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The Best Laptop for Less Than $500


A stack of several laptops we tested.
Photo: Rozette Rago

Lots of laptops cost less than $500, but it’s hard to find a cheap one that doesn’t totally suck. To find decent models, we’ve researched and tested hundreds of cheap Windows laptops and Chromebooks over the years, and we also have advice on how to shop smart when prices change and our picks go out of stock.

Choosing a budget laptop is tricky because you can find dozens—even hundreds—of options at a given time. Their prices fluctuate constantly, too, and companies release and discontinue models with no warning. We have picks for and under $500, and some if those picks are unavailable. If you can’t find our picks anywhere, check out our tips on , or consider a used laptop instead.

The research

VIDEO: Top 5 BEST Laptops Under $500 of (2023)
Top 5 Picks

    Our picks are for anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t spend more than $500 on a laptop. These models are good for anyone who just wants to browse the web, students who don’t need special software, and people who work at home only occasionally. If you need a more powerful laptop, take a look at our guide to the best laptops.

    At this price, Chromebooks are better than Windows laptops because they’re faster at the things most people use a laptop for. They also tend to have better build quality, longer battery life, and superior screens, keyboards, and trackpads. Chromebooks don’t need antivirus software and don’t come with bloatware (unnecessary, manufacturer-loaded software that clutters the computer and slows it down). If you spend your computing time in a browser—checking email, using Google Docs, watching Netflix, or making Zoom calls—Chrome OS is all you need. But if you need specialized software for work or school, if you want to play Windows-specific games, or if you need to be able to work offline, you’re better off with Windows.

    A great Windows laptop under $500 can handle web browsing, video calls, and media consumption, but they’re rare—many cheap Windows laptops buckle under the load of running more than a couple apps at a time. And buying a bad laptop may cost you more in the long term: Compared with a $700 laptop, it will feel worse in everyday use in two years, and you’ll need to replace it sooner. Even $550, if you can swing it, will more reliably buy you a faster computer that will last longer.

    If you don’t need Windows, if you prefer Apple’s platforms, or if you mostly watch videos and play games, consider . Compared with a cheap Windows laptop, this combo is snappier when you’re banging out emails, watching movies, or taking notes, and whereas a Chromebook forces you to rely on web apps and Android apps designed for phones, you can find thousands of iPad-optimized apps and games. But an iPad-and-keyboard combo is not a complete replacement for a laptop.

    Best Windows laptops under $500

    Our pick

    Unlike most cheap Windows laptops, the Aspire 3 Spin 14 is fast, compact, and light, and it has a decent 1080p touchscreen and good battery life.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: The Best Gaming Laptop Under $500 in 2022
    Zach's Tech Turf

    Recommended configuration

    Processor:Intel Core i3-N305Screen:14-inch 1920×1200 touch
    Memory:8 GBWeight:3.3 pounds
    Storage:128 GB or 256 GB SSDTested battery life:8.5 hours

    Why we like this one: If you need to run Windows apps or games, or if you prefer to work offline, we recommend the Acer Aspire 3 Spin 14 (A3SP14-31PT) in any of the following configurations: 37NV, 38YA, or 32M6. The Aspire 3 Spin 14 is fast enough to meet most people’s computing needs for years to come. Many cheap Windows laptops have less memory or terrible processors that limit them to running only a couple apps and a handful of browser tabs at a time.

    The Aspire 3 Spin 14 is one of the more portable cheap Windows laptops we’ve tested. It’s more compact than common Windows devices in this price range, and its battery life lasted 8 hours and 30 minutes in our tests—long enough to make it through a full day of work or classes. Unlike cheap laptops with unpleasant keyboards and trackpads that flex and rattle, the Aspire 3 Spin 14’s keyboard and trackpad are accurate and reliable.

    Our pick’s 14-inch 1920×1200 touchscreen has a tall aspect ratio that feels spacious and is particularly convenient for web browsing. The glossy touchscreen is reflective, but it’s much better than many laptop displays in this price range—most have lower-resolution screens that look pixelated, or horrendous TN panels that look blown out and have poor viewing angles. Our pick also has a 360-degree hinge that allows you to flip the display all the way around to use the device as a tablet (or in any intermediate position), though it’s a bit heavy to do so easily.

