Apr 16 2013 - Budget laptops are a tough market for manufacturers. They have to produce quality systems for as little as possible and that often involves trade offs in hardware or software features. Of course, each person might have a different idea of what they need in a budget laptop. Maybe it is for graphics, performance, portability or price. Below are my selections for the best budget laptops priced under $500 currently available for a variety of different uses and prices.
Priced between $400 and $450, Dell's Inspiron 15 is a nice design that offers a thinner profile than your typical 15-inch budget laptop. Rather than using a standard Intel Core i3, it uses a lower voltage i3-3227U which is a bit slower but still fast enough for the average user. The advantage this gives it is some good running times while keeping the weight down. Other features are pretty typical of a budget class laptop including 15" display, 500GB hard drive, 4GB memory and a DVD burner. It does feature a Bluetooth radio which is nice to see in a budget system such as this. Probably the biggest downside is the fact that its exterior picks up fingerprints easily. An alternative that can also be found for under $450 is the ASUS X55C which has a bit more performance but is larger and heavier.
Normally priced at $540, the Acer Aspire V3-551G-8454 can typically be found for right at $500. This system uses a quad core A8-4500M processor from AMD that gives it some good performance. What sets this system apart though is the dedicated Radeon HD 7670 graphics that give it some 3D performance not seen in system in this price range. The big downside here is that the extra power requirements for this mean that it has some below average battery life. Other features are typical of a budget laptop including 500GB hard drive, 4GB memory, DVD burner and 15.6-inch display screen. For those that don't need the 3D graphics and performance, the Dell Inspiron 15 is a nice balance of size and features at a low price.
There are a growing number of low cost laptops that are also quite small. Probably the best option for those looking at one less than $500 is the ASUS VivoBook Q200E. The system specs are pretty typical of an ultrabook with an Intel Core i3-3127U dual core processor, 4GB DDR3 memory, 500GB hard drive. There is no optical drive for space and it uses a smaller 11.6-inch display. What is unique here though is that it is a multitouch screen that really helps with Windows 8. All of this comes in a system under an inch high and weighing just 3.1 pounds. An alternative for those wanting a small but affordable system can look at the Sony VAIO SVE11135CXW which is based on AMD's E2 processor for less performance and has a larger keyboard but it is thicker and heavier.
Thanks to its low voltage AMD Fusion processor and its larger than average 60WHr capacity battery, the HP Envy Sleekbook 6 is able to achieve much longer battery life than your typical budget laptop. In digital media playback tests, it achieves an impressive five and a half hours. Of course there is a tradeoff here in that it does offer less computing performance but that is fine for those looking at a basic laptop for the web, media playback and productivity. It is also slimmer and lighter than your typical laptop bu not including a DVD drive. Pricing has come down from its original $700 to closer to $500 but it still sells for slighting more than that. For those that want good battery life but want a more full featured laptop and a lower price tag, then the Dell Inspiron 15 provides over four hours while still providing a thin overall profile with standard laptop features like a DVD burner.
Laptops with dedicated graphics are very uncommon in budget oriented systems as it is generally seen as a premium feature. For those that want to do some PC gaming or some serious graphics work that can benefit from the graphics, than the Acer Aspire V3 551G-8454 is one of the best options thanks to its AMD Radeon HD 7670M graphics card. Performance is also good thanks to aquad core AMD A8-4500M processor and thankfully Acer has updated their keyboard which is a huge improvement over their past models. Unfortunately, they took a step back in design with a glossy exterior that needs frequent cleaning of fingerprints. Still, for under $500 it is a solid choice for those needing graphics. An alternative that doesn't provide a dedicated graphics processor but still decent 3D performance is from the Toshiba Satellite L955D that uses an AMD A8-4555M with a Radeon HD 7600G integrated graphics solution.