Your laptop will be your best friend in college, especially now that the majority of U.S. students are attending classes online. You may not have envisioned yourself sitting through lectures and studying in your dining room rather than a library, but now, students need reliable laptops more than ever. But if there’s one thing we know about tech, it’s that it costs a lot to get a great product. While you may have your eye on a glossy new MacBook or ultra-sleek HP, it’s not easy for the average college student to afford a computer that costs almost $2,000.
That’s why this list has rounded up the best picks for students whose budget is $500 or less. Keep in mind that you do not have to rely solely on your own finances to pay for a computer out of pocket. Taking out student loans through a private lender includes extra money that isn’t directly paid to the school; whatever is left over after you cover tuition can be put toward educational essentials, like a new laptop or headphones for the remote classroom.
What to Look for in a Laptop
You’ll need a computer that can handle all the software and documents you’ll need to do coursework and study. This means a PC capable of high-speed internet, stable video playback, document writing and possibly Photoshop and other software. This can be difficult to find in a laptop under $500, but it is possible. Make sure that you fully understand your needs before you buy a computer. Reading up on the basic terminology can also be helpful. You may also be able to find ways to enhance a laptop. For example, a smaller GB hard drive may not be enough for everything, but you can buy an external SSD and use that for storage and program installations as well. Check out this list of all the basic computer lingo you need to know before you buy your next PC.
Dell Inspiron 15 3000
Although it’s not cutting edge in terms of hardware, this laptop holds a sturdy 4 GB and 10th Gen Core i3-1005G1 processor. The 15.6-inch monitor displays a 1366 x 768 resolution, which is the highest on a laptop. Although it isn’t as fast as other models, it can handle all the essentials that a college student needs, like studying, video chatting and writing papers. For $400, the basic model is a great bargain. You can also choose to customize the specs on Dell’s website, so if you have any wiggle room in your budget and know what you need to be optimized, it’s easy to get exactly what you need made to order.
Acer Aspire 5
A long battery life, 8th Gen Core i3 processor and bright display make this an excellent staple PC for anyone looking to buy a model that will last for at least four years. From day one, you can expect the battery to last around nine hours fully charged, which is more than enough for a student who wants to study at a coffee shop or take their PC somewhere else to get some homework done. Although it only has 4 GB of RAM, you can still use this PC to play simple games, stream music and TV and peruse social media in your downtime without a problem. The starting price is $473 on Amazon, but prices fluctuate and may even drop by $50 or more for Black Friday 2020. Acer also offers several similar models that you may want to compare before buying. The biggest factors to consider are memory, RAM and processing speed. For those who are running software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, make sure you check the minimum system requirements prior to investing in any device.
ASUS L203MA-DS04 VivoBook L203MA
The best part about this $310 PC is that it comes with a free year of Microsoft 365. Rather than having to cover the cost of MS Word and PowerPoint yourself, you’ll get an entire year paid for you. This is an ultra-slim model that weighs under 2 pounds and is 0.7 inches in height. It can easily slip into a backpack or bag with no problem. It runs on Windows 10 S Mode, the most current version of the operating system that is a 100-percent app-based version. There are three USB ports and a WIFI 5 adapter for faster connections and greater stability. And in the coming years, we know that few things will be as imperative to a college education as a reliable internet connection.
Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5
Chromebooks aren’t for everyone due to the fact they are unable to support games and many other types of software, but their compact nature also makes them extremely fast and reliable. If you only use your computer to use the internet and write documents, then there’s no reason why these more affordable, sleek models won’t work for you. This touch-display Lenovo design starts at $445 and includes Intel integrated graphics, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of SSD storage. There are two USB type C ports, so you can plug in a mouse, external keyboard or your phone to make your experience more comfortable. If you’re a gamer, then you won’t want to buy a Chromebook. However, it can still be an ideal choice for schooling. What’s better is that the inability to play games or run other software makes it easier for you to stay focused on tasks throughout the day.
HP AMD Ryzen 3 3200 U
For $400, you can purchase the HP AMD Ryzen 3, which is the most powerful PC on this list. It contains two 3.5 ghz processors, a 15.6-inch HD display monitor and 8 GB of memory with a 265 GB SSD. For both low-end to mid-range gaming as well as school and work, this model is highly flexible. The wide display is designed to make entertainment more immersive and duties easier to accomplish to a vivid display and crisp, clear detail. This model also incorporates HP’s Fast Charge technology that can take the computer from 0% battery life to 50% in just 45 minutes.