Sep 19 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 around $400, 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. Probably the biggest downside is the fact that its exterior picks up fingerprints easily.
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 Lenovo IdeaPad S400 Touch which is using a larger 14-inch touch display, a slightly faster processor but still comes in under an inch thick and just 4.6 pounds all for around $450.
More and more budget laptops are moving to lower power consuming parts which in turn should be helping out with running times. The problem is that most companies are also reducing the size of the batteries to cut costs. This is something Dell did with the Inspiron 15 but it still manages to get the best running time out of the laptops available in this price category with four and a quarter hours. This is only about thirty minutes better than the average but it still is the best. The next closest in terms of running time would be the HP Pavilion 15 thanks to its larger battery pack which gives it four hours. Of course, it is not a small and compact as the Dell and is a bit more expensive at $450.
Pretty much every laptop priced under $500 uses an integrated graphics solution which is not ideal for 3D graphics. Of these, the HP Pavilion 15-e010us offers the best performance thanks to its AMD A6 processor with its Radeon HD 8450G integrated graphics. It still is not going to be a powerhouse when it comes to PC gaming but it does offer some which is more than can be said about Intel's integrated graphics solution. Gamers will probably still want to spend a bit more for an option with dedicated graphics but this laptop comes in at just $450. An alternative is the Samsung Series 3 NP355V5C which uses an older AMD A6 with Radeon HD 7520G graphics which is slightly slower for graphics and costs roughly the same.
Windows 8 dramatically changed the user interface of personal computers and it is much easier to use with a touchscreen equipped PC. The problem is that touchscreens tend to make systems fairly expensive. Out of the few laptops available for under $500 that does have one, the Lenovo IdeaPad S400 Touch is probably the best option. The screen offers a nice size and it also has an extremely comfortable keyboard for when you don't need to touch the screen. The downside is that it has very limited battery life compared to most traditional laptops. An alternative option for a touchscreen enabled laptop is the ASUS VivoBook Q200E which is slightly more affordable and much smaller but can be more difficult to use because of its size.