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The Best Laptop Under $500 - Fall 2014

by on September 02, 2014
in Top Picks, Computers and Software, Computers & Accessories, Laptops, Guides & Reviews
Rating: 5 Stars 

With a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive and full-sized keyboard, the Aspire E15 has plenty of power to last many years.

Acer Aspire E15

Acer Aspire E15
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A search for laptops under $500 turns up a wide range of choices, starting with smaller, netbook-like hybrids and moving up to full-size, mainstream PCs with a budget price tag. Assuming you want a full-featured PC, chances are that you're looking for either a small, ultra-portable, low-power secondary machine or a full-sized computer that's basic yet reliable. Since the criteria for each are different, a final choice comes down to one thing: Which laptop is the best value for my money?

To evaluate the best laptops under $500, I didn't just look at price; I also considered performance, design, brand reliability and reviews from professionals and consumers. A handful of promising contenders emerged, including the Acer Aspire E15, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11, the Acer Aspire Switch 10 and the Asus Transformer Book T100.

If you're looking for a laptop to use as a main computer, my top pick is the 15.6-inch Aspire E15. But if you're in the market for a small machine, the 10-inch hybrid tablet Acer Aspire Switch 10 gets the nod. Both do well in the areas that matter most: smooth and speedy performance, sturdy and streamlined design, comfortable keyboards and good battery life. However, they are very different machines meant for different workloads.

The Acer E15: Best laptop as a main computer

When shopping for a budget 13- to 15-inch laptop to use as your main computer, you'll have to make some compromises: plastic casing instead of metal, HD displays instead of full HD or Retina-like resolution (often without touchscreens), slightly heavier and thicker designs instead of feather light and sleek. Most of these are acceptable trade-offs for the price; when it comes to internal hardware and performance, you should accept the least compromise possible.

During my initial search for sub-$500 laptops, I found solid models from HP, Dell, Asus and Lenovo that are as easy on the eyes as they are on the wallet. The models with the highest ratings ran on less powerful AMD or Intel processors (Core i3, Celeron, Pentium). Most also offered less RAM than my top pick. While this can be acceptable in a budget laptop, you should always get the most powerful processor and largest amount of RAM you can afford.

Solid power and performance

This is the primary reason why the Aspire E15 is my pick for top mainstream laptop. The $499 model (E5-571-56UQ) is powered by a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, which should keep it speedy for several years, even as programs and websites become more complex and take up more resources. The E15 also comes with a 1TB hard drive — not an SSD (another compromise), but large enough to hold a sizable media collection as well as all your documents and other files.

The E15 performed smoothly in my tests, switching between dozens of open tabs in Chrome and Firefox without lag while streaming music in the background. HD videos played without lag or hitching, and the system's integrated graphics handled less intense games just fine. The E15 ran spreadsheet macros at a respectable rate for a laptop with a spinning hard drive, opening even large Word documents in seconds.

The E15 has plenty of ports, including VGA, Ethernet and three USB ports. The only thing you might expect to see that isn't here on this model is an optical drive.

Full-sized keyboard and energy-saving monitor

Another area where you shouldn't compromise too much (even on a tight budget) is a laptop's keyboard. A good external mouse can replace a less than stellar touchpad, but if you need an external keyboard, you lose the point of using a laptop. The Aspire E15 has a standard Acer keyboard with square, island-style keys that spring up as you type and don't require heavy fingerfalls to register. Because this is a 15-inch system, you get not only get a full-size keyboard but a full number pad to the right as well.

The comfortable typing experience is matched by a responsive but not overly sensitive touchpad. It's wide and tall, giving you enough area for executing gestures to bring up Windows charms and making up somewhat for the lack of a touchscreen. If you spend most of your time in desktop mode, you'll barely miss using touch.

For a laptop with a 15.6-inch display, the E15 is relatively light (5.5 pounds) and just 1.2 inches thick, so it slides into backpacks and briefcases easily. Most people keep laptops this size on their desks, but the E15 is not so heavy that it's a pain to take on trips or to class. When you do, expect to get six to seven hours of normal use. I tested the E15 on the balanced power setting with the screen at 75% brightness, and I didn't need to plug in until past the six-hour mark. With energy-saving features active, it should last even longer.

The screen is one of the E15's weak points. At this price, I don't expect an extremely high resolution, but 1366 x 768 feels low for a display of this size. Other than that, the colors, saturation and brightness are all eye pleasing, and you can set the screen at almost any angle without seeing any distortion of colors or contrast.

