How much computer can you get for less than $500? Quite a bit, as long as you manage your expectations.
That's easier with Chromebooks. Chrome OS isn't nearly as power-hungry as Windows, so you can get by with a lower-end processor, slower storage and less memory -- many of the components that make a laptop expensive.
And since they're cloud-first devices, you don't need a lot of storage built in. They're great if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games. (For the latter, make sure you get a model with a touchscreen.)
But while Chromebooks can run Chrome OS-specific and Android apps, some people need a full Windows operating system to run heftier applications. That comes with a need for a faster processor with more cores, more memory -- 8GB is the bare minimum -- and more storage for applications and the operating system itself.
Solid state drives (SSD) can make a big difference in how fast Windows feels compared to spinning hard disks (HDD), but they also push the price up. So if your budget can stretch a little, you may want to consider stepping up from a base option to a 128GB SSD.
The good news is you can get a convertible (aka a two-in-one) -- a laptop with a screen that flips around to turn the display into a tablet, to position for comfortable streaming or to do a presentation -- at a pretty reasonable price, for Windows or Chrome OS. All convertibles have touchscreens, as that's a prerequisite for tablet operation.
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A big Windows machine for a low price
Acer Aspire E 15Sarah Tew/CNET
It's not the prettiest system, but the Aspire includes a good 1,920x1,080 15.6-inch display, a ton of ports -- new and old -- and even a DVD burner for those still working in the world of physical media. What's more, you can open it up and add more memory and storage. It's heavy at 5.3 pounds, but it's a great option as a desktop replacement or as a system you just want to tote around the house. This $350 configuration includes a dual-core Intel Core i3-8130U, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.
A small Chromebook convertible that delivers big value
Asus Flip C302AJosh Miller/CNET
This classy, capable Chromebook sports an all-aluminum two-in-one design and touchscreen. It's got a backlit keyboard, two USB-C ports and a sharp 1,920x1,080 12.5-inch display, and since it weighs under 2.5 pounds, it's a great travel companion. It runs around $470 for a dual-core Intel Core M3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD.
An up-to-date Chromebook that's big and light
Most Chromebooks under $500 save cost by sticking with a smaller screen. The C523NA goes big with a 15.6-inch, 1,920x1,080 touchscreen display and a premium brushed-aluminum body that comes in at roughly 3.1 pounds. It's got up-to-date features, including 5GHz wireless support and USB-C connections. With this model you get a quad-core Pentium N4200, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD for under $400.
A premium Chromebook convertible for less than $500
Samsung Chromebook ProSarah Tew/CNET
If you're willing to go right up to the $500 line, the Chromebook Pro will greet you there with its 12.3-inch touchscreen at a better-than-HD 2,400x1,600 resolution. It comes with Samsung's excellent S Pen stylus, and an Intel Core m3, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC flash storage.
A Windows convertible with a modern look
HP Pavilion x360HP
This sleek Windows 2-in-1 packs in quite a bit for less than $460; it has a 15.6-inch 1,920x1,080 display, a current-generation dual-core i3-8130U, a 1TB hard drive boosted by 16GB Optane memory and 4GB of RAM. The stylus comes with, and it boasts one of HP's excellent keyboards. The battery life isn't terrific, but it's relatively light for a 15-inch at around 4.3 pounds.