May 21 2014 - 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 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.
Note that these are Windows based systems with a traditional laptop design. If you are not tied to the Microsoft operating system, there are Chromebooks using the Google mobile operating system that can be found for around $300.
If you just need a laptop and don't have a lot of money to spend, the ASUS X552EA-DH1 is one of the most affordable with prices often less than $400. Much of this is thanks to the low cost AMD A4-5000 quad core processor which is fine for those doing web browsing, media streaming and productivity software. It does perform lower than many similar Intel dual core processor laptops. Much of the remaining features are fairly typical with 4GB of memory, 500GB hard drive, DVD burner and 802.11b/g/n wireless. It does offer two USB 3.0 ports which is less common at this price point which is nice. The 15-inch display is not a touchscreen and does make this a big large and heavy. If you want a touchscreen at low cost, it is still possible to find the ASUS Vivobook Q200E out there for around $400.
There are a greater number of affordable laptops now available with touchscreens thanks to Windows 8. The Dell Inspiron 15 (3537) Touch may not be the most recent model, but it actually is slightly better than the new version thanks to the two USB 3.0 ports for more high speed external device support. It may not be the fastest as it uses an Intel Core i3-4010U dual core processor but it is very efficient allowing it to have a very thin 1-inch profile and just five pound weight. The 15-inch touchscreen display of course makes it easier to navigate Windows 8 which is helpful even if it does offer a bit less performance than the non-touchscreen models.
Battery life for most budget systems ranges from around 3.5 to 4 hours pretty consistently. If you do need a bit more running time though, the Lenovo G410 lasts up to 4.25 hours in digital video playback tests thanks to its larger 48WHr battery pack. Performance is also stronger than most due to a higher performance Intel Core i3-4000M dual core processor rather than a low voltage processor more companies are moving towards. Even though it is a bit more compact with a 14-inch display it is still quite thick at 1.31-inches and does not have a numeric keypad like most 15-inch models. Another option with similar large battery and 4.25 hours battery life is the Toshiba Satellite C55Dt-A5148 with its larger 750GB hard drive but slower AMD processor.
If you want extreme portability, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 is nearly unbeatable thanks to its hybrid design. In its tablet form, it is just .4-inches thick and weighs 1.2 pounds while with its keyboard dock is just .6-inches thick and weights 2.3 pounds. While extremely portable, it is still a full Windows 8 system albeit without a DVD drive. Performance is a bit lower from the Intel Atom Z3470 quad core processor but it works just fine for web browsing, media watching and productivity. Now it does have limited storage of just 32GB and is slow to charge from the USB based charger. If you would rather than a traditional style laptop, the MSI S12T offers greater storage capacity at a still respectable 2.9 pound weight but still no DVD drive.