Published Jun 30, 2022 3:00 PM

We’ve all heard the phrase “you get what you pay for” when it comes to purchasing laptops where the user experience really matters. That line of thinking makes sense: something that is more expensive is, in theory, made with more bleeding-edge technology and high-quality materials, thus making it last longer and ensuring higher performance. Sure, that’s true with gaming laptops or laptops for music production, etc.—gear that requires more processing power now and futureproofing for whatever demanding software comes along next. Sometimes, however, things are expensive just because they … are, and you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a laptop if you’re just going to surf the web. Enter the best laptops under $500. 

Cheap laptops might not have the strongest processor or largest hard drive, but they include components that are more than capable of handling multiple open tabs without the need to spend multiple thousands. Here are our top picks for inexpensive laptops that will leave you with more money in your pocket and fewer worries about losing out on quality.

How we chose the best laptops under $500

We all have so many opinions on gear here at Popular Science. If ignorance is bliss, then the number of things we know about laptops could be misery if we didn’t enjoy sharing our knowledge so much. We’ve combined all that firsthand experience with a deep dive into peer suggestions, critical reviews, and user testimonials to determine the best laptops under $500. 

What to consider when buying the best laptops under $500

“If I just need a laptop to access the internet, I should be able to pick out whatever laptop I want, right?” Unless you like throwing your money at things, you should probably use some discretion when choosing a laptop. Here are some things you should think about:

Use-case scenarios

Will you use your laptop to enter rabbit holes of online sleuthing? Are you using it for streaming and video calling? Would you like to use your laptop to do online coloring pages without purchasing a separate tablet? Your use-case will determine the kind of laptop you need. If you’re looking to do video editing, powerful gaming, or music production, you might want to invest in a laptop that can smoothly run any related programs. A laptop with a touchscreen or 2-in-1 capabilities can help you channel your inner Picasso on the cheap. Plus, your ability to have 100 tabs open at once or hold your entire capybara picture collection will depend on two things: RAM and memory.

RAM

Enter our silly kitchen metaphor: Random Access Memory, or RAM, is like your kitchen counter. The larger your counter, the more things you can place on it without creating too much chaos. You can do more things at once (like have dozens of tabs open and run Photoshop) or perform one large task flawlessly (like editing a movie in Adobe Premiere or coding) with more RAM. RAM can range from 4 gigabytes (GB) all the way up to 2 terabytes. Most computers on this list will range from 4-8 GB. Look for “Memory,” “Installed Physical Memory,” and “RAM” on product listings or in your laptop’s settings to find how much RAM you have.  

Storage

Storage is like your refrigerator: it determines how much “stuff,” like documents and images, your laptop can store. Documents tend to take up less space in your laptop storage; images and software like the Adobe Creative Suite take up more space. Laptops typically come with two different kinds of storage drives: hard disk drives, or HDD, and solid-state drives, or SSD. HDDs use physical spinning plates and a magnetic head to read and write data. They tend to be slower and more fragile, but are cheap. SSDs are faster, silent, low-profile, and shock-resistant, but tend to be more expensive. In addition, the storage may actually be an eMMC (Embedded MultiMediaCard), which is often lumped in with SSDs because it is also using NAND flash memory but is inferior in terms of speed. It’s also worth noting that you can always purchase an external hard drive if your laptop’s built-in storage capabilities are not high enough for your needs.  

Budget

Budget is still a concern even with the best laptops under $500. Thankfully, you can purchase a quality laptop for even less than you thought you could. Many of our listees include touchscreens and 2-in-1 capabilities and are priced at around $200.

The best laptops under $500: Reviews & Recommendations

The best laptops under $500 are functional and won’t fail you. Here are our recommendations.

Best overall: Acer Aspire 5


Why it made the cut: This laptop has enough RAM and storage to tackle more advanced computing without hurting your wallet. 

Specs

  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Storage: 256 GB SSD
  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3350U Quad-Core Processor
  • Screen size: 15.6 inches
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

Pros

  • SSD
  • Quad-core processor 
  • Fingerprint reader for security
  • Plenty of options for more storage and RAM

Cons

  • Not enough storage space for games or production work
  • 8-hour battery life.

We named the Acer Aspire 5 in our round-up of best cheap laptops, bestowing it as the best laptop under $500. After much testing and deliberation, it gets the top spot on this list, too. It features 8 GB of RAM, a quad-core AMD processor, and a 128 GB SSD, which is phenomenal for its price point—Apple products with starter specs have gone for at least $1,400 (here’s to you, 2018 MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar). The AMD Ryzen 3 3350U processor with Radeon graphics can handle a research paper’s worth of tabs, and the 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 LED display shows your photos and videos in crisp high-definition. Windows 11—the latest Microsoft OS—is included, and Bluetooth capabilities allow you to connect your wireless headphones for playing your tunes without disrupting anyone. A fingerprint reader adds biometric security, and plenty of ports will leave you dongle-free. If you’re shopping for a graduate on a budget, this is one of the best cheap Windows laptops and a great consideration. 

