(Pocket-lint) - These days, most of us rely on a laptop to get work done, so it's especially important to have one that's up to the task. Thankfully, a good laptop doesn't have to cost the earth and there are a number of fantastic options available under $500 / £500.
While many guides and reviews tend to focus on the best laptops for any budget, not everyone wants to spend top money on such a device.
We've searched high and low for the best budget laptops around and, to help you decide the right one for your needs, we've gathered together a selection of the very best you can find for under $500.
In this guide, we have chosen to focus on full-featured laptops, instead of Chromebooks. With that said, if you do need something simple for web browsing and basic productivity, then you might want to check out our guide to the best Chromebooks available.
In addition, we've put together a quick section at the bottom featuring some handy tips on how to find the best laptop for you. Now, let's dive into our selections.
What is the best budget laptop? Currently, our top recommendation is the Lenovo IdeaPad 5. However, we also advise checking out the Asus VivoBook 15, Microsoft Surface Go 3, Huawei MateBook D15 and HP Stream 11.
Our Top Pick: Best Budget Laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad 5
- Powerful processor
- Big FHD display
- USB-C charging
- Memory is not upgradable
- No touchscreen or fingerprint reader
This Lenovo IdeaPad 5 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U processor, and we think it's the most powerful budget laptop.
This machine will eat up productivity tasks without breaking a sweat and can even handle some light gaming.
The SSD storage keeps things feeling snappy and the USB-C charging makes it super convenient to keep topped up throughout the day.
Budget laptops we also recommend
While the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 is at the peak of this list, it's not necessarily the right laptop for everyone, especially as it only just squeaks in under the $500 / £500 mark. That's why we've also selected the following devices for you to consider.
Asus VivoBook 15
- Powerful Intel processor
- Large full HD screen
- Slim and lightweight
- Memory is only partially upgradable
- Old fashioned DC power adapter
In terms of specifications, the Asus VivoBook 15 is quite similar to Lenovo's IdeaPad 5, but it is instead powered by an Intel Core i5 processor.
In practice, while the Ryzen processor is a bit better on paper, both perform really well.
If you're an Intel loyalist, then this is probably the best budget laptop in that realm. It's plenty powerful with good connectivity options and a speedy SSD - a delight to use.
Microsoft Surface Go 3
- Windows 11 preinstalled
- 2-in-1 design
- All-day battery life
- The keyboard is not included
- The processor is on the slower side
Now, it's important to note immediately that the Surface Go 3 doesn't come with a keyboard by default - you'll have to buy one - but, even with the added expense, it can still be had for an affordable price.
At its core, the Surface Go 3 is a great 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid, and most people will really enjoy using it seamlessly as both devices. We understand that it won't be to everyone's tastes, and, in an ideal world, you'd upgrade the processor to the better version available.
However, if you want a 2-in-1 with some style, the Surface Go 3 is a really nice option.
Huawei MateBook D 15
- Modern design with thin bezels
- Upgradable storage
- USB-C charging
- Low webcam makes for unflattering angles
- No touchscreen
The Huawei MateBook D 15 offers incredible value for money. It's got a sleek metal design and a modern slim-bezel display with the convenience of USB-C fast-charging.
The Core i3 processor isn't the most powerful thing around, but it'll do the job nicely for basic productivity, video calls and streaming content.
Despite being slim and light, there are plenty of ports for connecting accessories, too.
HP Stream 11
- Incredibly cheap
- Great battery life
- Super portable
- Weak processor
- Low on storage
This one might be better suited as a kids laptop, rather than something you rely on every day, as its limited storage and weak processor mean it can't do too much heavy lifting.
That said, for an incredibly low price tag, you get a full-on Windows laptop. It really is exceptional value for money. It'll handle the basics with no trouble and it's super lightweight and portable.
It offers great battery life and is available in a range of colours, as well.
Other products we considered
When trying to figure out what we believe to be the best laptops currently available under $500/£500, we spent hours pouring over spec sheets and comparisons as well as testing the devices in real-world scenarios. We consider a range of factors when it comes to recommending devices - and also when a new device enters our top five selections. We don't just factor in our own testing, either, but also consumer reviews, brand quality and value, too.
In all of our roundups, there are also many products we test that don't make the final cut. Since they may be the right fit for some people, however, we've listed them below.
How to choose a budget laptop
When it comes to purchasing a great budget laptop under the $500 / £500 mark, you will inevitably have to make some compromises to stay within budget. You're not going to find a top-spec gaming machine in this price range, but, if you keep expectations realistic, you can land yourself a highly capable machine.
To help you hone in on the best option for you, here are some things you should be thinking about:
What do you need the laptop for?
An obvious benefit of laptops, when compared to phones or tablets, is that you get a physical keyboard. This makes them much more suitable for tasks like typing, working on spreadsheets and the like. If the tasks that you need to complete are that simple, then you might want to consider a Chromebook, as you could potentially save even more there.
All of the options on our list run Windows, and that means they can run the widest variety of software offered by any operating system. This can be great if you need to run a niche program for work or a hobby as you'll almost certainly find a Windows-compatible version for any software imaginable.
If you need to do something more taxing such as editing videos or playing games then you'll want to pay particular attention to the processor. Some of the options on our list are surprisingly capable given the price range and will be able to run apps like Adobe Premiere and even play games like Overwatch at medium settings.
AMD or Intel?
Intel and AMD have a long history of going toe-to-toe on performance and pricing. Until fairly recently, Intel was pretty much the only good choice for a laptop CPU, but AMD has made huge strides in recent years - so much so, it has essentially made the opposite true.
In this price range, the best processor you will find is either an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5. If you want the most performance for your money, we'd recommend going for the Ryzen option. AMD's Ryzen 5 chips outperform Intel's i5 in almost every regard whilst also tending to be cheaper and increasing the battery life of the device.
Intel's Core i5 processors are, of course, still very good and with each new iteration, both companies continue to innovate and close the performance gap further.
At home or on the go?
Laptops give you the luxury of computing from anywhere you like, as opposed to being stuck at home with a desktop PC. If you'll be travelling about a lot, then you'll definitely want to pay attention to the battery life offered, as well as noting the size and weight of the device. If you end up with a laptop that is too big and heavy, then you'll probably never want to take it anywhere.
Pay attention to how the device charges, too, since some laptops can be charged via USB-C, just like a smartphone. This is especially handy, as it means you'll only need to bring one charger when travelling, and can likely borrow one from someone else if you happen to forget it. Laptops with old school DC connectors are not cross-compatible and can often add quite a bit of extra weight to your bag.
If you'll mainly be using it at home then you might enjoy having a nice big screen to look at and weight becomes far less of a concern. Similarly, it doesn't matter too much about the charger or battery life as you'll always be near an outlet. So there are some potential savings to be had by ignoring those specs.
More about this story
Every product in this list has been assessed thoroughly to ensure it will perform exactly as a recommended pick should.
There are scores of budget laptops vying for contention, but not all offer the right mix of design, specs and performance, or, indeed, offer a price tag that represents good value.
With a $500 / £500 price limit, there are naturally concessions in some of these areas, but we aim to provide a list of recommendations that suits different types of users searching for an inexpensive model.
As with any roundup, though, it's not possible to deliver a list that works for everybody, which is why we lean on the experiences and opinions of the wider Pocket-lint team - as well as thoroughly assessing the areas above - in order to do our best in this regard.
What we always tend to avoid when compiling these picks are needless spec comparisons and marketing lines; we just want to provide an easy to understand summary that gives you an idea of what each charging station is like to use. Our verdicts are concise, but this is purely in the interest of brevity.