The 6 Best Laptops to Buy in 2016 for Under $500

Find the best 2-in-1, design, portable laptop and more

It wasn’t long ago that the “under $500” batch of laptops were thought to cheaply made, with poor battery lives and underpowered processors. But in 2016, this couldn’t be further from the truth, and the current crop of fully loaded affordable laptops can make you wonder why you would even need to pay an arm and a leg for the latest gadget.

Over the past three years in particular, many people are now recognizing that the processing power on offer in modern budget laptops far exceeds their daily requirements. All of the laptops on our list can be used to browse the Internet, play high-definition movies and edit office documents without skipping a beat. For many consumers, this is more than enough.

From the sleek Asus VivoBook E403SA to the Dell Inspiron i3158-3275SLV that will double as a tablet, here are the best laptops under $500. 

1
Best Overall: Asus VivoBook E403SA

Asus VivoBook E403SA
Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Asus VivoBook E403SA’s sleek aluminum finish feels much more premium than its price point would suggest. It’s lighter and thinner than its rivals are (the IdeaPad 300S, Toshiba Radius 14, Asus F555LA) and it has a wealth of ports – including a USB Type-C port none of these other laptops have. This port can offer faster transfer of data and faster charging for connected devices. The VivoBook also has an HDMI-out, USB 3.0 ports and an SD card reader.

The 14” display delivers full HD at 1980 x 1080 – again blowing most of the competition away. And color accuracy is better than all competitors are, although the screen could do with being a little brighter.

The 1.6 GHz Intel Pentium N3700 processor is perhaps the laptop’s only downside; we would have liked to have more oomph under the hood and the VivoBook can run a little hot if you start using intensive applications. The 4 GB of ram and 128GB of eMMc storage make the VivoBook a capable multi-tasker.

Overall, the VivoBook is cheaper, lighter, has a better screen and, with a 14hr battery life, it can outlast its class competitors. So unless you need the raw power of a faster processor, it may be your best option under $500. Buy from Amazon »

2
Best 2-in-1: Dell Inspiron i3158-3275SLV

Dell Inspiron i3158-3275SLV
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Right at the top of our pricing range, you’ll find the 2-in-1 Dell Inspiron i3158-3275SLV, which is laptop first, tablet second. A powerful 2.3 GHz Intel i3-6100 processor is paired with 4GB of ram and a 128 GB solid-state drive, making for a viable day-to-day laptop. A 500 GB standard hard drive is an alternative option if you need more storage space at the expense of speed.

The LED-lit 11.6” screen outputs up to 1366 x 768 resolution, and at around three pounds in weight, the Inspiron is one of the lightest laptops capable of being used as a touchscreen tablet. In my opinion, the screen size is a bit small for laptop applications such as graphic design and video editing. But it’s the best value 2-in-1 laptop available today, and is compatible with Windows 10. Not to mention, it has latest 802.11 A/C wireless technology, eliminating slow internet headaches. You will also have access to two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port.  Buy from Amazon »

3
Best Budget: Asus E402MA

Asus E402MA
Courtesy of Amazon.com

If budget is your chief concern and you’re willing to make a few sacrifices, the Asus E402MA may be the laptop for you. It is one of the cheapest notebooks out there, yet it still sports a 14” display capable of a 1366 x 768 resolution, 64-bit Windows 10 operating system, full-size keyboard and a battery capable of running for around seven hours between charges.

The 32 GB hard drive is a bit tight, especially considering Windows 10 alone will take up nearly half of that space, and with only 2 GB of ram you’re not going to be able to run more than one or two applications concurrently without noticing a slowdown in responsiveness. Consider the E402MA just enough computer to get the job done, but excellent value for money. Buy from Amazon »

4
Best for Portability: HP Stream 11-r010nr 11.6-Inch Notebook

HP Stream 11-r010nr 11.6-Inch Notebook
Courtesy of Amazon.com

There is an unfortunate inverse relationship between price point and weight on laptops. The cheaper they get, the heavier they run, often on account of using bulky plastics instead of lighter weight chassis. The industry standard for budget laptops is around five pounds, but the HP Stream Notebook weighs about half of that, at just 2.6 lbs.

The cobalt blue case gives the laptop a distinctive look, and an 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 pixel LED-lit screen is just large enough to watch a movie in full screen to satisfying effect. Like many other budget laptops, it has a modest 1.6 GHz processor and 2 GB SDRAM, which is enough for basic applications but won’t satisfy more demanding ones.

Other perks of this lightweight budget laptop include built-in Windows 10 and one year of Windows 365, a respectable 32 GB solid-state drive and one USB 3.0 port. The lithium ion battery comes just shy of 11 hours of computing power, adding additional functionality if you need to take this laptop with you to school or on a long flight.  Buy from Amazon »

5
Best for Creatives: Dell Inspiron 15 i5558-5718SLV

Dell Inspiron 15 i5558-5718SLV
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Artists, marketers, bloggers, parents, travelers, Instagramers, and, well, photographers, need certain processing requirements to run post-processing photo software. They also look for additional RAM, a large hard drive and a large screen. Higher budget quad core computers are the best bet, but they can get pricey. If you’re on a tight budget but still need a laptop that can handle Photoshop and Lightroom, consider the Dell Inspiron 15. Its dual core Intel Core i5-4210U processor is a step up from all on this list, and it can be overclocked from 2.20 GHz to 2.70 GHz to get the best out of it when you need it. 

The 15.6” screen is touchscreen-enabled and can output to a glorious full HD resolution, great for photo-realistic vivid detail for all your images. The laptop’s integrated Intel HD graphics card is nothing to write home about, but it is enough to meet requirements on all photo processing software. An SD memory card reader and two USB ports give you multiple options for uploading your pictures, and you also get a large 8 GB of ram and a massive 1 TB hard disk drive, making it one of the best choices under $500 for photographers. Buy from Amazon »

6
Best Design: Lenovo IdeaPad 100s

Lenovo IdeaPad 100s
Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Lenovo Ideapad has modest specs but head-turning looks at one of the most attractive price points on the market. The design makes this laptop look as good something five times the price. The smooth case is sleek and colorful, a bold red that will set it apart from the sea of silver and black laptops populating most coffee shops. The flexible hinges compensate for a less-than stellar screen, and at 2.2 pounds it is incredibly light for a budget laptop.

It also comes with Windows 10 pre-installed, which is something else that sets it apart from other laptops. The humble Intel Atom Chip and 2 GB of RAM aren’t going to handle too much, but if you are looking for basic productivity like Word processing and web browsing, you will be satisfied. Unfortunately, it lacks 802.11ac WiFi and doesn’t have an ethernet plug, so be patient with Internet speeds. But on the plus side, it has an 11-hour battery life per charge. Buy from Amazon »

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