You don’t have to blow your nest egg to get a reliable laptop that can handle your everyday tasks. We’ve found five high-quality Windows laptops, MacBooks, and Chromebooks that all cost less than $500.
What to Look for in a Laptop
You have to know what to look for when you shop for a laptop—especially if you want something in the $300 to $500 range. You could easily end up with a lame duck.
We’ve covered this in detail before, but before we take a look at some laptops, let’s review some of their most important specs:
- Central Processing Unit (CPU): Don’t buy a $500 laptop unless it has a good CPU. At the time of writing, we suggest you look for an Intel 8th generation i3 or i5 processor. They’re super-fast and offer excellent performance. (We’ve made exceptions for the 2011 MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 4, which use older i5 chips.)
- RAM: The current industry standard is 8 GBs of RAM, even if it doesn’t seem that way when you shop for a laptop. You can make an exception for Chromebooks, as they’re less resource-heavy than Windows laptops.
- Solid State Drive (SSD) versus Hard Disk Drive (HDD): Laptops with SSDs boot incredibly fast. They also retrieve files quickly and don’t make any weird hard drive noises. This is why we recommend you get a laptop with an SSD—you won’t regret it.
- Battery life: You should be able to find a laptop that offers at least six hours of battery life in this price range.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s get into it! Do keep in mind the old-stock MacBook Pros and Surface Pros on this list are full of old hardware. They’re still good machines, but you do have to trade some performance to get an Apple or Microsoft machine at an economical price.
Best Windows Laptop: Acer Aspire 5 Slim
The Acer Aspire 5 Slim is one of the best midrange Windows laptops on the market. It’s not the flashiest-looking, but it has an 8th generation i5 processor, 8 GBs of RAM, and a reasonably sizeable 256 GB SSD. At around $500, these specs are a steal!
This laptop also features a fingerprint reader, an HD IPS display with great colors and viewing angles, a 9.5-hour battery life, and more USB ports than you’ll know what to do with. It even has a USB-C port, although you charge it with a typical DC power cable.
If you want to save even more money, you can get the cheaper version of this laptop, which sports an 8th generation i3 processor, 4 GBs of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD.
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6 Inches FHD IPS Display, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD, Fingerprint Reader, Windows 10 Home, A515-54-51DJ
The Acer Aspire 5 Slim is packed with an 8th gen i5 processor, 8 GBs of RAM, and a super-fast SSD. It's a steal!
Another Windows Option: ASUS VivoBook 15
If you’re not down with the Acer, the ASUS VivoBook 15 might be your best bet. This Windows laptop costs around $400. The nearly bezel-less HD display and super-slim form factor give it a premium look. It also has a slightly tilted hinge for typing and airflow, a seven-hour battery life, and a neat little fingerprint reader.
Oh, and the specs are pretty solid, too. The VivoBook 15 has an 8th generation i3 CPU, 8 GBs of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD—a good deal at this price!
It also features a ton of ports, including USB-C. Unfortunately, you still charge it via a typical power cable—it’s hard to find USB-C charging at this price.
ASUS VivoBook 15 Thin and Light Laptop, 15.6” FHD, Intel Core i3-8145U CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Windows 10 in S Mode, F512FA-AB34, Slate Gray
The ASUS VivoBook 15 looks like a flagship laptop. It sports an 8th gen i3 processor, 8 GBs of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD.
Best Windows 2-in-1: Refurbished Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface tablets are by far the best Windows 2-in-1s on the market. The only Surface device you buy brand-new for under $500 is the Surface Go Tablet. It’s a great machine, but it’s more of an iPad Mini alternative than a laptop.
If you’re looking for the best 2-in-1 under $500, we recommend you look at a refurbished Surface Pro 4. Yes, it’s from 2015, but it has a 6th generation i5 processor, which is comparable to the 8th generation i3 processors in the most recent laptops. It also has 4 GBs of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, and a nine-hour battery life. At this price, you won’t find a better 2-in-1, and since it’s refurbished, it also comes with a Surface Type Cover (a $100 value)!
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (256 GB, 8 GB RAM, Intel Core i5)
Yes, the Surface Pro 4 is an older model, but it's loaded with high-quality components that'll work great for the next few years. At the refurbished price, it's the best Windows 2-in-1 money can buy.
Best MacBook: Refurbished MacBook Pro
You can’t buy a brand-new MacBook for less than $500, but you can make the most of an older, refurbished one! The 2011, 13-inch MacBook Pro is an excellent option for under $500 that features a 2nd generation i5 processor (a decent CPU at this price).
The only real problem is this MacBook only has 4 GB of RAM and sports a slow, 500 GB hard drive. That’s not terrible, but it’s not very modern. The good news is the components in these older MacBook Pros are very easy to upgrade if you’re into that. It’s better than spending $1,000 on a brand new one!
Best Chromebook: HP x360
Chromebooks are wonderful. They’re lightweight, super-reliable, and make the most of their hardware. You could get a cheap, low-spec Chromebook for your everyday computing needs, but a high-spec model is a lightning-fast luxury beyond compare.
For its price, the HP x360 is a wonderful Chromebook. It runs on an 8th generation i3 processor, 8 GBs of RAM, and 64 GBs of eMMC solid-state memory. Basically, it loads things fast.
It also has a slim form factor, two USB-C ports (which the computer uses to charge), and a 14-inch HD touch screen.
The only real drawback to this Chromebook is it’s not a 2-in-1. If you’re willing to pay extra for that, the ASUS Chromebook Flip has the same specs as the HP x360.
HP Chromebook x360 14-14" FHD Touch - Core i3-8130u - 8GB - 64GB eMMC - White and Blue
The HP x360 is super-powerful, super-slim, and one of the best Chromebooks on the market. Its price tag is pretty sweet, too.