The best laptops under $500 aren't easy to come by these days. As things stand, there just isn't a wide selection of high-quality, well-made laptops available to purchase at that price range.
Thankfully, there are currently some fantastic options for people in the market for a new laptop at a low price. The lineup of laptops under $500 we've rounded up below highlights some quality machines that can help you get things done without hurting your wallet too badly.
Admittedly, you won't get cutting-edge performance or the best in industrial design from most of these machines. But you can buy yourself a reliable laptop for getting work done on the go, or a sturdy device you can give to children with the knowledge that if (when) they break it, they won't have destroyed anything terribly expensive.
The best laptops under $500
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If you're looking for a good budget laptop and don't mind the idea of a hybrid tablet/Chromebook, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could be for you. Currently $245, you can get both the tablet and the detachable keyboard, rather than needing to pay for them separately as is the case with the Microsoft Surface Go — though that hybrid Windows 10 machine does offer a more premium experience. Sporting a 2.0GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P60T, ARM G72 MP3 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage space, the 10.1-inch tablet doesn’t come with a lot of power or storage.
But that doesn’t matter as it’s a Chromebook, which mostly uses web-based services that do all the heavy lifting away from the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. And a low spec means it won’t chew through battery power. It also has an impressively sharp and bright 1920 x 1080 display that works just as well for binge-watching YouTube as it does for zipping through emails and browsing the web.
Read our full Lenovo Chromebook Duet review.
A wild card to throw into this list, we have the Microsoft Surface Go 2. Unlike the other laptops, it’s a hybrid device able to pull double duties as a road warrior laptop and a Windows 10 tablet. On the surface, the Surface Go 2 doesn’t look that much different from its predecessor, except in one neat upgrade where Microsoft slimmed down its bezels to fit a 10.5-inch display, rather than 10-inch display; that screen still delivers bright and punchy colors.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 comes into its own when the optional Type-Cover accessory is added into the mix. That takes the entry-level $299 Surface Go 2 tablet up to $359, but in the process turns it into a dinky laptop that’s surprisingly capable. But to keep things below $500, you have to put up with an Intel Pentium Gold processor, only 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. That’s hardly a mighty set of specs, but it should be enough for people who want a 2-in-1 device for reasonably lightweight productivity tasks — think web browsing, word processing, and firing out a healthy batch of emails.
But if you don’t want to work on the go, you can load it up with movies and video, as well as a few indie games, courtesy of Steam compatibility, and use those to while away a dull commute. And with a boosted battery life over its predecessor, the Surface Go 2 should keep going long enough away from a power socket to get you through a decent length trip.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Go 2 review.
Acer’s Spin 311 is exactly what many people expect of a Chromebook: Small, inexpensive, and capable enough to handle work and light play every day. The keyboard is excellent for a Chromebook of this size and price; the battery life is solid, too, and although performance isn’t great, it’s enough to handle light, day-to-day tasks.
For students, children, or anyone looking for an extremely portable machine that gets the essentials right, the Spin 311 is one of the best Chromebooks for kids that can also compete with some of the best Chromebooks of comparable price.
Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 311 review.
Ok so the iPad 2021 isn’t really a laptop. But at the price of $449 it can be equipped with an optional Apple Smart Keyboard, that turns the tablet into a form of hybrid laptop for under $500. In that way, it’s a little like the Microsoft Surface Go.
If you need to do some email work, draft up a word document, or do some light photo and video editing, this iPad is reasonably capable. Granted it’s not a powerhouse machine but few laptops on this list are. And while iPadOS has its limitations, it’s still capable of getting through a good suite of everyday tasks. And then you’ve got the rich curated ecosystem of apps to pick from in the Apple App Store, making the basic iPad a solid device for light work and serious play.
As a secondary device, we can thoroughly recommend giving this iPad some consideration, even if it looks a little dated compared to the more expensive iPad Air 5.
Read our full Apple iPad 2021 review.
The Acer Aspire 5 is a full laptop for under $500, and it's a great little machine as long as you don't plan on unplugging it very often. It offers a good port selection, a nice 15.6-inch 1080p display, and a full-size keyboard that's comfy to type on. However, it isn't the budget all-star its predecessor was thanks to its disappointing battery life: it lasted less than 7 hours in our lab testing, and under real-world conditions, it regularly started to run low after just a few hours of streaming video.
While the Acer Aspire 5 is a good deal if you need a new laptop now for not a lot of money, many of its quirks may be hard to ignore—particularly its poor battery life. That being said, it hits all the points for your basic computing needs, including steady performance and a wealth of ports.
Read our full Acer Aspire 5 review.
How to choose the best laptop under $500 for you
It can be tricky to weigh up how much one can expect from a laptop that costs less than $500. You’re not going to get bleeding-edge performance or a super premium design. And you might have to make a few compromises on the display, such as how well it handles colors and how bright gets. But that doesn’t mean you have to make do with a laptop that feels cheap; rather, you’re looking for one that's affordable. So here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a laptop under $500.
Chrome or Windows? With $500 or less, you’re limited to getting a Windows 10 or Chrome OS machine, as even the cheapest MacBook Air 2020 will be way out of your price range. As such you’ll need to decide whether a Windows laptop or Chromebook better fits your needs.
Chrome OS offers a lightweight operating system that will run on even the most basic hardware, yet still offers a comprehensive suite of abilities and web-based apps to get a lot of day-to-day computing tasks done. Furthermore, it now supports Android apps.
Window 10, on the other hand, requires a little more power to ensure it runs smoothly. But it supports a huge range of software, far more than Chrome OS can currently dream of. And Windows 10 is being improved upon on a regular basis, meaning you’ll be able to get the best software Microsoft can offer years after you’ve bought your laptop.
Clamshell or convertible: Sub-$500 laptops generally come in two varieties — traditional clamshell laptops or dynamic 2-in-1 convertibles. Clamshells are usually the cheaper of the bunch, and provide a traditional laptop experience with a keyboard and a non-touch screen. But if you want a touchscreen device that can also double as a tablet, convertibles (or detachables, like the Surface Go), are worth considering.
Don't settle for less than 1080p: Unless you're truly strapped for cash, you shouldn't settle for most laptops with a 1366 x 768 display. Plenty of affordable notebooks start with a display resolution of 1080p, which will make a big difference when it comes to streaming Netflix shows or working on Word documents for hours on end.