Best Laptops Under $500
Although ThinkPads have a reputation for being pricier premium notebooks intended for business travelers, a little smart shopping can land you this budget model on a shoestring. It’s not as fast as the flagship T-series, or as light as the X-series, but the R61 has been reviewed favorably in its price range and includes many of the same features Lenovo rolls into those pricier ThinkPads. When ordering, make sure to choose the second-from-cheapest model to get an Intel Dual Core processor rather than a Celeron M (a bargain upgrade for only $32 more tacked onto the final price). Also make sure to select the cheapest Windows Vista option to sneak in under the $500 mark. The coupon code USP3PAYPAL will take an extra 15 percent off when ordering from Lenovo, lowering the notebook to $487.69.
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Dell’s bottom-of-the-line notebook won’t turn any heads, or win any head-to-head benchmark comparisons, but its $399 starting price makes it impossible to ignore. Since this isn’t from a sale, mark-down or coupon, you’re also free to add the options you really need. For instance, laying out $25 for the Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core processor instead of the Sempron would be wise. But travelers beware: A starting weight of 6.26 pounds makes it heavy by modern standards, and the AMD’s heat output will also make it a battery killer, so you may wish to look elsewhere if you’ll be taking it anywhere besides around the home and office.
Looking for something a little smaller than the 15.4-inch notebooks that normally seem to hit the bargain bin? This Acer falls one notch down on the size and weight scale, making it a little more portable for the on-the-go user. However, in exchange for the 14.1-inch screen and 5.7 pound weight, you’ll sacrifice some performance by moving to a single-core Intel Celeron processor. If you’re the type of person who imagines using a laptop to surf the Web in a coffee shop or tap out documents on a plane, you probably won’t notice much of a difference, though, and may favor the portability.
The priciest notebook in our roundup may be refurbished, but that’s the only thing
moving this otherwise well-equipped notebook into the sub-$500 category. It gets the fastest processor, Intel’s vaunted Core 2 Duo, and the largest hard drive, 160GB. With a 14.1-inch screen and weight of only 5.55 pounds, you’re also looking at the lightest machine on our list. Individual opinions on refurbished items vary, but if you’re willing to trust Gateway’s recertification team, you can land a laptop comparable to far pricier units for much less cash. Just remember: the manufacturer’s warranty lasts 90 days, so be sure to put it through its paces before you run out of time to discover potential problems.
Compaq’s cheapest notebook doesn’t stand out too far from the crowd, but it makes a nice option for those who don’t want to be bothered filling out rebates, using coupons, or chasing sales. You get a no-nonsense machine with a 1.73GHz Intel Dual-Core Processor, 1GB of RAM, and an 80GB hard drive. Spectacular? Not really, but you can snag one any time, and Compaq will allow you to round it out with whatever options you need. The only drawback would be the machine’s 6.4-pound weight, which makes it even more of a desk anchor than Dell’s cheaper (and slower) Vostro 1000.
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