    A stock image of the Aspire 3 Spin 14 open to an abstract blue and green desktop wallpaper.
    Photo: Acer

    Where it falls short: The Aspire 3 Spin 14 ships with Windows 11 S mode, which only allows apps from the Microsoft Store and limits you to Microsoft Edge for web browsing. But you can switch it to Windows 11 Home for free to install any program you need.

    Like many inexpensive Windows laptops, our pick comes with a ton of unnecessary bloatware that takes up space and slows down performance. Follow these steps to remove those programs and make your laptop feel faster and be more secure.

    The Aspire 3 Spin 14 also lacks a fingerprint reader, has a mediocre webcam, and it can’t be opened with a single hand.

    Also great

    If you want a 15-inch screen, the best option is the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 3. This model is fast, plus it has a 1080p touchscreen and a fingerprint reader.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: 5 Best Laptops Under $500 For Students/ Work & Gaming 2023 - Best Budget Laptop
    TECHDROIDS

    Recommended configuration

    Processor:Intel Core i3-1315UScreen:15-inch 1920×1080 touch
    Memory:8 GBWeight:3.6 pounds
    Storage:256 GB SSDTested battery life:7 hours

    Why we like this one: If you want a Windows laptop with a large 15-inch screen, we recommend the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 3. With our recommended specs, it’ll be fast enough for most people’s computing needs for years to come.

    The IdeaPad Slim 3’s 15-inch 1920×1080 display is bright, and the matte touchscreen is convenient and not overly reflective. (The 82X7001VUS configuration we recommend has a touchscreen; the 82X70005US is largely identical, but lacks touch.) Its colors look a bit cool and washed out compared to more expensive Windows laptops, but the Slim 3’s IPS display is leagues better than the horrendous TN panel in its sibling, .

    The backlit keyboard feels snappy and the large trackpad is reliable and accurate. The IdeaPad Slim 3 also has a reliable fingerprint reader on the power button and a handy webcam cover. It’s possible to partially open the laptop with one hand, though it’s difficult to fully open the lid without additional leverage.

    A stock image of the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 3 open to an abstract blue and pink desktop wallpaper.
    Photo: Lenovo

    Where it falls short: The IdeaPad Slim 3 lasted about 7 hours in our battery test—not quite long enough for a full day of work or classes, but about average for this category. And like most inexpensive Windows laptops, this model is bulky and heavy, and its webcam is mediocre. We also recommend following these instructions when you get the laptop to remove unnecessary preinstalled programs.

    Best Chromebooks under $500

    Our pick

    Reliable performance, a spacious touch display, and long-enough battery life for a full workday make the Flex 5i the best Chromebook for the price. But it is a bit heavy.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: Best Laptops Under $500 (2023) | Top 5 Best Budget Laptops Under $500 in 2023
    SimplifyTech

    Recommended configuration

    Processor:Intel Core i3-1315UScreen:14-inch 1920×1200 touch
    Memory:8 GBWeight:3.6 pounds
    Storage:128 GB eMMCTested battery life:8.5 hours

    Why we like this one: The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus is faster than cheap Windows laptops at the tasks most people use laptops for, including browsing the web (even with a ton of tabs open), making video calls, working in documents and spreadsheets, and watching movies. It’s also free of the bloatware that slows inexpensive Windows laptops down. The Flex 5i has a reliable keyboard and trackpad, a tall touchscreen, surprisingly good speakers, and enough battery life to last a full day of work or classes. All of these things, along with the Flex 5i’s reasonable price, make it a great budget option.

    The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus open to an orange homescreen, sitting on a purple background.
    Photo: Michael Hession

    Where it falls short: The Flex 5i is heavy for its portable size. At 12.4 by 9.0 by 0.8 inches, this model is compact enough to fit into most bags to use on the go. But we wish it were lighter—at 3.6 pounds, it’s heavy for a 14-inch laptop.

    Budget pick

    The CX34 is a less expensive option that doesn’t sacrifice performance, but its non-touch display isn’t as tall, vibrant, or convenient as our top pick’s.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: TOP 5: Best Budget Laptop 2023
    Top Tech Now

    Recommended configuration

    Processor:Intel Core i3-1215UScreen:14-inch 1920×1080 non-touch
    Memory:8 GBWeight:3.26 pounds
    Storage:128 GB or 256 GB UFSTested battery life:8.5 hours

    Why we like this one: The best cheap Chromebook is the Asus Chromebook Plus CX34. This model is just as fast as the Flex 5i, and it can handle everyday workloads with ease, unlike many cheap Chromebooks that feel slow with just a handful of tabs open. The CX34 also has a comfortable, backlit keyboard, long-enough battery life, and a light, compact body.

