Laptops that cost under $500 often make significant compromises, whether in performance, screen quality, or battery life. There are exceptions, though — machines that manage to have almost everything you’d want in one of the best laptops at an impressive price discount.
Finding a 13-inch laptop for under $500 is nearly impossible. That’s a shame, as it’s the most popular size for a laptop. But it’s not actually impossible thanks to Chrome OS, and the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 manages to come in well under $500 and provide impressive performance, 2-in-1 flexibility, and great value. That places this Chromebook at the top of our list.
Impressively, there’s a 10th-gen Intel Core i3-10110U CPU inside, which is plenty fast for Chrome OS. The 4GB of RAM is enough for good performance and moderate multitasking prowess, and 64GB of storage is sufficient if you make effective use of the cloud. It should be no surprise that it’s a Chromebook that occupies this category, and the Chromebook Flex 5 is a lot of computer for a little bit of money.
Read our Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 review.
Best Windows Laptop Under $500: Acer Aspire 5
Acer’s Aspire 5 has improved significantly in its recent iteration, bringing better performance, build quality, and battery life. The latest model is priced slightly higher right now, but it often comes in at under $500 with a 10th-generation Core i3-1005G1U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 15.6-inch Full HD display.
That’s a lot of machine for not a lot of money. Better yet, this is a well-built budget laptop that inspires confidence in hand, and its keyboard and touchpad punch way above its class. Battery life is also a plus, with the Aspire 5 competing with laptops costing far more money.
The 15-inch 1080p display on the Acer Aspire 5 is very good for the price as well, though you’ll have to jump just outside the $500 budget to add touch-screen functionality. Since this isn’t a 2-in-1 though, that is less of a concern for this sort of money.
Read our Acer Aspire 5 (2021) review.
Best 2-in-1 Laptop Under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 3
Microsoft’s Surface Go 3, now in its second generation, is the baby of the Surface range — but that doesn’t mean it’s not a capable little machine. Starting at a price well under our $500 limit, you might think that this is a little too cheap even for what we’re looking at, but you’d be mistaken. Borrowing many of the excellent features from its more costly siblings like the Surface Pro 8, the Surface Go 3 is a sturdy, well-built detachable 2-in-1 that works just as well in tablet mode as it does as a laptop.
You will need to shell out a little extra for the Type Cover and pen if you want the full laptop and tablet experience, but that does leave you with the option of upgrading later if you want to spread out your costs. And, although its screen isn’t quite as detailed as something you’d find on a dedicated tablet like the iPad, it’s still one of the best we’ve ever seen for a convertible laptop at this price point.
The Surface Go 3 isn’t the fastest device in the world either, but the tablet packs a decent battery life and at this price point, you aren’t going to find a Windows 2-in-1 laptop that can better it.
Read our Microsoft Surface Go 3 review.
Best Detachable Laptop Under $500: Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3
If you’re on a budget and want a detachable tablet that can meet your web browsing and light productivity needs, look no further than Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet 3. It’s an attractively priced tablet, often coming in at $299, and best of all it includes a kickstand cover with a usable keyboard and touchpad.
That makes the Chromebook Duet 3 one of the best value buys we’ve seen, coming in at hundreds of dollars less than competitive tablets once you spend the money on a keyboard cover. Performance is mediocre, but it’s fast enough for the tasks you’ll ask it to perform, and the display is surprisingly good for the money. It’ll run your favorite Android apps, and offers one of the best browsing experiences on a tablet.
Read our Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3 review.
The first step of choosing a laptop, after setting your budget, is determining what you need it for. Most people just need a standard laptop that will perform well and won’t feel outdated within one or two years, and for that, you’ve got plenty of very affordable options available to you. Those with more specific needs — artists, graphic designers, video editors, and gamers, to name some examples — may need extra features like touchscreens, fold-flat displays, and dedicated graphics cards. Keep size in mind as well. Laptops commonly range from 13 to 17 inches (which refers to screen size measured diagonally), and also pay attention to overall dimensions and weight if you’re going to be moving and carrying yours around fairly often.
As far as hardware goes, the three basic components to consider are CPU, RAM, and storage. The CPU, or central processing unit, is the “brain” of any PC. It’s what actually does the computing: Reading data, running programs (and other processes), and so on. The two biggest CPU makers are Intel and AMD, and unless you’re on the tightest of budgets, we typically recommend sticking with 10th or 11th generation Intel Core i5 processors, AMD Ryzen 5 processors, and above (Core i7, Ryzen 7, etc.). If the specific generation of Intel CPU isn’t stated explicitly, it will be indicated in the first two digits of the processor’s model number. For example, a Core i5-10400 is a 10th-gen model, while the Core i5-11400 is 11th-gen.
RAM, or random access memory, is a bit more straightforward. In simple terms, if the CPU is your PC’s brain, then RAM could be described as its short-term memory. It supports your CPU’s performance by storing data and tasks for quick recall when needed. The more the better. We suggest a minimum of 8GB for good performance by modern standards, and like Core i5 and Ryzen 5 CPUs, you can find this even on cheap laptops — you really aren’t saving much money my skimping on RAM, but you will definitely feel your computer stumbling when under load.
Storage needs are personal to the user, but today, solid-state drives (SSDs) have largely replaced older platter-based hard disk drives (HDDs) owing to their superior read/write speeds and reliability due to lack of moving parts. However, SSDs are typically smaller (or at least cheaper per gigabyte) than traditional HDDs, which is something to bear in mind if you do need a lot of storage space for things like games or large project files. We recommend sticking with SSDs as a rule, but some laptops come with a smaller solid-state system drive paired with a larger HDD for overflow, so you’ve got options.
Finally, depending on your needs, a discrete video card may be worth the extra money. A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is essentially a second processor dedicated solely to demanding graphical tasks like rendering videos and playing 3D video games. Mobile laptop GPUs are a bit different than their desktop counterparts and Nvidia GeForce cards are by far the most common. The current-gen models are the 16-series, 20-series, and (less common) 30-series cards. Avoid the 10-series cards still found on some laptops, as they are significantly outdated by today’s standards. AMD has also rolled out its own line of laptop graphics cards, the 5000M series, as mobile counterparts to its desktop GPUs. These are a fine option as well, especially if you prefer AMD hardware.
We’ve spent countless hours testing and reviewing laptops under $500. We take all of this first-hand experience, also analyzing feature set, price points, to determine which laptop is best for each individual use case. For example, the best all-round laptop under $500 is not the same as the best 2-in-1, or the best for battery life. Think of it as a Jack of all trades, and a master of none.
You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. Conflicting opinions can actually make buying a laptop more difficult if the review’s criteria isn’t made clear, so we outline how we test laptops in detail.
- Best Chromebook deals: Get a new laptop from $114
- Best Alienware Deals: Save on gaming laptops, PCs and monitors
- Dell Laptop Deals: Save on XPS 13, XPS 15, XPS 17 and more
- The best color laser printers for 2023
- Best VPN services 2023: today’s top picks