Tony Carnevale for Microsoft

Laptops are like most things in life: You get what you pay for. A $2000 laptop is pretty much guaranteed to outshine a $500 one. But if you’ve only got $500 to spend, how can you be sure you’re getting the very best machine you can? Here are some of the best Windows laptops at a few different prices, so you can maximize the value of your hard-earned dollars.

This is just about the least you can spend on a Windows laptop and still have a pretty good machine. The Asus VivoBook F510UA is lighter and smaller than most 15.6” machines, and it has a snappy 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor. At this price you’re not going to get any real graphics hardware, so this isn’t a gaming machine. The relatively slow 5400rpm hard drive is another drawback. But for a little more cash, you could upgrade this laptop with an SSD. Overall, this guy’s a great selection for coffee shop writers and casual web users.

A laptop with a real graphics card (the GTX 1050Ti) for $800 seems crazy, but here it is, in the MSI GV62 8RD-200. It’s also pretty thin and light. Some reviews complain it might be a little too thin and flexes a bit too much for comfort. And when it’s running off the battery, the CPU speed slows down, but that’s par for the course with laptops that feature high-performance graphics. This is the best bang for your buck if you want to spend as little as possible on a laptop that still has some video capabilities.

For a little more cash, you can get a slightly higher-performing laptop than the MSI GV62. The Acer Predator Helios 300 boasts an Intel Core i7 processor, twice the RAM of the cheaper MSI machine, and a beefier GTX 1060 graphics card. The downsides? Physically it’s a bit of a beast, and it screams “gaming PC” with a huge “PREDATOR” logo on display for all to see. If you’re not afraid to be known as “the guy with the PREDATOR laptop,” though, this is a solid choice.

For gaming, there are better options — even cheaper ones (see the Predator, above). But if you need a little physical flexibility (literally), the HP Spectre x360 is a good option. It’s a “convertible” laptop, which means you can flip and fold its touchscreen (with included stylus) so it works like a tablet. Or put it in “tent mode” to watch a movie on its 15.6” screen. It’s only got a GeForce 940MX for graphics, but if the physical advantages are important to you, this machine is a great pick.

If, like certain writers (ahem), you have a soft spot for a powerful gaming laptop that still wouldn’t look out of place in a boardroom, the MSI Stealth line is for you. And this GS65 is soooo sweet. It rocks a 6-core i7-8750H processor, a 512-gig SSD, and a GTX 1070 — and it’s only 0.69” thick (nice). If you’ve got a little over $2k to spend on a Windows laptop, this is probably your best bet.

That said, the art of picking laptops is somewhat subjective, and what’s available at each price is constantly improving. Let us know in the comments what Windows laptops you prefer.

Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.

This post was produced by Studio@Gizmodo and is sponsored by Microsoft.

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