    The Asus Chromebook Plus CX34 open to an orange homescreen, sitting on a purple background.
    Photo: Michael Hession

    Where it falls short: The CX34’s 14-inch 1920×1080 display is a step down—it lacks touch input, its 16:9 aspect ratio isn’t as convenient for working in documents or browsing the web, and its colors look drab and desaturated. This model also lacks a 360-degree hinge, so you can’t use it as a tablet.

    Also great

    This inexpensive model has fast performance, a large 16-inch screen with a high refresh rate, and an RGB keyboard with a built-in number pad. But it’s huge and heavy.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: Best Budget Gaming Laptop Under $500
    Zach's Tech Turf

    Recommended configuration

    Processor:Intel Core i3-1215UScreen:16-inch 2560×1600 non-touch, 120 Hz
    Memory:8 GBWeight:4.01 pounds
    Storage:128 GB eMMCTested battery life:9.5 hours*
    *We tested the Core i5 model; we expect the Core i3 model to have slightly better battery life.

    Why we like this one: The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook 16″ is the best option if you want a big screen. The IdeaPad’s 16-inch display provides more room to get work done or to enjoy media; its colors are vibrant, the matte display doesn’t throw distracting reflections, and the 120 Hz high refresh rate makes scrolling and other actions look extra smooth. The RGB-backlit keyboard also has a number pad, which can be useful if you do a lot of data entry. But even though this model will last a long time away from an outlet, its size and weight make it inconvenient to carry around.

    Our pick for best Chromebook with a big screen, the sixteen-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming Chromebook, shown open with the screen turned on, in front of a violet background.
    Photo: Michael Hession

    Where it falls short: The 16-inch display makes this Lenovo model heavier and bulkier, so it’s much less portable than our other Chromebook picks—it’s inconvenient to take to work, class, or even a coffee shop. I also consistently needed both hands to open this laptop.

    What about an iPad?

    Also great

    If you favor portability over screen size, the iPad works for browsing the web and doing light note taking or writing. It’s not good for more complicated tasks, though.

    Buying Options

    VIDEO: The BEST Laptop Under $400! - Laptop Reviewers BATTLE
    Just Josh

    Why we like it: Depending on how you use a computer, you might not need a laptop at all. An Apple iPad (9th generation) with a Bluetooth keyboard or a keyboard case makes for a lighter and more portable system than any of our picks. If you primarily browse the web, make video calls, write, and take notes, an iPad provides a smoother, less painful experience than the Windows options in this price category.

    An iPad in the Zagg Pro Keys keyboard case, sitting on a red table.
    Photo: Sarah Kobos

    Where it falls short: An iPad can’t run traditional desktop apps and offers only limited multitasking support, so it’s not a direct replacement for a laptop. If you need to run more than two apps at once, work with specialty software, or want a large screen, an iPad won’t work for you.

    Other good laptops under $500

    If our top pick is unavailable: The next best option is the Acer Aspire 3 A314-23P-R3QA and A314-36P-360X. Compared with the Acer Aspire 3 Spin 14 model we recommend, these models have duller-looking non-touch displays with a shorter aspect ratio that isn’t as convenient for browsing the web. But both models have fast-enough performance, reliable keyboards and trackpads, and the R3QA model we tested had long battery life, at 12 hours and 11 minutes in our tests.

    If our 15-inch pick is unavailable: We recommend the 15-inch Acer Aspire 3 instead. These ones are available with a lot of different model numbers: A315-24P-R7VH, A315-24P-R2SC, A315-24PT-R08Z, A315-24PT-R90Z, and A315-510P-3905. Compared with our 15-inch pick, the R7VH model we tested had a dim, washed-out, non-touch display and a large trackpad with poor palm rejection. It’s also quite heavy, at around 4 pounds, and its battery lasted for 7 hours and 31 minutes.

    The models with “24PT” in the name have touchscreens that we haven’t tested, and the model with “510P” has an Intel processor instead of an AMD one. And some models come with Windows 11 in S mode while others are already upgraded to Windows 11 Home. Otherwise, all of these models are identical—they’re all passable laptops that are fast enough for everyday tasks.

