WHAT KIND OF LAPTOP SHOULD YOU GET?
Ah, here we are at the billion-dollar question. Do you spring for a basic Chromebook or go for a Windows laptop with more features? Well, it really depends on your lifestyle and your expectations of a sub-$500 machine. At this price point, you’re not going to find a powerful workhorse. However, there are plenty of affordable laptops out there for those who need the basics.
Chromebooks, for example, are a great low-cost option and offer phenomenal battery life. I use a Chromebook as my primary work laptop, as it has everything I need for both editing and writing. If you travel for work, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds. If you’re still unsure, don’t sweat it. I’ve put together a list of quick buying tips below.
Laptop type: There are many different laptop types that fall in the sub-$500 category: clamshells, 2-in-1s, Chromebooks, and much more. The displays on convertible laptops (aka 2-in-1s), for example, can swing around 360 degrees. This allows you to use the laptop like a tablet. They can also be propped up like a tent for viewing movies or participating in video calls. Chromebooks come in various shapes and sizes, and exclusively run Google’s web-focused Chrome OS. With a Chromebook, all you need is a Gmail account and boom, you’re in.
CPU: When it comes to the sub-$500 Windows laptops, you can expect to find Intel Core i3 or i5 processors. An i5 processor obviously provides a little more oomph. That said, basic office and web work does just fine on a Core i3. As for AMD options, the Ryzen 3 is good for basic productivity and web browsing, while Ryzen 5 chips rival Intel’s Core i5 as solid allarounders. For Chromebooks, Snapdragon and Pentium processors are more powerful than Mediatek chips.
Graphics: At this price range, you probably won’t find a laptop with a powerful discrete graphics card. Instead, you’ll encounter laptops with integrated graphics, which are integrated with the CPU and use less power as a result. This is perfectly fine for everyday tasks, especially if you’re not doing anything that’s graphics-intensive— like 3D gaming.
RAM: Always go for 8GB of RAM. That’s plenty for firing up applications and loading web pages. Most Chromebooks are equipped with 4GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum. You need a decent amount of memory on these machines, as they’re primarily web based. If there’s an 8GB RAM option, I’d recommend springing for that.
Display size: If you’re a video editor or someone who does a lot of multimedia work, you’ll want a display that’s anywhere from 15 to 17 inches (but these machines usually cost far more than $500). The sweet spot for budget laptops is really anywhere from 13 to 14 inches. The bigger the display, the heavier your laptop is going to be. A 13- or 14-inch display is the best in terms of portability and value.
Resolution: I wouldn’t go for anything less than 1080p, as there’s nothing more annoying than a slightly fuzzy image. 1080p produces a picture that’s sharp enough for watching Netflix or working in Excel spreadsheets. At this price range, you won’t really find many (if any) laptops with 1440p resolution or higher.
Battery life: If you plan on taking your laptop anywhere with you, aim for something that can last 10 to 12 hours on a single charge. That’s more than a full workday, so it should theoretically get you through long flights or a day of classes. Obviously, more is always better. Just know that the bigger the battery, the heavier the laptop will be.
Price: The price really depends on your budget. If you’re strapped for cash (I’ve been there, trust me), go for a Chromebook or an entry-level business laptop. These laptops are a good choice for students or young professionals. If you shop smart, you can even find 2-in-1s in the $500 range.
Ports: A wide array of ports is always a plus, as it eliminates the need for an adapter. I’d recommend a laptop that has both USB-C and USB-A. An HDMI port is good, too. This is especially useful for hooking up to an external monitor.