The great $500 laptop challenge

We asked a bunch of CNET's laptop experts to pick the best laptop they could find for around $500.

We gave several CNET editors 500 virtual dollars to shop for the perfect laptop.

It's a frequent question from readers and co-workers, as well as friends and relatives: "What's the best laptop I can get for around $500?" A crisp William McKinley seems to be a psychological line in the sand for many: it will buy a reasonable set of components, but is still easy enough on the wallet to not be a life-changing decision.

In previous years, we haven't been particularly happy with the choices available around $500. Most were either dumbed-down midsize systems that were going to feel out-of-date before the box was even opened, and others were dressed-up Netbooks that were hardly better than versions one could find for as little as $299.

But with a new generation of CPUs from Intel and AMD, and with PC makers ditching entry-level Netbooks for slightly more expensive systems, it's time for another look at the $500 laptop.

To make this a practical exercise, we're setting a few ground rules. First, this isn't a spec-off. We're looking for systems that we generally think will be worthwhile, enjoyable purchases. Some will be 11-inch ultraportables, others bigger 15- or 17-inch machines. There will naturally be areas in which the CPUs, hard drives, and other components won't match up; we're talking apples, oranges, and a few honeydews, even.

Second, we're giving the price a little flexibility, going from around $450 to $550, not including tax or shipping. Finally, we're looking through our own reviews, built-to-order online configurators, and brick-and-mortar retail shops. Also note that prices and models can change rapidly, so the exact models we pick may not be available when you look.

I've compiled a handful of my favorites, and also I've asked a few of our resident laptop experts to each look at one particular channel (brick-and-mortar retail, custom configuration from, and so on), and build or buy whatever they'd get if they had around $500 to spend.

Obviously there are no MacBooks on our list; those start at $999, even for the white plastic 13-inch MacBook. One interesting possibility, though, is to take that same $500 and invest it in an iPad, which certainly fits our $500 budget, and also does much (but not all) of what you'd want a budget laptop to do.

I'm willing to bet that even with all our suggestions, you've got a few different ones that could easily be on this list. Suggest them below, and the best ones will find their way into a follow-up post.

Featured Video

Tim Cook's blurry iPhone picture takes world by storm

What is the iPhone 6's "Error 53"? The new Apple tvOS brings new features and Tim Cook takes bad pictures.

by Brian Tong