Recently I was asked about laptops for those going back to school and tasked with finding something that fits into a budget. There are so many choices available today that it can be hard to figure out which laptop is right for you. If you're just looking for basic web browsing and email capabilities then almost anything will work, even a tablet. Sometimes we need something with a bit more power though. Maybe we would also like to use the computer to watch Youtube videos or stream movies from Netflix, or maybe there's some photo editing programs we'd like to play with. While these can run on the lower end computers, they can sometimes become sluggish. Even a Skype session can be annoying if there's not enough under the computers hood to video chat without lockups.
With that said, I went about searching for laptops that had a good amount of power under the hood, plenty of hard drive space for saving pictures and files, and that were priced around $500 or less for those on a budget. With anything like this there are tradeoffs and that balancing act can be a bit difficult. I also wanted to make sure that the computers listed could handle the basic needs of most users along with some of the more power hungry programs that might be required. In the end, we found 3 great computers that balance all of that out nicely and won't kill your pocketbook.
Toshiba Satellite C55-C5241
The Toshiba Satellite would be our top choice in our list of laptops for several reasons. Under the hood it sports an Intel Core i5 which is much better than most laptops in this price range that contain the slower Intel Core i3. This Toshiba Satellite also contains 8GB of RAM where most computers have only 2-4GB. Again more speed for a similar price of other computers in this range especially since RAM is usually the first recommendation to speed up a slow computer. Finally, the hard drive itself is also twice as big as that of most computers in the range. Normally computers in this price range might have up to 500GB of hard drive space. This Toshiba Satellite computer actually contains 1TB of storage space, more than enough to store all of a users photos and videos if it's required.
The only possible downside to this computer is its size. At 15.6 inches it's a bit bigger compared to what most people seem to want these days. For those like myself who do programming and photo/video editing, the screen size is a welcome addition to todays smaller is better mentality. If you don't mind carrying around something a bit bigger, but that makes typing and working on projects that require long periods in front of the screen a bit easier then this would be our top choice for laptops. As a bonus, this computer also has an optical drive to load up Cds and DVDs.
Dell Inspiron i5547
The Dell Inspiron i5547 comes in just a bit above our $500 price range. Like the Toshiba, it sports an Intel Core i5 Processor, 8GB Memory, 1TB Hard Drive, again something of a rarity when talking about computers in this price range. One of the bonuses that we've seen mentioned with the Dell Inspiron line is that bloatware is at a minimum. For those who don't know what bloatware is, it's basically programs that different dealers will load onto computers above and beyond what's included with Windows. These bloatware programs usually take up a lot of memory and disk space making their inclusion more trouble than their worth.
Like the Toshiba, this laptop comes in at 15.6 inches in size. Again depending on your preference, or type of work you're doing that may be a benefit or a turn off. Dell does make some great computers though, and if you're looking for a brand name more popular than Toshiba when it comes to computers this will be the way to go. The Dell Inspiron can definitely hold its own against the Toshiba Satellite, and comes in a really close second in my opinion. Unlike the Toshiba though, this computer does not have an optical drive. Which means there's no way to play CDs or DVDs unless you purchase an external device.
Asus has made some really great laptops lately and the Asus X555LA is no exception. Like the other two laptops, it sports a 1TB hard drive and Intel core i5. It does fall just a bit short in the RAM department though, having only 6GB of RAM versus the 8GB of the other two laptops mentioned. Unlike the Dell Inspiron listed above, the Asus also has an optical drive for playing and burning DVDs for those that like to play with media on their computers. While a DVD player may be nice to have, most computers are moving away from them and it isn't too pricey to purchase one. The optical drive is a nice little bonus though for those who don't want another piece of equipment to lug around.
Finally, the Asus X555LA, like the other two laptops mentioned, comes with a 15.6 inch display. Perfect for those who have to do more detailed work on the computer and need longer hours in front of the screen, but maybe not the best choice if you'd rather not be carrying around a lot of weight.
Of the three computers mentioned the Asus would be our third choice if you're looking to purchase a laptop. Slightly less RAM puts it beneath the other two, although if you're looking for an optical drive and are willing to make that trade, you might see it as a better choice than the Dell Inspiron. The Toshiba Satellite though still ranks as our top choice as it includes the optical drive for DVDs without having to give up and RAM or hard drive space.