The best laptops under $500 in 2021

The best laptops under $500 in 2021

Currently, finding the best laptops under $500 isn’t the easiest of undertakings, as the selection for solid-quality and affordable laptops isn’t vast. We’re hoping as the year pushes on, we’ll see some killer bargain machines pop up, especially when it comes to Chromebooks. 

Nevertheless, the selection of laptops under $500 we have rounded up below represents some decent machines for prices that are pretty palatable. Sure, you’re not going to get killer performance and the best in industrial design. But you can get sound machine for getting work done on the go, or a laptop that you can give to your children safe in the knowledge that if they break it they won’t have ruined a super-expensive device. 

Devices like the Microsoft Surface Go 2 are particularly impressive for $500 or below,  with the Surface Go 2 offering 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 slowly growing as more affordable machines come into the market and hybrid tablet-meets-laptop devices become available for competitive prices. Our current pick is the Samsung Chromebook 3. At $300 it’s well within budget and offers a solid if unexciting Chromebook, thanks to its bright display and decent performance and excellent battery life. 

After that we have 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 want to go down the hybrid route, the iPad 2020 with its Smart Keyboard offers a strong experience. 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

Samsung Chromebook 3

Samsung Chromebook 3 (Image credit: Samsung)

1. 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

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 the coolest Chromebook on the market for budget shoppers.

Microsoft Surface Go 2

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

2. 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 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.  

Lenovo Chromebook C330 2-in-1

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

3. 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)

4. 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. 

Dell Inspiron 15 3000

Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (Image credit: Dell)

5. Dell Inspiron 15 3000

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

Intel 10th Gen CPU 

Plenty of ports 

Decent storage space

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.  

Acer Chromebook Spin 11

(Image credit: Acer)

6. Acer Chromebook Spin 11

Display: 11.6 inches, 1366 x 768 | CPU: Intel Celeron N3350 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 500 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC | Weight: 2.96 pounds

Cheap Chromebook

Good for school or and basic work 

Very portable

Poor spec

Basic design

The Acer Chromebook Spin 11 is one rather cheap yet reasonably practical 2-in-1 Chromebook. It may have a dim screen and not look particularly modern by 2020 standards, but for a price that’s under $400 it’s not a bad purchase. That’s because you’re getting a machine that you can use as a laptop and then flip round to view media or doodle on with an included stylus. Granted its middling spec isn’t going to amaze, but then Chrome OS doesn’t need a huge amount of power. 

We’ve not reviewed the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, but our sibling site Techradar has, and it awarded the Chromebook a solid four out of five stars. It was prised for its durable frame, price, and a lack of frivolous features. But it received criticism for its less than impressive battery life and lackluster performance. However, this can all all be overlooked thanks to its cheaper price and the fact that Acer does make decent Chromebooks. If you want a machine that you won’t have to worry about damaging while traveling or letting your kids use, this could be the machine to get. 

iPad 8th generation review smart keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

7. Apple iPad 2020 with Smart Keyboard

Bright and colorful display

Superb battery life

Fast chip 

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.   

HP Chromebook 11

(Image credit: Amazon)

8. HP Chromebook 11

Display: 11.6 inches, 1366 x 768 | CPU: Intel Celeron N3350 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 500 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC | Weight: 3 pounds

Another cheap Chromebook

Good for school and travel

Plenty of ports

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 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.

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