Best Chromebook: Asus Chromebook Flip C536

Asus Chromebook Flip C536 is the best Chromebook laptop under $500

Why it made the cut: This Chromebook showcases what Chrome OS is capable of.

Specs

  • RAM: 8 GB
  • Storage: 128 SSD
  • Processor: Intel 11th Generation Core i3
  • Screen size: 15.6 inches
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

Pros

  • Touchscreen
  • Solid build quality 
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Laptop screen provides excellent picture quality and contrast 

Cons

  • Webcam quality could be better
  • Glass touchpad isn’t accurate

Most laptop users are familiar with Windows and macOS. However, with the rise of Chromebooks (starting in 2011), Chrome OS—Google’s proprietary operating system—has become a new formidable player thanks to its simplicity, speed, and built-in security. The Asus Chromebook Flip C536 is proof that a Chromebook can play with macOS and Windows at laptop recess. A 128 GB SSD allows for fast start-up times and multitasking. A 360-degree flip-and-fold design means this laptop can be a tablet, and you can use it in audience, tabletop, or presentation modes. On-processor graphics with shared video memory give you great image quality while surfing the internet, all while handling basic photo editing and casual gaming. All of this technology is packed in a thin 0.7-inch design. If you’re looking to be the clearest person on the video call, you’ll sadly lose that competition with this laptop. Plus, the 5.68-inch glass touchpad—which can support palm-rejection and multitouch gestures, in fairness—isn’t as accurate as some other touchpads in similarly priced models. There is a USB port and the laptop is Bluetooth-enabled, so you can always connect a wireless mouse.

Best 2-in-1: Lenovo Chromebook Flex 

Lenovo Chromebook Flex is the best 2-in-1 laptop under $500

Why it made the cut: Narrow bezels, a slim design, and decent specs make for a stylish and user-friendly 2-in-1 laptop.

Specs

  • RAM: 4 GB SSD
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Processor: 10th generation InteI i3 Core processor
  • Screen size: 13.3 inches
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels

Pros

  • Great choice for those who use web-based applications
  • Keyboard has a nice feel to it
  • 10-hour battery life

Cons

  • Not the best for heavy multitasking
  • Small amount of storage

It’s true that 2-in-1 laptops are great for those who want a device that feels like a laptop, but could moonlight as a tablet. The Lenovo Chromebook Flex, with a slim .67-inch high body, is just that: the keyboard has a nice feel to it, unlike other 2-in-1 models that resemble a tablet with an accessory keyboard. A 10-hour battery life means you don’t have to search for an outlet as soon as you enter the coffee shop, and you don’t have to worry as much about hopping on the open Wi-Fi—this laptop automatically updates every six weeks to prevent online threats (though a VPN never hurt anyone). This laptop is digital pen compatible, meaning you truly can use it as a tablet. Its 64 GB of storage is more than enough if you use web-based apps like Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, but could pose a problem if you use your laptop as your main photo storage site. Similarly, its 4 GB SSD provides fast start-up but clunks out with too much multitasking. If you’ve decided you can stretch your budget and would like to see similar options to the Lenovo Chromebook Flex, check out our other favorite Lenovo laptops.

Best lightweight: HP Stream

HP Stream is the best lightweight laptop under $500

Why it made the cut: At 2.37 pounds, this laptop is a lightweight with heavy web capabilities.

Specs

  • RAM: 4 GB 
  • Storage: 32 GB eMMC (Embedded Multimedia Card)
  • Processor: Intel(R) Celeron(R) N4000 Processor, Dual-Core, 1.1 GHz base frequency, up to 2.6 GHz burst frequency
  • Screen size: 11.6
  • Resolution: 1366 x 768 pixels

Pros

  • 12 hours of battery life
  • Full access to Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access, and 1 TB of OneDrive Storage for one year
  • Energy Star certified

Cons

  • More suited for web-based use

The HP Stream proves that great things can come in small packages. It features an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-resolution, high-definition display with anti-glare technology for clear images indoors and out. It features 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, making it a great option if you’re looking for a cheap laptop that is primarily web-based. You could even use it as a starter laptop for children who need it for research papers and college essay writing, made possible thanks to a free subscription to Office 365 for one year, or built-in Office, Microsoft Edge, and Bing. Windows Defender keeps your online activities safe, and 12 hours of battery life mean you can surf the web all day. It comes with Windows 10 Home in S mode installed, which you can switch out for free if you want to put apps on the laptop. However, with the amount of storage, and the kinds of apps already included, this laptop is more suited for web browsing and storing Word documents.

