Best Laptops Under $500
The Windows One: Acer Aspire 5315
Acer's full-fledged Vista-enabled mainstream laptop may not be the fastest, sturdiest, or prettiest, but it'll certainly do when you absolutely, positively have to have Windows for less than $500.
Who it's for: Students on a budget who still need Windows-compatible software (such as PowerPoint and Word for class preparation); parents and grandparents who don't want to do much more than word-process, balance the checkbook, or surf the Web.
What we like: The huge 15.4-inch LCD screen is great for movie-watching and slideshows, and the built-in stereo speakers are surprisingly powerful (considering they're made of plastic!). Sure, it's 6.2-pounds -- more than twice as heavy as the MacBook Air -- but that's not as heavy as we expected at this price point. It has three USB ports, which is generous. The keyboard is spacious and comfortable to type on, and includes a one-touch key for wireless and battery management, and a Wi-Fi on/off button. Most other laptops in this price category don't have a DVD/CD-RW drive, so music rippers and DVD watchers will be pleased that the Acer Aspire does have one.
What we don't: With no dual-core processor (just a Celeron 450) and 1-gigabyte of DDR2, this baby can be slow to start and a bit lethargic when running several programs at once. Battery life – at just over two hours – can leave you stranded at the Internet café if you're not near a power outlet. Plus, the plastic casing feels a bit cheap.
Verdict: It does the trick for $500, but if you have an extra couple of Benjamins, go for the Aspire 4710, or any laptop with a dual-core processor.
Cost: $500 (the version we tested out was available exclusively at Wal-Mart for $470, but you can search around online for similar deals).