5 Laptops for Under $600

Farnoosh Torabi

With the back to school shopping season in full swing, a personal computer is on a lot of lists. But with such a saturated market, it can be challenging to find a PC that offers both quality and a low price. For some help, we spoke with PC World Editor Tim Moynihan, who offered five great computers for less than $600. 

At this pricing threshold, Moynihan was quick to point out that you will be making some trade-offs. You may not get the best battery life, speed, or graphics, and the keyboard may not be ideal. But, rest assured, all these models below have standout features for their price, he says.

So here are some budget laptop and desktop picks just in time for back to school.

Dell Inspiron 14Z
Starts at $500 at Dell.com

This is a very thin and light laptop, weighing about 4 lbs, and is a nice choice for students and businesspeople. “It has two things most very thin laptops don’t,” says Moynihan: an optical drive and good graphics performance. It also has solid battery life of about 5.5 hours.

“The tradeoff here is its keyboard. The keys are small and our reviews show that typing isn’t all that comfortable,” says Moynihan.

Speaking of battery life, Moynihan adds that this variable is perhaps the most important and often overlooked. “If you’re a student or traveler, a weak battery is a deal-breaker,” he says. Meantime, specs like RAM, storage, and processing speeds are less important if you primarily type documents and surf the Web. Plus, you can always add more storage later, but your battery life is what it is.
•    Windows 7
•    Intel Core i3-2350M processor
•    4 GB memory
•    14” High Def LED Display
•    4.2 lb

Lenovo Essential G570
Starts at around $550 on Lenovo.com

Moynihan likes this laptop for its relatively small 15.6-inch screen size and roomy keyboard. “Keyboards are another overlooked feature. They take the most beating so it’s important to pay attention to the quality,” he says. It has more than 5 hours of battery life. The tradeoff? “The design is really basic, and it’s on the heavier side at 5.5 pounds,” says Moynihan.

•    Intel Celeron Processor
•    Windows 7
•    4 GB memory
•    500 GB storage

HP Envy Sleekbook
Starts at around $600 at HP.com

PC World calls this a thin, light and stylish laptop for students. As students look to do a lot more than work on their computers, this PC is equipped for work and play with a built-in Beats Audio sound system and 500GB of storage for music and video. It also has a 15.6-inch LED display and at that size, you can have more windows open at the same time. It also weighs less than 5 pounds. You’ll get between 5 and 6 hours of battery life, which is fairly good, says Moynihan.

•    Windows 7
•    2.1GHz AMD A6 Processor
•    Discrete-Class AMD Radeon Graphics
•    4GB RAM, Upgradeable to 16GB
•    4.5 lbs

Gateway SX2870-UR10P
Starts at $500 at Gateway.com

According to Moynihan, this Gateway laptop is “the best deal in this roundup when it comes to specs.” It comes with a terabyte of storage, a 3.3Ghz dual-core processor, 6GB of RAM, and a couple of high-speed USB 3.0 ports, great for shuttling data. It’s also really small for a desktop, so it’s great for smaller spaces. The main weak spot is limited room for internal expansion, Moynihan points out.

•    3.3 GHz Intel Core i3 processor
•    6 GB RAM
•    1 TB storage

Mac Mini
Starts at $599 at Apple.com

Don’t let the small size mislead you. The Mac Mini comes with a number of ports around the back, including an SD card reader, HDMI, and a Thunderbolt port for HD video and fast data transfer. “Keep in mind that Macs are the only systems that can run both Mac and Windows operating systems. So if you have a divided family, this is the way to go,” says Moynihan.

•    2.3GHz Core i5 processor
•    2GB of RAM
•    500GB storage

What are some other budget-friendly PCs you recommend? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use #FinFit.