chromebook.
Like with most Chromebooks, it also has a stellar battery life. Multiple reviewers also noted that the large keyboard and touchpad were a nice touch since most Chromebooks feel a bit cramped.
As always, you also get a bunch of freebies from Google, like 100GB of Google Drive space and unlimited music from Google Play. And remember, Chrome OS now supports Android apps.
Best Gaming Laptop: Acer Aspire E15 E5-575G-57D4
It’s no secret that a gaming laptop will always be inferior to a gaming PC. PC games won’t work at full resolution and in all their glory on your notebook, but the Acer Aspire E5-575G is a good enough experience for casual gamers.
Powered by a 2GB Nvidia GeForce 940MX discrete graphics card, it will be able to play most games released in the recent past. Reviewers even tried out GTA V and found that it worked fine at “Medium” graphics settings. You might still want to try some tricks to improve gaming performance on laptops.
The E5-575G comes equipped with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U 6th generation processor, 8GB DDR4 RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. You can even add more RAM to your laptop to make it 16GB. A 15.6-inch Full HD screen caters to your viewing needs. And it’s preloaded with Windows 10 and all its gaming delights.
Naturally, the laptop is quite heavy, and battery life isn’t excellent. But those are to be expected when you want a gaming laptop.
Newegg has the best price for this one at $510, and we’d recommend spending those extra ten bucks over our prescribed budget. If you can afford $50 more, then Amazon has a model with a 256GB SSD for $550, which will probably give you better battery life and faster performance.
Which Laptop Looks Best To You?
After recently looking at the best sub-$1000 laptops in 2016, I didn’t expect to get such a bounty of excellent laptops for less than $500. If I were choosing among these, I’d want to buy the Asus VivoBook E403SA. That killer battery life and the matte screen are instant sellers for me.
Which of these notebooks would you buy? Do you think the specifications here are enough or would you rather extend your budget a little to grab something better?