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The best laptops under $500 in 2021

Lenovo Chromebook Duet review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The best laptops under $500 are far and few between right now, as there isn't a vast selection of affordable, well-made laptops available to purchase. The recent pandemic hasn't helped, but hopefully as the year goes on we'll see some more bargain notebooks hitting the market, especially when it comes to Chromebooks. 

However, there are currently a lot of great options for folks who are in the market for a new laptop at a low price. The lineup of laptops under $500 we've rounded up below highlights some great machines that can help you get things done without hurting your wallet too badly. Sure, you're not going to get cutting-edge performance and the best in industrial design from most of these machines. But you can get yourself a reliable laptop for getting work done on the go, or a sturdy device that you can give to children safe in the knowledge that if (when) they break it, they won't have destroyed anything terribly expensive.

Devices like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and Microsoft Surface Go 2 are particularly impressive for $500 or below,  as they offer both a tablet and a laptop in a neat package. Yes, you'll need to accept a few compromises, but not as many as you might think. 

So here are the best laptops under $500 for your consideration. 

What are the best laptops under $500 right now?

Getting a decent laptop for under $500 can be a challenge, but our selection here is expanding slowly as more affordable machines come into the market and hybrid 2-in-1 tablet-meets-laptop devices become available for competitive prices. 

Our current pick for the best laptop under $500 you can buy is the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. Technically it's a Chrome tablet, but since it comes with a detachable keyboard for no extra charge, it also doubles as a serviceable laptop. And with a sub-$300 price tag, it shouldn't be too hard on your budget.

We also recommend the Microsoft Surface Go 2, a very strong successor to the original cheaper Microsoft hybrid device. While its specs won’t set the computing world on fire, it still offers the power needed to get some work done on the move. And its design and keyboard cover are very impressive. 

And if you prefer Apple products, the iPad 2020 with its Smart Keyboard is a surprisingly usable budget laptop. That’s thanks to improvements Apple has made to iPadOS to make it a more laptop-like experience. Granted you won’t be doing a huge range of tasks on such a device, but then you have access to one of the best and smartly curated app stores around. 

The best laptops under $500

Best laptops under $500: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Lenovo Chromebook Duet (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Specifications
Display: 10.1 inches, 1920 x 1200
CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T
GPU: ARM G72 MP3
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB eMMC
Weight: 2 pounds (docked)
Reasons to buy
+Sharp, colorful screen+Excellent battery life+ChromeOS tablet optimizations
Reasons to avoid
-Flimsy hinge-Cramped keyboard

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. 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. We like it so much we awarded it best budget laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.

Read our full Lenovo Chromebook Duet review.

Best laptops under $500: Samsung Chromebook 3

Samsung Chromebook 3 (Image credit: Samsung)

2. Samsung Chromebook 3

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Excellent battery life+Bright screen+Great performance
Reasons to avoid
-Awkward button placement-Runs warm

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 one of the coolest Chromebooks on the market for budget shoppers.

Best laptops under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Microsoft Surface Go 2

Specifications
Display: 10.5-inches, 1920 x 1280
CPU: Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y
GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64GB eMMC
Weight: 1.22 pounds (1.75 pounds with type cover)
Reasons to buy
+Much improved battery life+Bright, colorful (and bigger) screen+Excellent webcam
Reasons to avoid
-Performance doesn't impress-Type Cover has a learning curve

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 $399 Surface Go 2 tablet up to $498, 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.

Best laptops under $500: Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1

Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

4. Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+2-in-1, so works as a tablet+Long battery life+Comfy keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-Dull display-Sluggish performance

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. 

Best laptops under $500: Dell Inspiron 15 3000

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (Image credit: Dell)

5. Dell Inspiron 15 3000

Specifications
Display: 15.6 inches, 1,366 x 768
CPU: Intel Core i3-1005G1
GPU: Intel UHD
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB NVMe
Weight: 4.48 pounds
Reasons to buy
+Intel 10th Gen CPU +Plenty of ports +Decent storage space
Reasons to avoid
-Only a basic HD display-Dated design

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.  

Best laptops under $500: Acer Chromebook Spin 311

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. Acer Chromebook Spin 311

Specifications
Display: 11.6 inches, 1366 x 768
CPU: 2.0GHz octa-core MediaTek MT8183
GPU: ARM Mali-G72 MP3
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 32 or 64 GB eMMC
Weight: 2.65 pounds
Reasons to buy
+Solid battery life+Exceptional keyboard+Tough Gorilla Glass screen
Reasons to avoid
-Dim, low-resolution screen-No USB 3.0 Type A port

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. It's so good it won a recommendation for best budget laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.

Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 311 review.

Best laptops under $500: iPad 8th generation review smart keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

7. Apple iPad 2020 with Smart Keyboard

Reasons to buy
+Bright and colorful display+Superb battery life+Fast chip 
Reasons to avoid
-Design a bit dated-iPadOS limitations

Ok so the iPad 2020, aka the iPad 8, isn’t really a laptop. But at a starting price of $329 it can be equipped with an optional $159 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, the new standard 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 the new iPad some consideration, even if it looks a little dated compared to the new and more expensive iPad Air 4.   

Read our full Apple iPad 2020 review.

Best laptops under $500: HP Chromebook 11

(Image credit: Amazon)

8. HP Chromebook 11

Specifications
Display: 11.6 inches, 1366 x 768
CPU: Intel Celeron N3350
GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 500
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 32GB eMMC
Weight: 3 pounds
Reasons to buy
+Another cheap Chromebook+Good for school and travel+Plenty of ports
Reasons to avoid
-Ugly display bezels-weak spec

It’s not going to win any prizes for its looks with huge-for-2020 display bezels, but at $239 the HP Chromebook 11 is very cheap. This makes it an ideal machine to take on precarious backpacking trips, take out into in-the-field work, or give to your kids as their first foray into computing. 

The function over form aesthetic in Ash Gray is fine though, as it allows the HP Chromebook 11 to come with a couple of UBC Type-A ports, as well as two USB-C ports and an micro SD card reader - not bad for a Chromebook. The display, with its resolution of 1366 x 768, isn’t going to wow any eyeballs, But that means the Intel Celeron N3350 CPU and 4GB of RAM won’t be too pushed to run apps at this resolution. 32GB of eMMC storage isn’t going to impress either, but thanks to Chrome OS, a huge amount of onboard storage isn’t essential for such a machine. So this is basically a bargain bucket Chromebook for you to either pass on to your kids or use as a secondary or even tertiary device. 

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 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.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer is U.K. Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.