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Best laptop under $500 of 2020 in stock from HP, Lenovo, Dell and more Best laptop under $500 of 2020 in stock from HP, Lenovo, Dell and more
Looking for the best laptop under $500 for Windows or Chrome OS (aka a Chromebook)? The supply of cheap notebooks had finally stabilized, but now it’s drying... Best laptop under $500 of 2020 in stock from HP, Lenovo, Dell and more


Looking for the best laptop under $500 for Windows or Chrome OS (aka a Chromebook)? The supply of cheap notebooks had finally stabilized, but now it’s drying up again. It looks like it’s hitting parents that their kids aren’t going back to school supplies are beginning to look as volatile as they did at the height of the initial coronavirusoutbreak-induced work-from-home rush when PC and accessory sales spiked. The grim reality of unprecedented job losses keeps the demand for ultracheap hardware strong. 

Prices have gone up for laptops that are in stock, and price gouging remains an issue: The last time I looked, the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook was sold out everywhere except for some third-party sellers on Amazon who are charging at least $80 over list price and some as high as $300 over. The refurbished models are being offered at close to list price. 

Here’s a list of models that are available for under $500 and that should ship within at least 10 days. I’ll try to keep this list current, but please don’t hate me if it gets out of date. Some online shopping sites make it impossible to figure out what’s in stock and what’s not — not just for tech, but for everything — as well as what can be shipped to you in a reasonable amount of time. Keep in mind, though, that shipping times may depend on where you live. I live in New York, so my recommendations may be based on a best-case scenario. 

Think long-term

As a rule of thumb, resist buying out of desperation — don’t spend $500 on a laptop because there are no cheaper ones available, for example. Buying a need-it-now laptop can be like food shopping while you’re hungry. Even for a laptop $500 can be a lot of money, and you’ll likely be holding onto it for at least three years, if the statistics Intel and PC manufacturers hurl at us are correct. You can also try to make your current laptop last a little longer. If you just need something to tide you over for a few months, dig into possible places to buy refurbished, and explore nonprofit or educational discounts if you’re eligible.

If you suspect you’ll be holding onto your new laptop a while, though, see if you can stretch your budget to accommodate a little more memory or a processor with more cores than you were otherwise considering. If you haven’t thought about it, look at AMD Ryzen processors as alternatives to Intel Core.

Even better, if you’re comfortable with it, think about one with a replaceable battery, upgradable memory and storage or both. Furthermore, you (hopefully) won’t be stuck at home forever. Remember to consider whether you’ll want something more portable, with decent battery life, in the future. 

Read more: Best monitors under $200 you can get right now

You’ll always be able to add an external drive or two (or five, if you’re me) at some point down the road. But if your internal storage is a slow-spinning hard drive that comes in a lot of cheap laptops, even fast external storage is unlikely to help speed up loading Windows or applications. (You can frequently set a system to boot from a fast external solid-state drive if necessary.)

You may see references to “Intel Optane” in conjunction with slow (5,400rpm) spinning hard drives; Optane is fast solid-state memory that acts as a temporary storage space for frequently accessed files on the hard drive to speed things up. It helps, but not as much as an SSD drive.

And finally, if you’re replacing an old laptop that’s just not up to running Windows anymore, consider turning it into a Chromebook.

Trade-offs

As long as you manage your expectations when it comes to options and specs, you can still get quite a bit with a budget model, including good battery life and a reasonably lightweight body. 


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A bright spot is you don’t have to settle for a traditional clamshell laptop with a fixed display and keyboard. You can also get a convertible (otherwise known as a two-in-one, a laptop with a screen that flips around to turn the screen into a tablet, to position it for comfortable streaming or to do a presentation. Keep in mind that all convertibles have touchscreens, which are a prerequisite for tablet operation, and many support styluses (aka “pens”) for handwritten and sketched input. Don’t assume a stylus is included with it, though.

One thing you won’t find: a MacBook or any other Apple laptop. Even an iPad Air tablet will run you more than $500 once you buy the optional keyboard (though if you look for sales on the tablet or keyboard it might work out to less), which is above our budget here. A base-model iPad with an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard and cheap stand for the iPad might suffice, though.

Read more: Laptop vs. Chromebook: Which portable computer is best in 2020 

You’ll see a lot of cheap laptops listed as coming with Windows 10 S, a stripped-down and locked-down version of the operating system intended for use by schools — it only allows you to install applications from the Windows Store, forces you to use Microsoft’s Edge browser and includes a subset of the administrative tools in Windows 10 Pro. You can upgrade to the full version for free, though.  

It’s easier to find inexpensive Chromebooks than Windows laptops, making it one of the most popular categories of budget laptops on the market, though we’re also seeing a lot more Chromebooks in the $500 to $1,000 range. That’s because Google’s Chrome OS isn’t nearly as power-hungry as Windows (check the specs), so you can get by with a lower-end processor, slower storage and less screen resolution or memory — just a few of the components that make a laptop expensive. 

Read more: Best Chromebooks for 2020  

But the flip side is that while Chrome OS isn’t as power hungry as Windows, Chrome and Google apps are unfortunately more of a memory hog than you’d expect, and if you go too low with the processor or skimp on memory, the system will still feel slow. Chrome OS is also a much different experience than Windows; make sure the applications you need have a Chrome app before making the leap.

Since they’re cloud-first devices, however, you don’t need a lot of storage built in. That also means if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games, they’re a good fit. If you hope to play Android games, make sure you get a model with a touchscreen.

