Finding machines that are worthy to be considered the best laptops under $500 is a tricky business. For a start there’s not a huge selection of laptops that come in at that price point. Spend a little more and the arena opens up. But $500 is the budget we’ve set here so we’ll stick to it.
That does mean that a good few of the machines below are Chromebooks rather than Windows 10 machines. Though the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a Windows 10 machine as well as a tablet, all for just under $500, so there’s definitely some good options around. You will have to make do with few compromises when it comes to a $500, performance won’t be blisteringly quick and you won’t really be watching movies on the machine at resolutions above 1080p.
- Best gaming laptops
- Going back to school? We've got the best Chromebooks for kids
- These are the best laptops overall
However, that doesn't mean you can't get a reasonably capable machine with a decent display and a long-lasting battery life. And if you’re looking for an affordable secondary laptop or a machine for your kids to take to school, then the laptops below are well worth your consideration.
What are the best laptops under $500 right now?
Our pick for the best laptops under $500 are a tad lacklustre at the moment, as there aren’t a great deal of machines on the market that offer reasonable specs and design without going beyond the $500. The $300 Samsung Chromebook 3 is a strong contender for the top spot as it offers superb battery life and good overall performance.
And if you fancy a 2-in-1 device, then the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is an excellent choice and is surprisingly capable for its low spec.
Other solid choices are the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 and the Lenovo Chromebook Duet; we went hands-on with the latter, which at $299 offers a 2-in-1 that actually includes its own keyboard.
The best laptops under $500
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.
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 to 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. And under the chassis, the Surface Go 2 offers a much-improved battery life and a fantastic webcam that makes for clearer teleconferencing.
When combined with the basic Type-Cover optional keyboard, the entry-level $399 Surface Go 2 tablet becomes a small laptop costing $498. It’s worth noting that the model we reviews came with a specification that cost $629. So to keep things below $500, you have to make do with an Intel Pentium Gold CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage; hardly a mighty spec. But that should be enough for people who want a 2-in-1 device that’s still pretty decent at most basic productivity tasks and is a good machine for loading up with movies and videos to get you through a tedious trip or commute.
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.
For people looking for a hybrid tablet-come-laptop running on Chrome OS, then the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could be for you. At $279 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, so uses mostly 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. Al this makes the Lenovo Chromebook Duet a compelling little hybrid laptop and one that’s worthy of a place on this list.
It’s not the most inspiring of laptops despite its name sounding similar to such a description, but the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 is a cheap and practical laptop for a price that starts at $380. For that reasonably small wad of cash you can get a 10th Gen Core i3-1005G1 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of PCIe NVMe storage.
It’s all packed up in a relatively unassuming chassis offering a decent selection of ports and a 15.6-inch display with a resolution of 1366 x 768. We’ve not reviewed the laptop ourselves but user reviews are reasonably positive, with the laptop getting an average score of 3.8 stars out of 5. And as this is a Dell machine it’s likely to be fairly reliable and unlikely to let you down; though it’s not going to amaze you either.
Lenovo is the laptop maker you go to when you want a solid no-frills machine. And that’s what the Lenovo S340 offers. This rather basic looking laptop with a 14-inch display isn’t going to win any awards in terms of looks, and it’s Intel Celeron CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a mere 32GB of eMMC flash memory might seem a little anemic.
But this is a Chromebook and for $299 it’s a reasonably compelling purchase given Lenovo laptops tend to be fairly solid workhorse machines. Granted if you're someone who wants to have a lot of Chrome tabs open at once then it might be one to avoid. But it’s received a positive reception on BestBuy - we have’t reviewed it directly - so it is worth your consideration at least.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is one rather cheap yet reasonably practical 2-in-1 Chromebook. It may have a dim screen and not look particularly modern by 2020 standards, but for a price that’s under $400 it’s not a bad purchase. That’s because you're getting a machine that you can use as a laptop and then flip round to view media or doodle on with an included stylus. Granted its middling spec isn’t going to amaze, but then Chrome OS doesn't need a huge amount of power.
We’ve not reviewed the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, but our sibling site Techradar has, and it awarded the Chromebook a solid four out of five stars. It was prised for its durable frame, price, and a lack of frivolous features. But it received criticism for its less than impressive battery life and lackluster performance. However, this can all all be overlooked thanks to its cheaper price and the fact that Acer does make decent Chromebooks. If you want a machine that you won’t have to worry about damaging while traveling or letting your kids use, this could be the machine to get.
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 cheaper laptop, 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 new 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 at 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.