Easily transforms into laptop, tablet and tent modes. Lightweight. Integrated stylus. Sharp 13MP camera. Crisp and bright touchscreen display. Solid 9-hour battery life.
No backlit keyboard.
Colorful 14-inch UHD touchscreen display. Alternate between laptop, tablet and tent modes. Impressive 12.5-hour battery life. Large array of ports. Speedy performance.
Only available in silver.
Up to 10 hours of battery life. Featherweight. Removable keyboard for tablet mode. Touchscreen display. Integrated kickstand. Dolby Audio. Speedy Wi-Fi connectivity.
Surface Pen drawing tool sold separately.
Especially fast Wi-Fi connectivity. Flexible hinge for tablet mode. Up to 10 hours of battery life. Sharp 13.3” Full-HD display. Powerful stereo speakers. Wide array of ports.
Its camera is not particularly impressive.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Although laptops are generally more affordable than desktops, there’s still a misconception that laptops have to be expensive to be worth your time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. You can buy a sturdy, capable, and exceedingly portable machine for just a few hundred dollars these days, and with our guide to the best laptops under $500, we’re going to show you exactly which ones you should focus on.
While they can’t stack up to desktops in terms of processing power or graphics, laptops have several advantages on their own. There’s the portability and convenience, of course, but they also reduce clutter and the number of cords and cables you have to string around. For people on the move, international students, or those on a budget, laptops are definitely the way to go, and they’re more powerful than ever.
One of the most important parts of any computer is the operating system. It acts as the bridge between your hardware and software and essentially tells the computer how to process information. Without an operating system, your machine basically becomes a box of wires without the tools to do anything.
The most common operating system you’ll find is Windows 10. Windows has a gigantic developer base and is a great choice for everything from high-end gaming to basic web browsing. MacOS is also popular, even though it’s only compatible with Apple computers. Extremely user-friendly, it is a strong choice for photo, video, and music editing. However, it isn’t a great choice for gaming. Chrome OS is designed solely for Chromebooks, and although it’s becoming more capable by the day, the operating system is more geared toward web browsing and apps. Finally, we have Linux. Although it uses fewer resources and hard drive space than Windows and is secure, the open-source system is not commonly found on laptops as factory equipment and requires some computing know-how to install.
Screen size is a huge consideration for laptop shoppers, not only for convenience and luxury but also for weight and portability. Manufacturers measure screen size diagonally, and the majority of laptops fall between 12 inches and 17 inches.
One of the key assets of a laptop is its portability, and if you’re away from power outlets for long periods, battery life is paramount. Battery life can vary greatly, though, with some having the juice to go for 9 to 12 hours and others only offering 4 to 6 hours. Consider your typical workload first — remembering that some applications use more battery power than others — and choose wisely.
The processor, CPU, or “brain” of your computer determines how quickly and efficiently it can run programs and execute commands. The faster the processor (typically measured in GHz), the more processes it can handle at once, which is significant if you plan to multitask often. Look for Intel Core and AMD FX processors if you’re interested in gaming and serious media editing. For simpler tasks, less-expensive CPUs like Intel Celeron and AMD F series are suitable.
Laptops generally have less storage than their desk-bound cousins, but they still offer plenty of room for your music, photos, games, and other files. Laptops will either use a hard disk drive (HDD), a solid state drive (SSD), or a mix of the two called a hybrid drive. SSDs use flash storage with no moving parts, meaning they work a bit faster than HDDs, but for now, they’re more expensive on average.
You can find products with 1TB of storage or more in a laptop, but if you’re left wanting more, you can use an external hard drive for added space.
Memory, often referred to as RAM (random access memory), is another factor in determining the speed and performance of your computer. In a nutshell, RAM is active memory for running programs, and there’s a wide range available, from 2GB to 16GB or more. A solid benchmark for laptops under $500 is 8GB, as that amount of memory will allow to you multitask relatively well, but more is always better if you can afford it.
Not all laptops feature the same design. Some options are actually a mix between a tablet and a laptop, meaning they equip a touchscreen. With machines like these, you can fold the laptop flat for tablet use or even spin the screen to help with presentations or collaborative projects. For added convenience, certain models include a stylus.
If you’re going to be connecting peripherals to your laptop — keyboards, mice, monitors, speakers, disk drives — pay attention to the number of ports your machine has. HDMI ports are useful for connecting your laptop to television to watch movies or stream shows, and USB ports are great for syncing mobile devices and transferring files. Keep in mind that USB-C and Thunderbolt ports may require adapters to connect to TVs or projectors.
Optical disk drives
These aren’t as common anymore due to external drives that connect through ports, but certain models still include them. If you have a mountain of DVDs you’d like to watch without buying additional equipment or fiddling with adapters, consider one of these.
A webcam should be pretty low on your priority list, but if you use internet calling, conduct remote job interviews, or just want to record video with a much smaller file size, pick up a laptop with an included webcam and microphone. If your favorite machine doesn't have one, though, fear not: there are plenty of USB webcams on the market.
Even though we’ve limited ourselves to $500 or less, there is more variance in budget laptops than you might think. The least you can expect to pay for a laptop is about $150, and at this price, you’re likely looking at a basic Chromebook. Moving to the $300 range, you’ll see Chromebooks with more storage, increased memory, and larger screen sizes. Finally, at the top of our self-imposed range, you’ll find traditional Windows laptops with larger hard drives, faster processors, and limited gaming capabilities.
Q. Can I use a budget laptop for gaming?
A. You can use a budget laptop for gaming, but only for basic and undemanding titles such as Stardew Valley, World of Warcraft, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Minecraft, and the like. This is because many computers at this price point have integrated graphics processors that can’t handle complex games.
Q. How to I protect my machine from viruses?
A. The first step is to be extra careful about the sites you visit. Consider installing a web browser like Chrome that warns you of insecure and risky domains, and search your app store for highly rated virus scanners.
Q. How are laptops and Chromebooks different?
A. Chromebooks are simplified computers that run off Chrome OS, feature few if any moving parts, and are designed primarily for online browsing and app use. Laptops, on the other hand, run off Windows or macOS, boast more memory and storage, and are overall more capable machines.