    If you can spend around $700: Our budget ultrabook pick, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UM3402YA-WS51T)—or the UM3402YA-WS74T version with more memory—costs a few hundred dollars more, but it has the build quality to last at least five years and the battery life to run all day. Its predecessor was frequently on sale for $550; if you see this model on sale for that price, it’s an unbeatable value.

    If you want a tablet with a bigger screen: The iPad is plenty powerful for most people, but if you want a bigger screen on your tablet for multitasking and a faster processor, consider the iPad Air. But it starts at $600, and you have to spend more on a keyboard and a case to go with it.

    For laptops under $500, inconsistent pricing, disappearing inventory, and retailer-exclusive deals make shopping difficult. But even if you aren’t familiar with computer specifications, you can still find a decent Windows laptop by looking for these features:

    • Processor: We recommend an 11th, 12th, or 13th-generation Intel Core i3 or i5 processor or a 7000-series AMD Ryzen 3 or 5 processor. Avoid AMD processors such as the dual-core A9, as well as Intel Pentium or Celeron processors.
    • Storage: Choose a 128 GB or larger solid-state drive (SSD) and avoid hard drives (abbreviated as “HDD” on some product pages).
    • Memory: Get 8 GB of memory (which can also be listed as “RAM”). In a pinch, 4 GB will do, but with that smaller amount you won’t be able to run many programs at the same time.
    • Screen: Look for a display with 1080p resolution, listed as 1920×1080 or “FHD” by many sellers. A computer that hits the other requirements but has a standard HD display (1366×768) will do for basic tasks.

    When shopping for a cheap laptop, stick to major retailers with good return policies, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, or the manufacturer itself. Avoid sites with deals too good to be true, like BuyDig. Buying a refurbished model is another excellent way to save money. When you’re shopping for a refurbished laptop, buy from the original manufacturer or an authorized dealer and avoid seller-refurbished models from places like Amazon.

    As soon as your laptop arrives, open the box carefully, keep all the parts and accessories, and give the computer a thorough test drive. Check for a clunky trackpad, mushy and unresponsive keys, or a dim, washed-out screen, and if you spot anything you don’t like, return the laptop as soon as possible. Wait too long, and you’ll be stuck with it—some manufacturers give you only a two-week return window.

    If you don’t need a laptop right this second, you can find a great deal on a good laptop with some patience—prices fluctuate, and a $700 laptop can temporarily dive below $500. Wirecutter Deals editor Nathan Burrow told us that the best deals on laptops come around the holiday season, starting in November and running through Christmas.

    You can’t get a perfect laptop for less than $500—if it were perfect, it wouldn’t be cheap. At this price you make serious trade-offs, so it’s worth knowing how the system’s components affect your experience:

    • Storage: Some cheap Windows laptops still have spinning hard drives or hybrid drives that feel unbearably slow—booting the laptop, launching apps, and browsing files take so long that you have time to sip coffee and stretch before you can do anything. We found that having flash storage (ideally an SSD, but an eMMC or UFS drive will do in a pinch) instead of a traditional hard drive dramatically improved everyday performance, even more than a faster processor or more memory. But avoid Windows laptops with less than 64 GB of flash storage—you can’t even run Windows updates on them without an external drive.
    • Processor: We recommend an 11th, 12th, or 13th generation Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor or a 7000-series AMD Ryzen 3 or Ryzen 5 processor. The Core i3 and Ryzen 3 processors are fine for casual use and basic schoolwork but aren’t the best for multitasking; the Core i5 and Ryzen 5 are faster and better at multitasking but rare in this price range. Avoid AMD processors like the dual-core A9 and steer clear of Intel Pentium and Celeron processors like the N4200 and N5000. We found these processors to be unusable with more than a single open app.
    • Memory: For less than $500, it’s uncommon (but possible) to find more than 4 GB of memory without sacrificing other important specs. But 8 GB will allow you to more smoothly run multiple programs and browser tabs, and is a much better choice for a computer you’ll be using years from now.
    • Screen: Models with a 1080p display (a resolution of 1920×1080) offer a clear image and more screen real estate than cheap 1366×768 screens. We recommend IPS (in-plane switching) screens because they have more accurate color and better viewing angles than TN (twisted nematic) panels.
    • Keyboard and trackpad: The keyboard and trackpad should be tolerable and responsive, and neither input device should annoy you so much that you seek out an external keyboard and mouse. Backlit keyboards are a bonus but rare in this price range.
    • Build quality: No budget laptop is a paragon of industrial design, but a computer shouldn’t feel like it’s going to break. Many laptops in this price range are massive 15-inch beasts with cheap plastic cases, loose keys, and rattly trackpads. A decent laptop should be sturdy, shouldn’t flex beneath your fingers when you type, and shouldn’t creak every time you click the trackpad or tap the spacebar.
    • Bloatware: Cheap Windows laptops come with a ton of bloatware, and it’s especially problematic on these laptops with slower processors, less memory, and limited storage. We recommend getting rid of useless applications by following these steps as soon as you unpack the laptop to speed up boot time, sew up potential security holes, and eliminate annoying notifications. We experienced mild performance bumps after removing bloatware.

