The days of bulky, battery-draining, expensive laptops being your only option are long over — you can now buy really nice, thin, stylish laptops for less than $500. The best of them are well-rounded, reliable machines that hit several sweet spots, including strong overall performance, solid battery life and interesting distinctions such as an array of useful ports or a sharp webcam.
Our top three choices on this list nail those conditions: the Acer Aspire E 15, the Asus VivoBook 15 and the Samsung Chromebook 3. These notebooks make perfect holiday gifts for folks who need a basic PC, and are ideal for students or anyone who just wants to do some basic word processing and web browsing.
Some things to note: You're not going edit massive photos or videos or stream Gears 5 to your Mixer followers at full resolution with the laptops on this list. These are mostly no-frills, beginner laptops. So, you will be able to complete homework and office assignments with minimal slowdown, while streaming music or video with a few browser tabs open.
If you're willing to spend more to get a faster and sleeker system, check out our roundup of the overall best laptops that you can buy now.
The best laptops under $500
1. Acer Aspire 5
Display: 15.6 inches; 1,920 x 1,080 | CPU: Intel Core i3 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | Weight: 3.76 pounds
There's a lot to like in the Acer Aspire 5. The 15.6-inch display is quite bright at 276 nits, and it outputs at full 1080p resolution, unlike most budget laptops in this class (although a few others on this list also boast that distinction). Performance-wise, you can expect to do plenty of multitasking, browser tab switching and Spotify listening with minimal slowdown, thanks to an eighth-generation Intel Core i3 and 4GB of RAM. With a battery life of nearly 9 hours, you can do all that for a while, too.
What's not to like? Well, the graphics could be better. The Aspire 5 won't be able to play many current or last-gen games, even on modest settings, but you shouldn't expect to go crazy in Apex Legends on any of the laptops on this list. However, the Acer Aspire 5 is a worthwhile choice if it's a reliable office or school machine you're looking for.
2. Asus VivoBook 15
Display: 15.6 inches; 1,920 x 1,080 | CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i3 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | Weight: 3.75 pounds
If it's comfort and class you want, the Asus VivoBook 15 sports a superslim design with an ultrathin, 5.7-millimeter bezel for maximum screen real estate. And the elevated ErgoLift hinge (first introduced on the ZenBook S) increases airflow for improved heat management and makes typing a breeze, thanks to an upward 3.5-degree tilt. The backlit keyboard and fingerprint sensor round out a laptop for late-night cram students and privacy-concerned users.
Performance is solid across the board. Like other laptops on this list, you'll get enough speed to complete light office and schoolwork, listen to music and watch YouTube, but not enough juice to power the latest and greatest PC games. But you do get Type-C, USB 3.1 Type-A, USB 2.0 and HDMI ports. The catch: a dull display and an annoying amount of preinstalled bloatware. Keep the viewing angle head-on and break out the CCleaner, and you can't go wrong with the Asus VivoBook 15.
3. Samsung Chromebook 3
Display: 11.6 inches; 1,366 x 768 | CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 | GPU: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB | Weight: 2.5 pounds
The Samsung Chromebook 3 is a very decent and very affordable laptop. It has a screen brighter than most competitors at 259 nits. It can handle multiple open browser tabs, thanks to 4GB of RAM and an Intel Celeron processor. And its battery lasts up to nearly 10 hours. There's also a standout webcam, with Instagram-ready live filters for video chats and Multi-Shot mode. Like all Chromebooks, Samsung's laptop uses the Google Chrome OS operating system (which relies largely on web-based Google services but also supports Android apps) and provides 32GB of flash storage.
If there's a caveat, it's that the bottom runs warm after a while, so be sure to keep your long pants on while swapping hot Twitter takes. Despite the heat, this is the coolest Chromebook on the market for budget shoppers.
4. Microsoft Surface Go
Display: 10 inches; 1,800 x 1,200 | CPU: Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y | GPU: Intel HD 615 | RAM: 4-8GB | Storage: 64-128GB | Weight: 1.15 pounds (without keyboard); 1.66 pounds (with keyboard)
One of the more versatile picks on our list, the Microsoft Surface Go is a touch-screen tablet with a detachable keyboard. That means, at 1.15 pounds, it doesn't get much more portable than this. However, like the rest of the Surface family, the keyboard and stylus are additional purchases, which is a bummer if you're looking to save some more dough (though you'll still come under $499 if you only go with the Signature Type Cover keyboard). The price will also increase as you boost to higher RAM and storage options.
Regardless, the Surface Go is a premium product. You get a very bright and colorful 10-inch display, sturdy build quality complete with handy kickstand for switching between laptop and tablet modes, and a comfortable backlit keyboard if you decide to go that route. On top of that, the Surface Go's Intel Pentium Gold CPU delivers speedy performance. Just don't take it out for too long; the battery will run for only 6 hours.
5. Acer Swift 1
Display: 14 inches; 1,920 x 1,080 | CPU: Intel Pentium Silver N5000 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 605 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Weight: 2.9 pounds
Another Acer laptop, the Swift 1, is a lightweight model with some excellent value. For less than $300, you get a solid aluminum chassis, plenty of ports (Type-C, USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and HDMI), and a surprisingly sharp webcam. Outstanding battery life rounds out the Acer Swift 1, with over 10 hours of energy for all-day office productivity, Twitch streaming or Mindhunter bingeing.
As per usual for budget laptops, you're not going to play Borderlands 3 or anything demanding on the Acer Swift 1. You probably wouldn't want to anyway, since the dim display fades colors. Despite that, the terrific battery life, sweet webcam and decent performance make the Acer Swift 1 one of the best, longest-lasting budget laptops you can find for the money.
6. HP Pavilion x360
Display: 11.6 inches; 1,366 x 768 | CPU: Intel Pentium N5000 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 605 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | Weight: 2.67 pounds
As a 2-in-1, you can use the HP Pavilion x360 as a touch-screen tablet or regular laptop without skipping a beat. That means when you're done poking and prodding the responsive Windows 10 layout, you can switch to typing on a satisfying and smooth keyboard with excellent travel. Plus, a unique pair of top-firing Bang & Olufsen speakers lets the HP Pavilion x360 double as your own personal stereo. Surprisingly solid sound from a budget laptop? Yes, please.
The Pavilion x360 offers decent performance, too. You can expect the usual ability to browse multiple browser tabs while streaming last night's 90 Day Fiancé as well as the usual inability to play today's latest demanding games. However, you won't be able to work on it all day, due to a 6-hour battery life. And the washed-out display means you'll want to avoid browsing in the sunlight. But if your goal is to work or study for short bursts or entertain your dorm mates with higher-than-average sound quality, the HP Pavilion x360 is your go-to choice.
7. Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1
Display: 11.6 inches; 1,136 x 768 – 1,366 x 768 | CPU: MediaTek MT8173C | GPU: Integrated | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32-64GB | Weight: 2.82 pounds
With a MediaTek processor, 4GB of RAM and a Google Chrome operating system, the Lenovo Chromebook C330 isn't going to allow you to do much heavy browsing with multiple tabs and certainly won't let you play the latest hardware-crunching games on its integrated graphics chip. However, you can accomplish some light work and watch a YouTube video (so long as other tabs remain closed), even if the low-resolution display means colors will appear washed out.
But hey, the battery will last at least 10 hours, which is one of the better life spans on this list. The keyboard is comfortable and clicky, too, so you can at least get some work done without worrying about mushy keys or flex. For kids and college students who don't care about color accuracy and just want to get their assignments done on time (perhaps while using the HDMI port to plug into a better monitor), the Lenovo Chromebook C330 is a fine option.