I recently was looking to purchase laptops for my 2 teenagers. The oldest just started high school and the youngest junior high. This would be the second laptop for my highschooler and the first for my junior high student.
My highschooler is not the typical 15 year-old PC user and will be using the laptop not only for school assignments and typical teenage tasks (streaming video and music, chatting with friends and so forth) but also for web development projects. As for my junior high student, a very basic entry level laptop will be the best. I want the mobility a laptop offers without investing much more money than a desktop would cost.
After searching and comparing laptops and merchants for about a month, I am very happy with the laptops we found under $500 and the two we decided to purchase.
From #1 to #5 – Laptop Computers – Top 5 Laptops Under $500:
Compaq CQ62-220US ($400-$450)
The Compaq CQ62-220US is a great multi-purpose laptop for students as well as for the general computer user. The CQ62-220US is a full-size laptop with a 15.6″ display (16:9 ratio), a 2.1GHz AMD Athlon II Dual-Core Processor, 3GB RAM and 320GB hard-drive. Plus the RAM is expandable up to 8GB. Of course there is built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless, an Ethernet port and several USB ports (3). Not as expected is the 8x LightScribe DVD burner which allows playing and burning CDs / DVDs in various formats AND labeling the discs via the LightScribe technology. The operating system is Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit.
This laptop would be great for both college and high school students providing excellent performance for typical school related tasks as well as for watching videos and movies (720p with the 16:9 screen ratio), surfing the net, chatting with friends, and social networking. The placement of the audio jacks on the side of the laptop was nice to see. This allows using headphones or a headset while the laptop is laying on your lap much easier than if the jacks where on the front of the laptop.
The keyboard of the CQ62-220US is vintage in design and does not include an embedded 10-digit keypad on the right. This makes the keyboard roomy and easy to use vs. the newer layout with an embedded 10-digit keypad on the right which tend to make the keyboard cramped and the standard keys off-center across the width of the laptop.
You will be giving up a webcam and a media-card reader with the CQ62-220US as it does not include these. The lack of a webcam was only a minor consideration for us and the lack of a media-card reader a non-issue for us. On-board webcams are not typically the best quality and an external webcam will provide better quality images with a greater range (not just facing away from the laptop display) for just a small investment and a little space in the laptop bag to stash it.
The list price for the CQ62-220US on www.compaq.com is $539.99. It is also available at multiple retailers at around the $430 mark. We purchased our CQ62-220US for $429.99 with an additional $30 mail-in rebate bringing the cost to $399.99 plus state sales tax.
eMachines eME527-2537 ($280-$350)
The eME527-2537 is a basic entry-level laptop and would be great as a first laptop for a student or any casual computer user. The eME527-2537 provides ample performance with the 900 Intel Celeron processor, 15.6″ display (16:9 ration), 2GB RAM (expandable up to 4GB), 160GB hard-drive, built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless and a 5-in-1 media reader. The optical drive is an 8x DVD burner and the operating system is Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit.
The eME527-2537 does not include a webcam, just as the CQ62-220US does not, so plan to spend a little bit extra for an external webcam if you will need one.
The keyboard of the eME527-2537 is the newer layout with an embedded 10-digit keypad on the right side. This can be convenient if you enter strings of digits often or simply prefer a 10-digit keypad. The remainder of the keys seem a bit compacted to make room for the 10-digit keypad. If this will be your first laptop this keyboard most likely will be fine. But if you have used laptops for a while then this keyboard configuration may be difficult to adjust to.
The list price for the eME527-2537 is $399.99 on www.emachines.com. This is the laptop I purchased for my junior high student and found it locally for $279.99 (yes – new and under $300) plus state sales tax.
Acer Aspire AS5734Z-4725 ($380-430)
The Aspire AS5734Z-4725 is similar in specifications to the CQ62-220US and is a good all-around laptop offering good performance and features. The AS5734Z-4725 is a full-size laptop with a 15.6″ display (16:9 ratio), a 2.3GHz Intel Pentium Processor T4500, 3GB RAM (expandable up to 4GB) and a 320GB hard-drive.
There is an Ethernet port, 2 USB ports, built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless, on-board webcam, a 5-in-1 media reader and a multi-speed optical drive for playing and burning CDs / DVDs in various formats. The operating system is Windows® 7 Home Premium 64-bit. The keyboard is the newer layout (as with the eME527-2537 above) having an embedded 10-digit keypad on the right and the main set of keys shifted slightly to the left of center.
With the Aspire AS5734Z-4725 you gain the 5-in-1 media reader and the on-board webcam in comparison to the CQ62-220US. On the downside though you are limited to 4GB RAM if you need to expand down the road and the AS5734Z-4725 uses integrated graphics (Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500M) whereas the CQ62-220US includes a dedicated graphics card. For these reasons the AS5734Z-4725 is third on my list of the top 5 laptops under $500 for students, specifically beaten out by the CQ62-220US for us.
Acer does not sell directly to consumers and the AS5734Z-4725 is available from multiple retailers for a list price in the range of $499.99 – $529.99 and sold on sale in the range of $379.99 – $429.99.
Acer Aspire AS7551-2961 ($500)
The Aspire AS7551-2961 is a large laptop in terms of display size, 17.3″, and would be a great choice for anyone wanting a larger display without spending a whole lot more money. It compares nicely with the CQ62-220US & AS5734Z-4725 with 3BG RAM and a 320GB hard-drive.
This laptop will cost you about $100 more and for that you get the ATI Radeon HD 4250 for graphics as compared to the AS5734Z-4725. The keyboard layout is the same as with the AS5734Z-4725 and eME527-2537 – embedded 10-digit keypad on the right. Since the display is a bit larger at 17.3″ the keyboard has a bit more room and does not seem cramped.
In addition to the larger display and the extra $100 you will need to spend, the AS7551-2961 weighs about 1 ¼ pounds more than any of the other laptops listed.
Compaq CQ61-420US ($500)
The CQ61-420US seems to be a slight variation of the CQ62-220US. The CQ61-420US differs from the CQ62-220US in these ways:
— 250GB 7,200RPM hard-drive (smaller but faster) — Labelflash optical drive vs. LightScribe — includes a 5-in-1 media reader — RAM is only expandable to 4GB
— includes 56K modem (only laptop on our list that does) — keyboard layout is the newer version with a 10-digit keypad embedded on the right
As with the CQ62-220US, the CQ61-420US is a great multi-purpose laptop for students as well as for the general computer user. If you really are set on a 7200RPM hard-drive and don’t mind giving up about 25% of your space for the extra speed, then the CQ61-420US may be a better choice than the others listed, even the CQ62-220US. And if you absolutely need a phone modem (56K) then the CQ61-420US is a great choice at the $500 price point.
The CQ62-220US and eME527-2537 came in as #1 and #2 on my list of Laptop Computers – Top 5 Laptops Under $500 and these are the two laptops that I purchased for my teenagers. The others listed are good low-priced full-featured laptops good for students and the average computer user, not simply cheap laptops.