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Best Budget Laptops for Students

Updated on December 30, 2013
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aa lite is a self-confessed geek and gamer fanatic who has put together her own gaming rigs for the past 15 years.

Chrome books are frequently used in schools.
Chrome books are frequently used in schools. | Source

Laptops under $500

Nowadays, even young school students seem to need their own computer, for study as well as fun. You will be glad to know that it is not difficult to find a decent laptop for under $500.

Of course you have to be realistic about what you are getting at this price point. Budget computers invariably come with plastic chassis, searching for magnesium alloy or aluminium is a waste of time unless you can pay ore money.

You will not get blazing performance in budget laptops. Invariably they come with integrated graphics, so graphics intensive applications are out, other luxuries such as solid state drives, or IPS displays are also omitted to bring the price down.

At the same time you should not get anything without a 3rd generation Ivy Bridge processor corei3 (or better core i5) processor, and 4 MB of RAM. These specifications will handle tasks such as word processing and surfing the internet easily.

Sometimes laptops are sold at a cheaper price because they are subsidised by software (bloatware) that nobody really wants. Although annoying, do remember that the bloatware can be removed, you might have to spend a couple of hours doing that when you first get the laptop, but if you are on a budget, surely it is worth it.

Acer Aspire E1-572-6870 15.6 Inch Laptop Intel i5 4200U 1.6GHz Processor, 4GB Ram, 500GB Hard Drive, Windows 8 (Clarinet Black)
Acer Aspire E1-572-6870 15.6 Inch Laptop Intel i5 4200U 1.6GHz Processor, 4GB Ram, 500GB Hard Drive, Windows 8 (Clarinet Black)

Newest generation core i5 1.6GHz processor - 4GB RAM - Intel HD Graphics 4400 - 500 GB hard drive


Budget Laptop with Newest Generation Processor

It is very surprising to the newest generation Haswell processor in a laptop at this price. The integrated graphics, Intel HD 4400, are also more advanced than the usual Intel HD 4000.

The plastic chassis does have a bit of flex, it should be handled gently, however, this is somewhat made up for by its weight. At only 4.6 pounds this is a nicely portable computer.

The 15.6", 1366 x 768 screen is bright and produces vivid colours, however the viewing angles are not particularly good. Unfortunately it is not a touchscreen, although the touchpad supports some of the windows 8 functions.

Connectivity is adequate, with one USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports, a card slot and an HDMI output port. There is no optical drive, so if you were planning to watch DVDs on this, you would need an external drive.

All in all, this is an impressive machine for its price. Both PC world and PC magazine highly recommend it, if you are after a budget laptop.

You Might Want to Consider a Chromebook

Google's Chromebook approach to cloud computing hasn't really been a huge success, but for somebody on a strict budget without demanding computing tasks, they are worth considering. Especially the new Acer C7 model, which is an improvement on previous versions, although, at around $250, it is slightly pricier.

In some ways the Chromebook is a something in between a tablet and a proper laptop. However, if you only require it for word processing and surfing the internet, it will do its job perfectly well.

Cloud computing is an interesting concept. On the one hand it means that you are completely reliant on Google, and must always have access to wifi. Once you get passed this, it is incredibly convenient, however. Any document you work on is automatically saved to the cloud. When you pick up a new computer, you can pick up exactly where you left off, all documents are available to you as soon as you sign in to your account.

You will not be able to install word or other Microsoft office programs on this, and will have to use Google docs for all your productivity needs.

Having said that, the C7 does come with a 325GB hard drive, which is much bigger than in previous versions. It still boots up almost instantly. It does have an HDMI port so it is possible to connect it to a big monitor or a tv.

Entry Level Lenovo Laptop

This budget entry from lenovo looks quite good at first glance, with its shiny, black plastic casing, however it does seem to be a smudge magnet. It is also rather heavy, although at 5 pounds it can still be classed as a portable.

It's core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM result in very good performance at this price level, and it can even handle photoshop and video encoding, aided by its good, large display. Obviously the integrated graphics are not up to playing graphics intensive games, but you really do have to spend considerably more for a gaming laptop.

The keyboard is very comfortable to use, and the trackpad is accurate. Lenovo 500 lacks a touchscreen, which again is quite normal for computers at this price range. This is a pity because windows 8 is really designed for it, however, at least the trackpad makes using gestures easy.

It does come with a DVD drive, a card reader, 2 USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and an ethernet port.

In short you get good connectivity, an excellent keyboard, a good screen and a solid performance for under $500, that is pretty much all you can ask of a budget laptop.

A Touchscreen Laptop on a Budget

Getting the real benefits of Windows 8 requires a touchscreen, all laptops now come with the newest operating system preloaded, however many of the lower priced ones only have normal display. You can, of course, use Windows 8 through a multi-gesture touchpad, but it is hardly the same.

If having a touchscreen is important, than the Vivobook laptops from Asus are well worth considering.

At just under 1" thick and weighing 3.1 pounds, this Asus is very portable. Of course some people find 11" laptops to be too small, if you have thick fingers you might find touch-typing on the keyboard difficult. The battery life is also not spectacular.

The Vivobook is powered by an Core i3 processor, you can get laptops with a Core i5 for only slightly more money (but without the touchscreen). However it should still be able to handle most standard tasks such as word-processing, internet surfing, using social media, with lightning speed. The other specifications are pretty much what you would expect in a laptop at this price range.


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