Another thing to keep in mind: You may or may not be better off buying a refurbished unit if you're in this price range--though that depends on how the previous owner treated the machine.
As for methodology, we analyzed these laptops the same way we'd take a look at any other set. Our primary benchmarking tools were PCMark 8 and 3DMark--and yes, we took a look at gaming performance on budget $500 laptops. Spoiler: None of the machines did a particularly great job. Don't buy any of these machines and expect it to run anything more intensive than a 2D indie game or (if you're lucky) something like League of Legends. On low.
We also took a look at disk speeds with CrystalDisk Mark--important because some of these laptops are running standard (and slow) mechanical hard drives, while others are packing speedier storage options.
And finally, we did a more specialized test--a Handbrake transcode of a 30GB Master and Commander file down to a 1GB-ish Android Tablet size.
That's in addition, of course, to looking at the laptops themselves--the build quality, screen quality, keyboard, and trackpad are just as important as the specs. This is a device you'll most likely use every day, and for a while. Even if you only paid $500, we want to make sure you're getting a machine that feels like a quality laptop, not two sheets of veneered plywood held together with a rusty door hinge.
And believe me: It can be done. I've seen it. In fact, let's start with one of the most impressive of the bunch as far as case quality goes--the Dell Inspiron 5000.
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