Best laptop deals 2019: Windows and Chromebooks for under $500


Looking for the best laptop under $500? You and a billion other bargain hunters. You can get quite a bit in a budget model, as long as you manage your expectations. The good news is you don’t need to settle for a traditional clamshell laptop with a relatively fixed display and keyboard. You can get a convertible (aka 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 — at a pretty reasonable price, for Windows or Chrome OS. All convertibles have touchscreens, as that’s a prerequisite for tablet operation. One thing you won’t find: a MacBook or any other Apple laptops. Even an iPad Air will run you more than $500 once you buy the optional keyboard (though if you look for sales it might work out to less).

It’s easier to find inexpensive Chromebooks than Windows laptops, making it one of the most popular categories of budget laptops on the market. Google’s Chrome OS isn’t nearly as power-hungry as Windows, 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. 

Our picks

Acer Aspire 5 A stylish Windows clamshell at a great price See at Amazon
Acer Aspire E 15 A big Windows machine for a low price See at Amazon
Acer Swift 3 A 13-incher with the works See at B&H
Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA   A small Chromebook convertible that delivers big value   See at Amazon  
Asus Vivobook F705QA A rare 17 incher for less than $500 See at Amazon
Dell Inspiron 15 5000 A basic but attractive laptop with the right features See at B&H
HP Chromebook x360 On sale, it’s a nice value See at Amazon
HP Pavilion x360 A Windows convertible with a modern look See at Amazon

And since they’re cloud-first devices, you don’t need a lot of storage built in. They’re great if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games. (For games, make sure you get a model with a touchscreen.)

If you’re looking for gaming on the cheap, you’ll still have to break the $500 ceiling. The least expensive budget laptops suitable for a solid gaming 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 most inexpensive and the best gaming laptops

Things to keep in mind:

  • While Chromebooks can run Chrome OS-specific and Android apps, some people need a full Windows operating system to run heftier applications, like 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. 
  • Solid-state drives (SSD) can make a big difference in how fast Windows feels compared with spinning hard disks (HDD), but they also push the price up. So if your budget can stretch a little, you may want to consider stepping up from base options to a 128GB SSD. 
  • In this budget price range you have to watch out for screen terminology when it comes to specs: This is why “HD” may not always mean truly high definition. HD, which is 1,920×1,080 pixels, was retronymmed “Full HD” so that marketers could keep selling you lesser-resolution screens (1,280×720 pixels) as “HD.” In laptops, “HD” usually refers to a 1,366×768-pixel screen.
  • 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 2.4 GHz channels, which are slower and have a shorter range than more recent chipsets with Wi-Fi 4 (aka 802.11ac) 5 GHz support. The specifications aren’t always correct on the shopping sites, so if you see a model which doesn’t seem to have WiFi 4, double check on the manufacturer’s site before ruling it out.

Considering all specs from battery life to storage space, screen resolution, core processor and general machine and battery performance, these are a few of our top picks for 2019’s best Windows laptops and Chromebooks under $500, along with their pros and cons.

Note: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.  

Acer

The Aspire 5 15-inch clamshell includes the latest generation AMD Ryzen 3 processor, the 3200U, with its modern Vega graphics processing. Its 4 GB of RAM and 128GB SSD don’t allow for using a lot of programs or lots of browser tabs open simultaneously, but this 15-inch model weighs less than 4 pounds. The price may bounce back to its normal $349, but that’s still a good price for what you get.

HP

A 14-inch Chromebook alternative to the convertible Pavilion x360, it’s pretty well-equipped for running Chrome OS with a Core i3-8130U, 8 GB RAM and 64GB of storage. It’s a good deal at its $449 sale price, but if it bounces back to $600, not so much.

Acer

This slim and light 13-inch Windows laptop packs in a lot of good components, such as an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, full HD display, Type-A and Type-C USB ports and a 256GB SSD. It’s on sale for $499, but if it goes back to its normal price of $749 it’s not just out of budget, it becomes a meh deal.

The Vivobook stands out as one of the few options under $500 (by 1 cent!) with a 17-inch screen. The tradeoff to make that price is that it’s a low-resolution display — 1,600 x 900 pixels — a slow but big 1TB 5400rpm spinning disk rather than SSD (a FireCuda hybrid drive, which uses SSD to boost how fast the system can read from the hard disk) and an older quad-core AMD processor. It does have 8GB RAM and is pretty lightweight for its size — less than 5 pounds. But it will be slooooow.

dell

For $529, you get a classy 15-inch laptop with the right set of of features: an Intel Core i processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD and a real HD display. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s not the prettiest system, but the Aspire is a solid budget laptop and includes a good 1,920×1,080 15.6-inch screen, a ton of ports — new and old — and even a DVD burner for those still working in the world of physical media. What’s more, you can open it up and add more memory and storage space. Cons include that it’s heavy at 5.3 pounds, but it’s a great option as a desktop replacement or as a system you just want to tote around the house. This $361 configuration includes a dual-core Intel Core i3-8130U, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.

Josh Miller/CNET

This classy, capable convertible Chromebook sports an all-aluminum two-in-one design and touch-screen display. It’s got a backlit keyboard, two USB-C ports and a 1,920×1,080 12.5-inch display, and since it weighs under 2.5 pounds, it’s a great travel companion or business laptop. A budget Chromebook with great battery life (up to 10 hours), this guy runs around $469 for a dual-core Intel Core m3 processor — you can even bump it up to an m5 and still stay below $500 — 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. A solid Chromebook perfect for basic web browsing, word processing, business applications and more.

HP

The latest version of this sleek Windows 2-in-1 convertible laptop packs in quite a bit for around $500; it has a 14-inch display (though only low-resolution HD), a current-generation dual-core i3-8145U, a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. The stylus comes with, and it boasts one of HP’s excellent keyboards. The battery life isn’t terrific, but it’s light for a 14-inch at under 4 pounds. 



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