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Best Laptops Under $500

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to spend an arm and a leg on a laptop. Thanks to cheaper chips, more efficient software, and the fact that an increased amount of our computing is done online (meaning your computer doesn't need to be as powerful), plenty of notebooks can be had for less than $500 (in fact, Intel is developing new technology that will help push powerful PCs to the under-$250 price point). We scoured the tech landscape and found five laptops that will do all your basic computing needs, and then some, but still keep your budget balanced. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any Mac-based laptops – even in the used/refurbished bins – but you'll have to take that up with Steve Jobs. In the meantime, check out our picks for best bargain-basement laptops.

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).

Tags: features, Laptop Buying Guides, LaptopBuyingGuides



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