Most of the sub-$500 laptops I see are fairly low end when it comes to processing power, but not the Gateway NV59C09U (catchy name, no?). It comes packing one of Intel's newfangled Core i3 CPUs, which is good if you're closer to "power user" than you are to "novice."
What's more, it's the rare sub-$500 lappie that has anything beyond the typical DVD burner, but the NV59C09U (man, that's catchy) sports a Blu-ray drive. Not too shabby!
TigerDirect has the refurbished Gateway NV59C09U for $499.99, plus around $8 for shipping.
The rest of the specs are solid: 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and a 15.6-inch display. Unfortunately, said display tops out at 1,366 by 768 pixels (aka 720p), so it can't take full advantage of Blu-ray's 1080p goodness for movies.
On the other hand, I'd argue that on a 15.6-inch screen, 1080p is overkill. Trust me: your movies (both Blu-ray and standard DVD) will look dazzling. And if you like, you can connect the NV59C09U to your HDTV via HDMI for some big-screen Blu-ray action.
Gateway supplies Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and a 6-cell battery. The only real letdown here is the integrated Intel GMA HD graphics accelerator, which is probably too wimpy for any serious gaming or video editing. At least it has 128MB of dedicated RAM, so it should handle most mainstream video and 3D stuff OK.
As with most refurbished PCs, this one comes with a 90-day warranty (which is handled by third-party provider Seneca). I don't consider that a deal-breaker, not by a long shot, but it's something to keep in mind.