Options, options

Acer promised that the Aspire E laptop line would be all about choice, and you're likely to find several configurations in stores and online. They're all mostly identical on the outside but give you a choice of different processors (both Intel and AMD), non-touch or touchscreen control, matte or glossy displays and a few different colors. I recommend the Aspire E5-571-56UQ, currently $499.99 on Amazon, with the best balance between price and performance.

There are a few E15 models that cost less and have less powerful hardware. I don't recommend a model with anything less powerful than an Intel Core i3.

Reviews are limited, but good

The E15 is new, so there aren't many reviews out yet. The majority of owners who reviewed it on Amazon left positive feedback, citing its speedy performance, lightweight design and large amount of RAM and hard drive space for the price. The only major gripe is the lack of optical or DVD drive, which came as a surprise to some due to a misleading product shot.

The Acer Aspire E15 may be a budget laptop, but it is not cheap. Even at $499, you won't have to compromise on performance or power, nor will you have to settle for a bulky, heavy, ugly machine. 

 

The Acer Aspire Switch 10: Best portable laptop

Acer Aspire Switch 10

Acer Aspire Switch 10

As light as the Aspire E15 is for its size, it's still not the kind of computer you want to carry with you for long periods of time. If you're looking for an affordable and portable laptop, try the $379 Acer Aspire Switch 10. This 10.1-inch tablet hybrid runs full Windows 8.1 with a keyboard dock that turns it into a laptop with a simple snap.

The hybrid convertible tablet market is full of worthy contenders right now, including the 10-inch Asus Transformer Book T100 for $379 and the 11.6-inch Lenovo Yoga 2 11 for $499. While the Switch 10's performance is slightly better than both in all but one area, what won me over is the keyboard dock's versatility and superior typing experience.

As with most hybrids, the Switch 10's screen/tablet portion attaches to the keyboard dock to make a clamshell laptop. It can also attach backwards for presentation mode or tent mode, similar to the Lenovo Yoga 2, which has a 360-degree hinge. I'm a fan of the Yoga's design and versatility, but at 11.6 inches, I find it too big to use effectively as a tablet. The Switch 10 detaches from the keyboard to become a true slate.

Comfortable keyboard and robust processing power

Still, you'll likely spend most of your time using the Switch 10 as a laptop with the dock attached. The keyboard is classic Acer, made small enough to fit with the 10.1-inch display. The square keys are not cramped or undersized, providing enough space between keys to keep you from accidentally hitting two at the same time. That's the biggest advantage the Switch 10 has over the Transformer Book T100's surprisingly cramped and uncomfortable keyboard; otherwise, these two hybrids are very similar, both in design and internal hardware.

The Switch 10 has a newer processor and thus earns slightly higher scores in benchmarks, but both perform about the same when executing real-world tasks. The Intel Atom processor is faster than you might expect if you associate this brand with netbooks from three years ago. The Atom doesn't choke streaming HD video any more, and it handles switching between dozens of tabs and a handful of running programs without becoming sluggish. However, the Atom processor is not designed for intense usage such as graphics-heavy games, compiling code or video editing beyond a quick trim.

Battery life is light

The Switch 10 falls short of the T100 in battery life, lasting about five to six and a half hours on a single charge. The T100 can last up to 12. Acer equipped the Switch 10 with a very lightweight A/C adapter, so carrying it is not a burden; the Transformer T100 can charge off the same micro-USB cord as your phone.

If you're more interested in the tablet side of the experience and don't think you'll use the keyboard much, the T100 is a good pick, but if you're looking for a laptop first and tablet second, the best keyboard experience matters — so go with the Switch 10.

The Acer Aspire Switch 10 with 32GB of internal storage is available on Amazon for $309. If your budget allows, I suggest the 64GB version, currently $389.00 on Amazon.



Discussion loading

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ACER - Far Less Than a Wonderful Experience

From Hank on September 05, 2014 :: 1:16 pm

After a running two-year battle with ACER customer service over a failed laptop, sending the machine back twice, and essentially having their techs ignore every note and comment I included, I still own a large flat paperweight that looks a lot like a laptop computer.

Their conduct was arrogant and self-protecting.  They even tried to make me pay $39 for them to reinstall the original operating system that came with the machine which only worked a couple of months.  Then they sent me a set of disks with what they later acknowledged as full of corrupt files.

