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The Best Computer You Can Buy For: $500

To continue my blog series, The Best Computer You Can Buy For $X, this post looks at what you can get for $500 or less. And $500 is, finally, a fun price-point. If you plan on spending up to $500 on a computer, you have a very wide array of options available to you, either new or used. $500 won’t buy you the best computer available, but it can buy you something you’ll be very happy with. A $500 computer can actually feel fast – it will probably feel faster than what you or your friends are used to if you’re on a computer that’s several years old. And while it probably won’t meet the needs of users with extreme demands like video editors, gamers, and programmers, you should be able to find something for $500 or less that’s more than sufficient for your average user – even doing some relatively intensive things like image editing or Excel in Windows 10.

The New Computer Option

Through lower price points in this blog series, I’ve gravitated pretty strongly toward used (or at least refurbished) computers. But at the $500 price point, I think buying a new computer becomes a viable option. You can probably still squeeze a little more performance out of something refurbished, but if you like the idea of buying a new system you can definitely buy something you’ll be happy with at about $500. A good example is this Dell Inspiron 15 5000. It has 8GB RAM, a 128GB SSD, and an i3-1115G4 processor. You might look at Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer, HP, or a variety of other brands that you can find somewhere like Newegg. A new computer is likely to use less power, be lighter weight, have a better battery, and possibly have a faster processor when compared to other options.

The Chromebook Option

$500 for a Chromebook??? Yes, while I’ve described ChromeOS as a lightweight OS for cheap computers in some of my previous posts (and indeed, it is), some people prefer ChromeOS to Windows, and would rather have a fast Chromebook than a fast Windows laptop. And that’s a reasonable option. For $500, you can get a brand-new Chromebook that will be lightweight, fast, and can do high quality video conferencing. There are plenty of options available in the Chromebook Store. If you’ve decided that you want a new Chromebook around the $500 price point, it’s hard to choose wrong. There are many options available, and they’ll have different features like size and storage space. If you’re buying a new Chromebook in this price range, simply pick the one with the features that best match what you want - I think it would be hard to purchase a dud.

The Mac Option

$500 is the lowest price point in my blog series where a Mac is a viable option. You can buy a refurbished Mac Mini or iMac from One World Computing (a well-known Mac refurbisher) for under $500, and either of those should be able to run recent versions of macOS (included). Unfortunately, a refurbished laptop from OWC is just our of our price range at $630 for a refurbished MacBook Air, but I found a refurbished MacBook Air from Walmart for $458. Also, if you’re willing to buy from eBay, you can find probably find a MacBook Air in our price range. Looking on eBay, I was able to find a MacBookAir7,2 – a 2015 model with 8GB RAM and an SSD – within our price range, and I think that’s close to the best you could find. In my honest opinion, a Mac isn’t the best option at this $500 price point because you’re sacrificing a lot of hardware performance to get the Apple logo and OS. But if you really really like Apple, maybe that’s worth it to you.

The Refurbished Option

At $500, personally, I still think buying a refurbished computer is the best value. You will get better performance for your money. Let’s see what $500 can get us if we look at refurbished systems on Newegg. To do this search, I’m using Newegg’s search tools. I’m looking for something with an SSD (any capacity), and I’m increasing the minimum RAM and the minimum processor generation (i5 or i7) until I get near my price point. And I’m always sorting my results with the lowest price first. With up to $500 to spend, we have lots of options with at least 16GB RAM and a 7th gen i5 or i7 processor. There are several Dell Latitudes in there (again, you can see why I love this line of laptops), and there are a few options from Lenovo and HP. I don’t see a lot of ThinkPads under 500 with those options, but including 6th generation processors and searching for ThinkPad returns several results – people love these things, so maybe that’s why they seem to be priced a little higher than the Dells with the same processor.

If you’re buying a system with 16GB RAM, an SSD, and a 6th gen or better i5 or i7 processor for under $500, you really can’t pick incorrectly. Within those parameters, find any laptop that has the specs you like. You might look at size, weight, and screen resolution to help make your decision. A Dell Latitude like this e7480 or a Lenovo ThinkPad like this X260 would be great options, but something from HP or any other manufacturer is fine too. If you want to use Windows, make sure to buy something that includes Windows 10. (It shouldn’t increase the price much, but some machines are sold without an OS.) My personal pick would be the e7480 for $499. I own a Latitude e7450 that I love, and the e7480 is an updated version of the same laptop. These are well-built machines, and the 14” size is perfect. You can have a 1080p screen on a laptop that is lightweight and sleek.

Summary

In my last post at the $250 price point, buying new meant cutting so many corners that I think you’d be disappointed with whatever you purchased. Near the $500 price point, that’s much less of a problem. As long as you purchase something with at least 8GB RAM and an SSD, I think it’s hard to make a really bad choice. A refurbished computer would provide great value, and probably allow you to get up to 16GB RAM (which will help performance in multitasking and other memory-intensive tasks). On the other hand, a new $500 computer has a processor that might be even a little faster than the refurbished option, probably also uses a little less energy, and you get a satisfaction of buying something new.

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