We tested… four laptops for 500 euros
PC prices start at around 350 euros, but to buy a versatile computer equipped with good memory and not too weak processor, you will have to pay around 500 euros. We tested four computers provided by major manufacturers that come in this price range.
At this level of the range, we are forced to accept some compromises: the quality of the display, autonomy and quality of materials, for example, are far from the level of premium models.
This PC’s biggest weak point is its screen: it renders a low-contrast (roughly 400:1, meaning white is about 400 times brighter than black) image looking strong-soft, a bit like old cinema canvas. If it could be tempting, no one would appreciate the colors of this screen: they lack naturalness and are slightly washed out. Family photos definitely look less pleasing to the eye than on high-end PCs.
However, the display quality of this screen is still not bad for those who are not too demanding in this area, especially on Asus, where the colors seem more natural. Note that Lenovo’s cool colors can be warmed up by enabling the computer’s night mode.
All four machines feature an average maximum brightness, around 250 nits. This is more than adequate in winter, but in summer it starts to hurt legibility when approaching the window. Outdoors, the screen is often illegible.
In addition to its decent screen, this computer has less powerful and clear speakers – only Hewlett-Packard (HP) does that well. We only heard dialogue in a quiet room and the music sounded terrible.
For games, this PC is equipped with a slow graphics engine, unable to run the latest 3D games. On the other hand, old references like GTA V (in 720p) or Fortnite (in 1080p) ran well, especially on the Lenovo, which is twice as fast as its competitors. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to know in advance which old games will run on this machine, or which games, on the other hand, will be jerks. This computer is capable of downloading games via Wi-Fi at high speeds, up to 200 or 300 MB/s, except HP. It hits 40 MB/s a few feet from the box and the speed drops quickly when you move away from it.
Surfing the Internet is a lot of fun on this machine. We were able to juggle fifteen tabs without any slowdown – three of which were playing videos, the fourth showing photo galleries. It’s the same when browsing photos and videos stored in the computer’s memory at maximum resolution: their thumbnails display very quickly. This is one of the advantages of SSD memory, which this PC is equipped with: it is much faster than the hard drives installed in this type of computers a few years ago.
Whether you’re working in an Internet browser or office software, you move from one task to another with amazing fluidity. Acer and Asus take advantage of their 15.6-inch screens, which allows, for example, to display two A4 text side-by-side, a subtle exercise on their competitors’ 14-inch screens – especially on HP, whose low resolution (1,388 × 1,080p) has trouble making small characters legible .
Special offers for students and teachers
Unlimited access to all our content from 8.49 euros per month instead of 9.99 euros
In video conferencing, these computer webcams were shocking, with the exception of the Acer, which turned out to be pretty bad. Fourth PC speakers, still just as weak, prompt to use headphones.
The performance of these four computers is indeed surprising. Photos open very quickly in software such as Photoshop express, filters are applied in an instant, including a voracious radial blur that is applied to heavy format photos RAW. In software like Gimp, most filters also apply fairly quickly: only a few take seconds or tens of seconds – time that was cut in half on Lenovo.
Editing video from a smartphone is no problem, provided you don’t apply multiple filters simultaneously: video playback will then start jerky, except with Lenovo, again. The final math of video editing takes reasonable time, three times less on Lenovo, definitely fast on digital renders. And this is explained: Both Asus and Acer have two core processors, compared to six for Lenovo. And four on cellphones whose performance is often half measures.
These upgrades are rare, though: Asus and Acer are as responsive as their competitors in the vast majority of cases. Only the computation time which is very demanding is slower.
In passing, we note the comfort of the memory offered by the three PCs tested: 512 GB, which can accommodate lots of photos and videos, except for HP, which only offers a 256 GB SSD. On the other hand, this computer screen is not suitable for the most serious creative work: the colors are misleading and some of the visual information is hidden in dark areas. They must be connected to an external display using their HDMI socket.
These four PCs have relatively small batteries – around 40 mAh – compared to double that for some high-end computers. Their autonomy in video streaming therefore reaches about six hours and twenty minutes, Asus even shuts down an hour earlier. We are far from high-end PC autonomy, but for home use this may be sufficient.
The PC keyboard is not bad: its stroke (keypress height) is too short, and it doesn’t give, with each keypress, a clear feeling that the keys have been used. Most users will get used to it, though Asus will give them a bit more trouble.
Acer, on the other hand, suffers from two faults: its fans are noisy and trigger too frequently, and its format is more complicated than Asus, which has such a large screen. The HP and Lenovo templates, equipped with smaller screens, are more suitable for travelers: they weigh 400 grams less and are about 4 centimeters wide, which allows them to easily access their backpacks. In return, their 14-inch screen displays less readable text than the 15.6-inch model, which will interfere with presbyopia.
On the connector side, all of Lenovo’s USB ports are fast. On Asus and Acer, there is only one socket out of three. Many users will frequently use slow grip without realizing it. Acer was the only one that didn’t integrate a USB-C socket, which is more compact, but this turned out to be less of a disadvantage than one might expect: its competitors integrated a USB-C socket at a discount, unable to recharge the computer or to be used to connect a display.
This is a flaw shared by all four of these computers: they are covered in plastic, not metal, but this material provides very poor protection. It’s important to save them from falls – which would harm their electronics – and transport them in a cover to avoid scratches, which are very sensitive.
HP displayed the lowest repairability index (5.5/10), indicating poor parts availability and high prices. Asus also suffers from a parts problem: their availability is only guaranteed for two years, which justifies its repairability index of 6.1/10. Five years after purchase, you may no longer be able to replace the battery, which is a common fix.
All of these machines can be disassembled only with a screwdriver. But the HP screws are more bent because they are hidden under the rubber pads. Specifically, we have access to the battery, and to the RAM (DDR) and ROM (SSD), which are easily removable. Both of these parts are standard compliant: they can be replaced even if the manufacturer refuses to supply the part.
Competitors from Hewlett-Packard and Asus benefit from a better repairability index (about 7.5/10), indicating a better seven-year survival. A very reasonable goal today for a 500 euro PC that we work with and on which we install software selected with care and in limited quantities.
The Lenovo IP 3 14ALC6 wins this comparison thanks to its greater versatility than its competitors. Compact and lightweight, it can easily be moved from the table to the sofa and willingly roams on the train. Its main drawback is the hefty screen.
This faux pas opens a small door to the Asus R524JA, whose screen displays more natural colors and its larger size proves to be more immersive. It provides more fun when viewing photos and videos. But Asus is less durable, heavier, bigger, and less durable than Lenovo. In addition, when handling highly demanding tasks, such as video editing or 3D gaming, it is slower than its competitors.
Asus, however, has an added advantage: available immediately in stores, not the case with Lenovo which was well stocked during our testing, now sold out. When contacted, Lenovo couldn’t say when stores would restock the model.
Subtle variations are often hidden in PC reference, be careful to check the model characteristics on the product sheet:
Ryzen 5500u processor.
8GB RAM, 512GB SSD memory
8GB RAM, 512GB SSD memory