No, if your ACER never needs fixing, maybe you’ll be okay.  Otherwise…

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I had a similar experience

From Shannon on September 12, 2014 :: 11:15 am

I had a similar experience with Acer customer serive. They are TERRIBLE. I bought a new Acer and had problems with the speakers. It sounded like radio static. I could never find a telephone number to a live person and had to do everything through emails. The “techs” kept having me reload software. I was dealing with multiple “techs” who wouldn’t read the email chains and they recommending the same failed procedures. Finally they agreed for me to mail in the computer for repair. I mailed it in and they mailed it back saying they could find nothing wrong. When I complained they wanted to to start back down the same filed road of reloading software. I had to convince them it was a hardware and not a software problems. They agreed for me to ship the computer back to them for repair. This time they replaced part(s). I asked them to call me before the shipped the computerback so we could do a test while on the phone but they ignored my written instructions. They also refused to give me a telephone number of someone I could talk to. The computer worked fine when I got it back but it took months of hassle with a useless customer service department. I don’t plan to buy any more Acers.

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they don`t fix PCs over the phone...

From Walter Thomas Jr on September 13, 2014 :: 8:05 am

After several years of buying or replacing my PCs, I would call back for more assistance, “We don`t fix PCs over the phone, bring it in….....

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Telephone Number?

From Shannon on October 11, 2014 :: 2:12 pm

You’re lucky you had a telephone number. At the time I had the problems with my PC customer support wouldn’t give me a telephone number nor could i find one on the internet.

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Acer Service

From Acer Staff on September 15, 2014 :: 7:43 pm

We’re very sorry to hear that you’re unhappy with Acer’s service.  If you would like to discuss your complaint with us directly, you can do so via Twitter (@AcerAmerica) or by writing to us on Facebook (AcerUSA).

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Seriously?

From MaliceAlyce on October 11, 2014 :: 1:33 pm

What? You still refuse to talk to another PAYING CUSTOMER by voice? Is it really that much of a problem for you to attempt to behave as a human being, whose money you were happy to take but refuse to repair your own JUNK?

SHAMEFUL BEHAVIOR. Wondering if the CEO knows how you treat the people who fund your paychecks.

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Poor Acer Customer Service

From Shannon on October 11, 2014 :: 2:11 pm

I’m surprised that a customer service rep from Acer would respond and give Twitter and Facebook as the only means to contact them. You’ve got to be kidding. I don’t do Twitter and a lot of people don’t do Facebook. You can’t offer a telephone number or email address? I don’t want to join a FB page just to voice a complaint. When I was having my issue with my Acer I kept demanding a telephone number to a live person so I could talk to a person over the phone about the issues I was having as the emal correspondence I was having with the foreign techs were getting me nowhere. My bitter experience with the customer support drove me away from even considering another Acer.

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You could buy some Dell,

From Steven Johnson on February 07, 2015 :: 7:40 pm

You could buy some Dell, ASUS or MSI model. These brands are the best. This is only my opinion.

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Me too

From J on September 10, 2014 :: 1:57 pm

My families experience with Acer has been the exact same as related above. My mother purchased a gaming laptop from Acer, over $1000, and has sent it back after finally getting ahold of tech support, which took forever, to get an RA. She sent it back and when she got it back, it was the same laptop with no visible difference. The reason? It was the same laptop, no repairs have been made and the same problems still exist. While she plans to send it back again and again and again, she has since replaced the expensive paperweight with a desktop computer and has had no issues. I’d considered Acer in the past as I’ve had good experiences with their motherboards, but upon reading many reviews with problems just like my mother and the reader above, I’ll stay far away from Acer laptops.

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Acer Service

From Acer Staff on September 15, 2014 :: 7:44 pm

We’re very sorry to hear that you’re unhappy with Acer’s service.  If you would like to discuss your complaint with us directly, you can do so via Twitter (@AcerAmerica) or by writing to us on Facebook (AcerUSA).

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Most important factor for computer speed?

From Jeffrey Deutsch on September 11, 2014 :: 10:35 am

Which factor most influences how quickly a computer runs, other things being equal: processor speed, number of processors (eg, quad-core vs. dual-core), RAM or something else?

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It depends (naturally)

From Josh Kirschner on September 12, 2014 :: 8:18 am

If you tend to run a lot of programs simultaneously or keep tons of open tabs in your browser (like I do), more RAM will be the most important factor for how well you computer runs. If you use processor intensive programs, like high-end games or video editing/conversion programs, processor power becomes more important (though don’t neglect RAM, either). With high-end games, the power of your video process (GPU) also becomes relevant.

With the processor, moving to a higher model (e.g., going from an Intel i3 to an Intel i5) will have a more dramatic benefit than going to a faster speed (e.g., 2.2 GHz to 2.4 Ghz). If you want to get geeky about it, this site offers an excellent speed comparison of almost every processor on the market: http://www.cpubenchmark.net/. Pay attention to the exact model numbers, there are many variants of each model,with different performance characteristics.

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What can I do with this........

From Walter Thomas Jr on September 13, 2014 :: 8:00 am

I have two/2 old Windows XP Pro. desttops; Is it worth it to upgrade these old PCs, and to what to upgrade standards?

