With a full return to work, school and spending time with family in real life rather than on a video call still not in sight, you may have finally decided that it is worth buying a new laptop. If you want an affordable computer there are lots to choose from, including Chromebooks and Windows 10 PCs.
Really cheap Chromebooks are often better than the equivalent Windows machines because Chrome OS is a lighter, low-maintenance operating system built around Google’s Chrome browser, web and Android apps. Just check how long the machine will receive updates from Google before you buy.
If you need certain desktop software, though, such as Photoshop, Windows PCs might be a better option. Here are my picks for five of the best options for £500 and under.
Lenovo Chromebook C340-11
One of the cheapest new Chromebooks, the Lenovo C340-11 offers a lot of bang for the buck.
For £270 you get a metal lid but a plastic body with a fairly solid construction coming in at 1.18kg and 17.9mm thick.
The small 11.6in 720p HD touchscreen is a bit dull and low resolution but fine enough at this price. The machine is a convertible, meaning the screen folds all the way over to the back to turn it into a tablet.
The keyboard is OK, but a little mushy and loud, while the trackpad is a little small but fairly good, as cheap computers go.
The processor is the common low-performance Intel Celeron N4000 and it has 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot for adding more. Two standard USB-A ports, two USB-C ports and a headphone socket round out the body. It supports the older wifi ac and Bluetooth 4.2 standards.
The performance is nothing to shout about but it will manage everyday computing and playing a video just fine.
The 720p webcam is a bit rubbish and the speakers are pretty quiet. The battery lasts for about 10 hours. The Lenovo C340-11 will receive Chrome OS updates until June 2026.
Verdict: A bit small and underpowered but good value for such a low price and fine for light computing.
Acer Chromebook 514-1HT
Acer makes a range of good Chromebooks but if you want something a little bigger than an 11.6in screen, the premium-feeling Chromebook 514 could do the trick.
The 14in Chromebook 514 comes in various versions but the 514-1HT variant has a full HD screen that is noticeably crisper and clearer than the 720p versions.
The 514-1HT can be bought with an old but still capable Intel Pentium N4200 quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB storage, which handles day-to-day computing well enough.
Cheaper versions come with a slower Intel Celeron N3350 dual-core processor.
The 1.5kg, 17mm-thick body is aluminium, which feels slim and solid. The backlit keyboard is fairly good and the trackpad is a good size, and smooth and responsive.
Wifi ac, Bluetooth 4.2, two USB-A, two USB-C ports, a headphone socket and a microSD card reader round out connectivity options.
The 720p webcam and speakers are not great, but the Chromebook should last up to about 10 hours between charges with light browsing and basic office duties.
The Chromebook 514-1HT will receive updates until June 2024.
A popular premium-feeling Chromebook with a decent screen and enough power to handle browsing and light work.
Lenovo Chromebook C340-15
The 15in Lenovo Chromebook C340-15 is a significant step up in all the ways that matter including price. It has a large 15.6in full HD touchscreen, which is big, even for a mainstream laptop. It has a full-size keyboard with a number pad and a large trackpad.
The screen can fold all the way over to be used as a tablet, too, but at 1.96kg and 19mm thickness it would be huge.
It has the usual mix of average 720p webcam and slightly more powerful speakers. However, the star of the show is a significantly more powerful eighth-generation Intel Core i3 processor, which makes most things faster, even with the standard 4GB of RAM. It also has 128GB of storage, which is large for a Chromebook.
Wifi ac, Bluetooth 4.2, one USB port, two USB-C ports, a microSD card slot and a headphone socket round out the connectivity options.
The Chromebook C340-15 will receive updates until June 2025.
Verdict: If you want a really big screen and more powerful processor the Chromebook C340-15 ticks the box without breaking the bank.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
Once you are looking at spending more than £500, capable Windows PCs are often a better option than a Chromebook. My new pick of the lot is Microsoft’s new Surface Go 2, which proves lower-cost, lower-performance PCs do not have to be rubbish.
The Surface Go 2 is the cheapest of Microsoft’s popular detachable tablet PCs. Your £399 buys the slim and light tablet with a great full HD 10.5in screen, great speakers, precise touchscreen, wifi 6, Bluetooth 5, a good webcam and excellent Windows Hello face recognition for logging you in. What it does not buy is a keyboard, which is a £100 essential additional purchase for anything beyond just watching Netflix – but at least it and the trackpad are excellent.
Its gutsy Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y processor will not win any speed awards but will get the job done, while 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage is the bare minimum you should use with Windows 10. A £529 version has 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD but all models have a microSD card slot for cheaply adding more storage, and the modern standard USB-C port is there for connecting accessories.
For a real price of £499 you can certainly find bigger, more powerful PCs but you will not find a better all-round experience. Look for deals on the original Surface Go as well, which shares most of the new model’s good qualities.
Verdict: Small, light and affordable, the gutsy Surface Go 2 shows low-end Windows PCs can still be great.