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Best Laptops for $500 or Less

Consumer Reports' testing uncovers inexpensive models that get the job done

Can you actually find a decent laptop for less than $500?

Absolutely—as long as you're not expecting cutting-edge performance or a design that will turn heads at the local Starbucks.

Models such as the Dell Inspiron and Lenovo IdeaPad pack just enough power to handle everyday tasks like spreadsheet editing and web browsing, and they cost less than half what you'd spend on a MacBook Pro or the latest LG Gram.

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They may not have the highest-end specs, or the hippest design features. But if your computing needs are more meat-and-potatoes than filet mignon and you want the flexibility of having Windows, then they’re a compelling option.

And, if you're not too tied to Windows, you might also consider a Chromebook, which uses Google’s Chrome OS operating system and relies heavily on web-based apps like Google Docs to keep component costs low.

Every year, our labs test dozens of laptops—from budget picks to high-powered gaming models—rating them on metrics such as performance, portability, and ergonomics. Here are a few options that can handle most computing chores without breaking the bank.

Microsoft Surface Go

At 10 inches, this one is modest in size, but it gets you the 2-in-1 benefits of Microsoft's popular Surface laptop line for roughly $500.

The touch screen—which functions on its own as a tablet—costs $400, and the optional keyboard/protective cover starts at $100.

(Note: We opted for the $130 Surface Go Signature Type cover on the model we tested. If you want to save money, you can forgo the cover altogether and use almost any wired or wireless keyboard in its place.)

Under the hood, this Surface Go features a lower-end Intel Pentium processor (yes, Pentium is now one of Intel’s budget processors), 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage.

As our testers noted, the device was a little slow to complete certain tasks, including launching apps and editing photos, and the keyboard felt a bit cramped—but if you’re primarily interested in checking Gmail, posting items on Facebook, and keeping your finances in check with Excel, the model will generally serve you well.

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Microsoft Surface Go (64GB) Laptop computers

Price: $530

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Acer Spin 1

Acer’s 11.6-inch Spin 1 can be purchased on the manufacturer’s website for $330. (Because it’s an older model, it’s harder to find at retail stores, though Best Buy and Amazon currently have refurbished units starting at around $160.) That’s a good price for a good laptop and could represent real value for someone who doesn’t mind typing on such a small keyboard.

Specs-wise, you’re looking at a lower-end Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory, and 32GB of solid-state storage. The processor and amount of memory are about what you’d expect on this class of laptop—well-suited for web browsing and using productivity software like Microsoft Office—but 32GB is a little on the skimpy side.

That means you won’t be able to store much in the way of digital photos, music, or video here—so be prepared to lean heavily on cloud storage, Netflix, and Spotify.

Otherwise, our testers found a lot to like about the Spin 1, including its generous battery life of more than 14 hours and a display that doesn’t wash out when viewed from off-center. But at almost 3 pounds, it's a little on the heavy side for a laptop this size.

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Acer Spin 1 SP111-31-C2W3 Laptop computers

Price: $250

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Asus Chromebook Flip

This 12.5-inch Chromebook—available for a little less than $500—is a convertible model, which means you can fold the keyboard behind the display and use the device like a tablet for watching movies, playing games, or taking notes.

The core specs are about what you’d expect from a modern Chromebook: an Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of memory, 64GB of flash storage, and a battery that lasts more than 9 hours.

No, you wouldn’t want to render 4K video on this machine, but it will easily handle everyday tasks.

According to our testers, though, the display is prone to glare, which makes it somewhat difficult to use under bright lights or intense sunlight.

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Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA-DHM4 Chromebooks

Price: $480

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Lenovo IdeaPad 330

Lenovo’s IdeaPad line of laptops is aimed at mainstream consumers. This model costs $500 at retailers like Best Buy and Amazon (though it's in limited supply).

It’s a 15-inch notebook that has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 128GB of solid-state storage. Though we’d prefer to see 256GB of solid-state storage, those are impressive specs for a model at this price. According to our testers, you won’t have any problems tackling everyday tasks like browsing the web or streaming HD video, and even more demanding tasks like editing photos should not pose many problems.

A $500 laptop that can do just about everything, except perhaps play demanding video games—what’s the catch? Well, our testers rated battery life at only 5.75 hours (laptops this size regularly shoot past the 10-hour mark), and the display has a narrow viewing angle, which is not ideal for watching movies with family members. That means the colors on the screen tend to wash, unless you’re looking at the center of the display.

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Lenovo IdeaPad 330S-15IKB Laptop computers

Price: $450

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Dell Inspiron 15 3000

Dell’s Inspiron line has been around for more than 20 years, and it’s aimed at mainstream consumers with no interest in paying for cutting-edge specs.

For this 15-inch laptop, you're looking at a starting price of $250 on Dell’s website. That includes a lower-end Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive. Those are certainly more modest than the components you find on Dell’s high-end offerings, but if your computing needs are relatively simple, they'll do fine.

Our testers didn’t find any glaring problems with the Inspiron we recently tested. It had a comfortable keyboard and good battery life (almost 10 hours). 

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Dell Inspiron i3567-3465BLK Laptop computers

Price: $500

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