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why replace?

From sixpack on September 15, 2014 :: 9:28 am

try installing linux on one, whatever flavour you fancy. 

It’ll run far far better than windows and you’ll be surprised at the power you still have available in these “old” machines which windows seems to suck dry after a time.

There are many utilities to access filestores that are not linux/unix based and the GUI interfaces make them easy to use day to day.

Remember apple is based on the unix operating system too.  It’s always been a far superior O/S than windows anyhow, it’s just the way the kernel handles task scheduling on the processor and its swap files (page files in windows). 

try it. you should be pleasantly surprised.  These old machines make great print servers / file servers / browsers etc.

Have fun.

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It depends (my favorite answer)

From Josh Kirschner on September 17, 2014 :: 1:07 pm

If you are just using them for basic tasks, and they’re running a little slowly, upgrading the RAM is the cheapest way to get a performance boost. How much boost will depend on how much your current RAM is the bottleneck.

Upgrading the hard drive will be expensive and probably won’t make much of a difference. Upgrading the processor/motherboard would be extremely expensive, if you could even do it for that model.

If you’re looking to play graphic intensive games or do extensive video editing and the PCs are too slow, you’re much better off just buying a new PC. Even sub-$500 models will likely blow the socks off whatever your current machines are.

You can move to Linux, as Sixpack suggests, too. Whether that’s the right solution for you again depends on what you want the machines to do and your level of technical sophistication.

And keep in mind that support for Windows XP is ended. Continuing to stay on that platform has malware risks if you’re not on top of things: http://www.techlicious.com/blog/what-windows-xp-users-should-know-about-end-of-support/

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Re: It depends (naturally)

From Jeffrey Deutsch on September 15, 2014 :: 9:32 am

OK thanks Josh, and have a great week!

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bank password showed up on google chrome

From larry koshiol on September 18, 2014 :: 12:38 pm

I lost some sleep over this last night. I’m turning to you cause Techlicious has been a real pal, and I don’t know what to do.
been using google chrome as a browser yesterday, I noticed my banks symbol at top of page, and when I clicked on it,              I
almost crapped me pants. there, for the whole world to see, WAS MY BANK PASSWORD.
this is scary, any suggestions ?
(I deleted everything and checked all the boxes)

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Can you provide more info?

From Josh Kirschner on September 19, 2014 :: 8:16 am

Your bank password should never be visible, but I’m not clear on where you were seeing this. Was it on your bank’s web page or through somewhere else? If you could send a screen shot to josh at techlicious dot com, that would help (please blank out your password, first!).

Though it may not be related, you should read this article about the Tiny Banker trojan: http://www.techlicious.com/blog/tiny-banker-trojan-virus-injection-attack/

Meanwhile, I would change your bank password from a secure computer while you figure out what may be going on.

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Poor Customer Service and no phone contact.

From James Shack on October 15, 2014 :: 5:33 pm

As part of the dinosaur generation, I don’t Twitter and I don’t Face Book.  One manufacturer eliminated.

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Website compatibility?

From Leigh on December 05, 2014 :: 9:23 am

I like to make photo books using Shutterfly, but you cannot design them using their website on a tablet, only with the app.  And, I hate the app.  I also dislike dragging my heavy, 17-inch work laptop to bed at night to work on the photo books.  Do the conversion laptops have full capabilities when using them in tablet mode?

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Yes, the convertible laptops do

From Suzanne Kantra on December 05, 2014 :: 10:05 am

Yes, the convertible laptops do have full access in tablet mode. You’ll just need to use your fingertip or a stylus to navigate the site.

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Recommendations?

From Leigh on December 05, 2014 :: 11:59 am

Can you recommend any more of the hybrids under $700 other than the Acer since the customer service does not appear to be that great?  I don’t need a replacement laptop, just some of the functions a laptop provides on a tablet such as the photo books and photo editing.

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CHeckout microsoft

From Shivam Goel on June 23, 2016 :: 4:20 am

Hybrids from microsoft are pretty good too, but heavy on pocket. Best led tv under 25000rs india

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The Acer customer service is a bot.

From Captain on April 07, 2015 :: 6:32 pm

The Acer Staff account on this website is a bot. A bot LMGTFY : http://lmgtfy.com/?q=bot

All the people stressed about their terrible Acer’s should either take it to the nearest service center or ditch that piece of shit if its past the warranty

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Definitely the BEst Laptops under 100!

From BRYAN PIERCE on October 14, 2015 :: 2:06 pm

Those are definitely the best gaming laptops.
However I really the design of Acer E15 laptop
Thanks!

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