Read more: Best cheap gaming laptop under $1,000 to get in 2020   

For a cheap gaming laptop, though, you’ll still have to break the $500 budget for performance. The least expensive budget laptops suitable for a solid gaming performance experience — those with even moderately powerful discrete graphics processors, will run you closer to $700. Here are our recommendations if you’re looking for the best gaming laptop

Although, if you like to live on the bleeding edge, cloud gaming services such as Google Stadia will let you play games on laptops with specs that hit the under-$500 mark.


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Specs to keep in mind

While Chromebooks can run Chrome OS-specific and Android apps, some people need the full Windows operating system to run heftier applications, such as video editing suites. With that comes a need for a faster processor with more cores, more memory — 8GB is the bare minimum — and more storage for applications and the operating system itself. A lot of these have 4GB or 6GB, which in conjunction with a spinning hard disk can make for a frustratingly slow Windows experience as well. 

  • I’m seeing a lot more Windows laptops in this range use AMD Athlon processors to hit the lower price. As much as I like AMD’s CPUs, I don’t really recommend going with an Athlon instead of a Ryzen. Windows is just too heavy for it.
  • Solid-state drives can make a big difference in how fast Windows performance feels compared with a spinning hard disk, but they also push the price up. So if your budget can stretch a little and you want more storage, you may want to consider stepping up from base storage options to a 128GB SSD. 
  • In the budget price range you have to watch out for screen terminology when it comes to specs: This is why an “HD” screen may not always mean a truly high-definition screen. HD, which has a resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels, was retronymmed “Full HD” so marketers could keep selling you lesser-resolution displays (1,280×720) as “HD.” In Chromebooks, “HD” usually refers to a screen with a resolution of 1,366×768 pixels. Another frequent complaint I see is about “washed-out” looking displays with poor viewing angles. Unfortunately, that’s one of the trade-offs you’ve got to live with; a lot of these use TN (twisted nematic) screen technology, which is cheap but meh.
  • Pay attention to networking. Inexpensive models with older chipsets may only support Wi-Fi 3 (or 802.11b/g/n). Wi-Fi 3 is limited to 2.4GHz channels; those are slower than more recent chipsets with Wi-Fi 4 (aka 802.11ac) that add a 5GHz channel as well. The specifications aren’t always correct on the shopping sites, so if you see a model which doesn’t seem to have Wi-Fi 4, double check on the manufacturer’s site before ruling it out. Remember, Chromebooks are designed to work predominantly over the internet, so Wi-Fi speed and stability is crucial. 

Considering all specs and options — from battery life to storage space, screen resolution, screen size, core processor performance and general machine and battery performance — these are a few of our top picks for 2020’s best Windows laptops and Chromebooks under the $500 budget, along with their pros and cons.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This is essentially a Chrome version of the first Microsoft Surface Go. Like the Go, the Duet is a 10-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard and touchpad. Unlike Microsoft, though, Lenovo includes the keyboard. It also costs much less than the Go (including the new Go 2), starting at $290 for a 64GB version or $299 for one with 128GB of storage. It’s essentially a smaller, albeit less powerful, Pixel Slate that makes more sense for more people with a price that’s more in line with what people expect a Chromebook to cost.    

It is a small screen, however, so if you’re regularly using it at a desk, we recommend attaching an external monitor to its USB-C port. You’ll probably want to connect a wireless keyboard and mouse, too. 

This goes in and out of stock, so if you see it at an uninflated price and you want it, don’t wait. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

The 2019 Aspire 5 15-inch clamshell includes the latest generation AMD Ryzen 3 processor, the 3200U, with its modern Vega graphics processing. Its 4 GB RAM and 128GB solid-state drive storage don’t allow for using a lot of programs or lots of browser tabs open simultaneously, but this 15-inch screen model weighs less than 4 pounds. 

 It’s a really popular model, so it tends to play now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t when it comes to availability. The price is relatively volatile, though, varying on a weekly basis; it was $350 three weeks ago, two weeks ago it went up to $418, last week it was back at $350, and this week it’s out of stock in many places and only available at Walmart for $456. 

Read our Acer Aspire 5 (2019) review.

HP

The Windows analog of HP’s 15-inch Chromebook, the HP 15 lacks a real HD display — it’s only 1,366×768, not 1,920×1,080. But the rest of the specs are decent  for around $400, as long as you only have light needs, such as web surfing and email. They include a 10th-gen Core i3-1005G1, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage.

Dell

For less than $430, you get a classy 15-inch screen laptop with a reasonable configuration — a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD plus 1TB HDD storage and a real HD display. I’d avoid the cheaper 4GB configuration, though, since that would slow Windows down unbearably.

Lenovo

This is pretty well-configured for an attractive Chromebook two-in-one at this price, with a full HD display and Intel Pentium Gold 4417 processor. The 4GB RAM and 32GB SSD aren’t terrific, but reasonable for a Chromebook. (Discontinued so going out of stock. Still available from third party sellers starting at about $460.)

 

Asus

This one goes in and out of stock rapidly. The cheaper Core i3 configuration sold out, then the slightly more expensive AMD Ryzen 5 model went. Now it’s down to a Ryzen 3 3200U, 128GB SSD and 4GB memory, but it still has the real HD screen. Don’t confuse it with the thinner, lighter, more expensive Vivobook S15. It’s not a great deal for $520, but if you’re having trouble finding else anything in stock, it’s worth a look.

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