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The best laptops under $500 in 2020

Best Laptops Under $500
Best Laptops Under $500 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

There are a vast amount of laptops to choose from, ranging from ultraportable to gaming machines and mobile workstations. But these laptops can be very pricey indeed, often topping $1,000. For some, such a price tag might be hard to swallow, especially if all they plan to do with their laptop is some basic email, word processing, and web browsing. It is here where the best laptops under $500 come into their own.

Now finding the best laptops under $500 might not seem like an impossible task, especially when you consider how some of the best smartphones sit around $800 to $1000. But there is a swathe of impressive notebooks that offer plenty of performance for not a lot of money. Many have decent processors, vivid displays, and long battery life, especially Chromebooks.

The best laptops under $500 largely consist of low-end Windows machines as well as Chromebooks so you'll need to be prepared to accept a few caveats with such budget machines, as they won’t have the performance needed for video editing or high-end gaming. And watching movies at anything higher than 1080p resolution might also be a step too far. But for other every-day computing tasks, we have identified the best laptops under $500 that are more than up to the task, and they show you don’t need to burn a big wad of cash to get a solid laptop.  

Also, our best tablets guide just launched, and includes plenty of great sub-$500 slates for folks looking for a portable gadget.

Check out our early Lenovo Chromebook Duet review, to see our hands-on first impressions with the $299 2-in-1 that actually includes its own keyboard. We'll be updating it with a more comprehensive review this week.

What are the best laptops under $500 right now?

Our current pick for the best laptop under $500 is the Acer Aspire 5, which offers very solid performance and battery life as well as a vibrant display for a very reasonable price. It doesn't have the best build quality and lacks any significant graphics muscle, but this is the best overall budget PC considering what you get for the money.

We also like the Asus Vivobook 15 for its lightweight design that stays cool under pressure, as well as its handy backlit keyboard. And if it's a Chromebook you're after, the popular Samsung Chromebook 3 offers superb battery life and good overall performance, and can often be found for less than $300.

The Microsoft Surface Go is a great option if you want a Windows tablet that can double as a full-on portable PC, though it's set to be replaced soon by the rumored Microsoft Surface Go 2. If you're after a 2-in-1 convertible that offers various display modes in addition to a great keyboard, we recommend the HP Pavilion X360. We also love the Acer Swift 1, which packs very long battery into an elegant and lightweight design that won't break the bank.

Ready to score a great bargain? Read on for all of our picks for the best laptops under $500.

The best laptops under $500

Acer Aspire 5

Acer Aspire 5 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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

Long battery life
Bright screen
Strong performance
Poor graphics
Build quality could be better

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. 

Asus VivoBook 15

Asus VivoBook 15 (Image credit: Asus)

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

Runs cool
Backlit keyboard
Solid performance
Dull display
Annoying bloatware

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.

Samsung Chromebook 3

Samsung Chromebook 3 (Image credit: Samsung)

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

Very affordable
Excellent battery life
Bright screen
Great performance
Fun webcam
Awkward button placement
Weak speakers
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 the coolest Chromebook on the market for budget shoppers.

Microsoft Surface Go 2

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

4. Microsoft Surface Go 2

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)

Much improved battery life
Bright, colorful (and bigger) screen
Excellent webcam
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 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.

Acer Swift 1

Acer Swift 1 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

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

Terrific battery life
Good webcam
Lots of ports
Dim display
Quirky design issues

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.

HP Pavilion x360

HP Pavilion x360 (Image credit: HP)

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

Decent performance
2-in-1, so it works as a tablet
Comfy keyboard
Crisp audio
Dull display
Below-average battery life

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. 

Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1

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

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

2-in-1, so works as a tablet
Long battery life
Comfy keyboard
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. 

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

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

8. Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Display: 10.1 inches, 1920 x 1200 | CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T | GPU: ARM G72 MP3 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB eMMC | Weight: 2 pounds (docked)

Sharp, colorful screen
Excellent battery life
ChromeOS tablet optimizations
Flimsy hinge
Cramped keyboard

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. 

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.