    For $500, you don’t get much control over features we consider when evaluating more expensive laptops, such as size, battery life, or ports, so although such details are nice to know, they didn’t make or break any of our picks. In this category, we just wanted to find usable laptops.

    We tested the Windows laptops and Chromebooks that met our criteria by using each for at least a day of ordinary work and video calls to get a feel for their performance, screens, keyboards, and trackpads. For Chromebooks, we had at least 20 browser tabs open, including Google Docs, Google Sheets, streaming music, Slack, and a variety of other sites. For Windows, we had five to 10 tabs open at a time, as well as the Spotify and Slack applications. We also tested the laptops by opening large Excel spreadsheets, 100-page Word documents, and 200-page PDF files.

    Most Windows laptops under $500 are horrendous, and very few with our recommended specs even exist—we combed through hundreds of models on manufacturer and retailer websites and found only a handful of promising options. (And if you’re curious about the Chromebook competition, head over to our Chromebook guide.)

    The Asus VivoBook 15 (F515EA-AH34) was one of our previous picks, thanks to its fast-enough specs, decent screen, backlit keyboard, reliable trackpad, and handy fingerprint reader. But it has short battery life, it’s large and heavy, and we recommend removing the included bloatware. Our current picks have newer, faster processors for a similar price.

    The Acer Aspire 5 (A515-45-R74Z) was another of our previous picks thanks to its fast-enough performance, vivid and bright display, and long battery life. But it’s also large and heavy, and it comes with a ton of unnecessary bloatware. It also lacks a fingerprint reader, and its keyboard is mediocre.

    1. Brian Westover, How much RAM do I need?, Laptop Mag, June 22, 2018

    2. Avram Piltch, Help Me, LAPTOP! Will an SSD Improve My Budget Laptop?, Laptop Mag, May 21, 2017

    3. Cale Hunt, eMMC vs. SSD storage: What’s the difference?, Windows Central, February 26, 2019

    Meet your guide

    Kimber Streams is a senior staff writer and has been covering laptops, gaming gear, keyboards, storage, and more for Wirecutter since 2014. In that time they’ve tested hundreds of laptops and thousands of peripherals, and built way too many mechanical keyboards for their personal collection.

    Further reading

    VIDEO: BEST GAMING MOUSE UNDER 500
    TECH WITH FUN
    • A Gigabyte Aorus 15 gaming laptop, to the right of a white mug with colorful spots painted on it.
    • Some of our picks for best laptop, placed around each other in a grid. Some of them are open and active while others are shut.

      The Best Laptops

      VIDEO: ✅Best Laptop Under $500 in 2023 | Top 5 Best Laptop Under $500
      Top 5 Reviews

      by Kimber Streams and Dave Gershgorn

      From budget-friendly options to thin-and-light ultrabooks to powerful gaming laptops, we’ve spent hundreds of hours finding the best laptops for most people.

    • Stack of laptops
    • The 16 inch MacBook Pro with M3 chip sitting open on a white surface, showing a picture of hilly farmland as a background.

      The Best Laptops for Video and Photo Editing

      VIDEO: This is the BEST BUDGET Laptop under $500! – Lenovo Ideapad 3 Review!
      GadgetByte

      by Dave Gershgorn

      Photographers and video editors on the go need a powerful laptop with good battery life, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro is almost always the best tool for the job.

    Sources


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