Best battery life: Samsung Chromebook 4

Samsung Chromebook 4 is the Best battery life laptop under $500

Why it made the cut: A 12.5-hour battery life puts this long-lasting laptop above the rest. 

Specs

  • RAM: 4 GB eMMC
  • Storage: 32 GB
  • Processor: Intel Celeron N3450
  • Screen size: 11.6
  • Resolution: 1366 x 768 pixels

Pros

  • Military-grade durability
  • Fast connectivity
  • Built-in virus protection

Cons

  • Lost screen visibility at different angles

Forgot to bring your computer charger? That’s not a problem with the Samsung Chromebook 4, which features a 12.5-hour battery. You could watch The Irishman about 3.5 times! Gigabit Wi-Fi connectivity means you can see Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro sans lag. Military-grade durability and automatic security updates make it practically mob-proof, and the built-in Google Assistant lets you use your voice to update your calendar, reply to a message, make a note to actually finish watching The Irishman, check your calendar, or Google “Jimmy Hoffa Giants Stadium.” Although the screen includes anti-glare technology, screen visibility gets harder depending on the viewing angle. That could pose a problem if you’re watching The Irishman on a plane where you have limited room to adjust the screen. Additionally, it’s not pure HD, meaning you miss out on image crispness compared to others on this list. But it’s still going to allow you to play The Irishman while you write about laptops, like a certain someone.

Best budget: Lenovo Chromebook C330

Lenovo Chromebook C330 is the Best budget laptop under $500

Why it made the cut: Get 2-in-1 capabilities and high-end features for around $200.

Specs

  • RAM: 4 GB SSD
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • Processor: MediaTek MT8173C
  • Screen size: 11.6 inches
  • Resolution: 1366 X 768 pixels

Pros

  • Pure SSD
  • Study plastic chassis
  • 2-in-1 capabilities at a fantastic price
  • No bloatware

Cons

  • No HD display
  • Large bezels

You get a lot for the price with the Lenovo Chromebook C330. Unlike models with similar specs, which feature an eMMC (Embedded MultiMediaCard) drive, this one features a pure SSD, which ensures faster start-up times and general performance perkiness. And, this is an easy-to-setup laptop: all you have to do is turn it on, sign in with your Google account, and log in to the Wi-Fi network of your choosing. Plus, it lacks the bloatware we all immediately uninstall, meaning you can spend more time looking up pictures of cats and less time denying trial offers and clicking out of pop-ups. Despite its plastic chassis, the laptop feels sturdy and lightweight, and the touchscreen is responsive and quickly switches between laptop and tablet modes. Typing on the C330 is just as snappy as the laptop itself, and the trackpad feels higher quality than the laptop’s price point. The screen resolution is good enough for what it is, but is not full HD. Additionally, the bezel is quite large compared to other options on the list. However, the rest of the C330’s specs make up for this.

FAQs

Q: What are the trade-offs on laptops under $500?

Most laptops under $500 will include smaller processors and storage options: laptops under $500 tend to have 4-8 GB of RAM and 64-256 GB of storage, and can perform lighter tasks like web browsing, streaming, writing on a word processor, and, in some cases, light photo editing. If your device has USB ports, which it should, you can always get an external hard drive for storing images, and you can even purchase a separate processor and install it on some models of laptop. 

Q: How much RAM do I need?

It depends on what you’re using the laptop for, and the number of cores on the processor. Cores are like highways: the more cores your processor has, the more efficient your system performs since there are multiple avenues for information to travel. You can get away with 4-8 GB of RAM for light photo editing, web browsing, streaming, and using a word processor. You’ll need 16 GB of RAM for more rigorous computer processing for heavy photo and video editing, gaming, and coding.

Q: Are laptops under $500 any good?

Yes! If you’re just going to be searching the internet, online shopping, accessing social media on your laptop, finding memes on the internet, or just looking for the best laptop for writers of the next great American novel, a laptop under $500 should absolutely fit your needs. 

Final thoughts on the best laptops under $500

The best laptops under $500 prove that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a reliable, user-friendly machine. They are not best suited for completing tasks that require heavy processing, like video editing, gaming, coding, and audio production, but can handle multitasking and web browsing. Some even function as tablets. Between their processing power and built-in security measures, these budget laptops can do a great deal more for a great deal less than you might expect.

By AKDSEO