In these glorious times, getting your hands on a shiny new laptop that offers good performance no longer means selling your treasured family heirlooms. Many laptops are now available that prove 'budget' no longer stands for 'plasticky and about as useful as a submersible toaster'.
You'll still have to make some compromises when you're shopping around though. Most cheap laptops pack an Intel Core i3 processor which, while offering great performance for the price, sits at the lower end of the CPU spectrum. If you're looking for a high-powered gaming machine, you'll have to fork out considerably more money.
Intel has unleashed its new line of processors known as Ivy Bridge, which offer greatly improved graphics performance, but it's unlikely that laptops packing this new silicon are going to be showing up in the budget market any time soon.
The best affordable laptops will happily tackle most office tasks though, as well as multi-tabbed web browsing and high-definition video streaming. With a decent amount of RAM, they'll also be able to handle a fair degree of multi-tasking without breaking down in tears.
The more RAM, the better. With modern programs becoming ever more demanding, I'd recommend looking for a minimum of 3GB of RAM, especially if you do plenty of multi-tasking.
If you're a movie fanatic, be aware that super-bright 1080p screens are still generally found only on higher-end laptops. Still, the displays on budget laptops are generally acceptable, and most machines come with an HDMI output so you can hook them up to a massive TV and really enjoy your flicks.
Budget laptops don't tend to be the most portable of machines, lacking super-lightweight components such as the thin magnesium alloy chassis and solid-state drives rather than hard drives that appear in ultrabooks. But you can still find something that will fit into a bag that won't break your back.
To help you on your quest, I've put together four of the current best laptops under £500. Please send thank you chocolates to the usual address.