Let’s face it; most of us aren’t using our laptops for Photoshop or rocket science. If you need a laptop that can do all the basics and then perhaps a little more, you don’t need to spend top dollar on a high-end powerhouse. Just because many of the best laptops can cost well over $1,000, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great laptop for half that—or less. The best laptops under $500 can handle routine tasks and do them quite well. You can even get one of the best gaming laptops for under $500 to play casual games.
Of course, laptops under $500 tend to make some compromises in processor speed, system memory, storage, display resolution and other features as compared with mid-priced, affordable laptops that cost twice as much. But you can get much more machine for your dollar now as compared to just a few years ago, and make fewer compromises than ever when it comes to everyday tasks like web browsing, streaming video and working with documents and spreadsheets.
Picking the best laptops under $500 is no mean feat, though. We combined extensive first hand experience with some of the top branded budget laptops, with robust research, to find the laptops that offer great value for money.
Best Laptop Under $500 Overall
Good Performance At An Affordable Price
Best Chromebook Laptop Under $500
Premium Performance And A Big Display
Best 17-inch Laptop Under $500
Impressive Performance With A Big Screen
Best Gaming Laptop Under $500
Powerful Onboard Graphics
Best Touchscreen Laptop Under $500
An Affordable Touchscreen Laptop With Fast Wi-Fi
Cheapest Windows Laptop Under $500
Light And Portable At An Incredibly Low Price
How We Chose The Best $500 Laptops
The best $500 laptops are never going to be powerhouse performers. But they do provide enough processing power to handle lightweight tasks like web browsing, answering emails, scrolling social media and watching movies. Some models have enough oomph to handle entry-level gaming. These laptops need to be functional, even at the very low-end of the scale, so while you can expect modest CPU performance, the processors on these laptops should be able to handle basic everyday computing tasks.
As for everything else, higher resolution displays, gaming power, longer battery lives are all nice to haves, but they aren’t the baseline for the basics. Good overall performance must come first, and after that, the winners in each of the above categories bring something else to the table.
What To Consider When Buying A $500 Laptop
When you’re buying a laptop that costs less than $500, you are going to have to make some sacrifices. But knowing where to make them is important. Here are the things you don’t want to scrimp on, and where you can save a few dollars.
The CPU is the heart of your PC, and though you aren’t going to get a flagship model at this price, your CPU choice is going to have the biggest impact on general PC performance, so you don’t want to go low-end or too old.
At the least you want a recent generation CPU, so Intel 11th or 12th gen, or AMD Ryzen 4000, 5000, or 6000. You might want to consider Intel Celeron and AMD Athlon CPUs for the most affordable designs, but know that that will bring with it weaker performance. Try to opt for a Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 design or better if you can find it at this price.
You want at least a dual-core CPU, but a quad-core CPU is preferable as it provides much better multitasking performance.
For RAM, or system memory, 8GB is the minimum you should really be targeting. But to achieve a sub-$500 price, many manufacturers provide just 4GB of RAM. Just know that the less RAM in the system, the slower and less responsive the system overall.
Graphics only really matter if you’re looking to do some gaming, and though you aren’t likely to find a gaming laptop under $500 that has a dedicated GPU, that’s the holy grail if you can find it. None of the models recommended above do, though, it’s just so hard to find at this kind of price.
Instead, you want capable onboard graphics. You’ll get the best out of AMD’s Vega and RDNA2 onboard GPUs, but Intel’s 11th and 12th generation processors can have Iris Xe graphics, which is a reasonable alternative. Intel’s older UHD graphics is fine for the oldest of esport and indie games, but performance won’t be as strong as on newer models.
For storage, SSDs are the gold standard, delivering fast boot times and responsive applications when up and running. While 256GB of storage is generous at this price, it gives you plenty of room for the operating system, all your applications and a few videos and games too. Most under $500 laptops have 128GB of storage, which fills up fast. A few really low-cost systems—including Chromebooks—use slower eMMC flash storage.
Optimal display size depends upon what you want to use the laptop for. Bigger screens are better for work and enjoying movies, but a larger display saps battery life faster and typically carries a higher price tag—meaning you’ll make greater sacrifices in a laptop under $500, especially in a gaming laptop under $500.
Smaller sizes like 15.6-inch and 14-inch are a great compromise, typically leading to better pricing, battery life, and even performance thanks to greater budget focused on components rather than display.
As for resolution, 1080p is the target at this price point, though in smaller displays you can get away with 720p without sacrificing too much visual quality.
Most of the best laptops under $500 will give you around 10 hours of battery life. More than that is nice, while less can start to feel constricting, especially if you want to use the laptop on the go. Just ensure that whatever laptop you pick can manage the number of hours you’d expect to be away from a power socket, so you aren’t constantly hunting for somewhere to plug it in.
Bigger laptops weigh more, which won’t be a problem if you’re looking to use it as a desktop replacement or in relatively static locations, but might be an issue if you plan to carry the laptop around all day. Most laptops under $500 weigh around three to four pounds, making them portable enough to carry with you.
What To Expect From The Best Laptops Under $500
What’s offered at the sub-$500 price point typically only gets you enough computing power to handle the most basic of tasks—like email, web surfing, word processing or music and video streaming.
While one of these ultra low-cost computers might be able to handle simple photo or video editing, or even gaming, expect sluggish performance limited by the processing power, graphics capabilities and system memory available.
In other words, anything that requires significant processing power will either function incredibly slowly on a low-cost laptop computer, or the system requirements won’t be sufficient to what’s required to run certain applications. If you choose to go with one of these laptops under $500, make sure your expectations are realistic for what it can actually handle.
A laptop designed to handle all of the most processing-intensive computing tasks—including image editing—will typically cost at least $700 to $1,000. In fact, if you’re interested in a MacOS-based computer that runs using Apple’s M1 processor (as opposed to one that runs Windows), the lowest priced MacBook Air currently starts at $999.