7 Best Laptops for Photo Editing Under $500 in 2021 [Bang for The Buck]

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We often forget how accessible and affordable, laptops have become in the past decade. Back in time, you couldn’t have thought of purchasing a budget device and still edit photos on it. But today, with a $500 budget you can get a machine that can not only be used for photo editing, but can also perform other high-end tasks.

We should also mention that popular photo-editing suites like Adobe Photoshop and GIMP have come a long way in optimizing their software suites for low-configuration laptops. Thanks to all of this, you won’t have any trouble getting a sub-$500 laptop to fulfill your photo editing needs.

It is worth noting that you don’t have to install something like Photoshop on your system to edit photos. There are so many online photo editors you can use, and our most favorite is Photopea. These tools are as robust and feature-rich as Photoshop, but they run on a web browser window.

Since we are under a severe budget constraint, we have to keep certain aspects liberal. For instance, you cannot expect discrete graphics or a fast-SSD storage with huge storage. On the other hand, we have to look for a laptop that checks all the essential boxes. It should have,

  • A newer-generation processor with multi-core performance.
  • Preferably, a 8GB RAM laptop that can help you multitask and run software without any lags.
  • A full HD display panel that reproduces colors with accuracy.
  • A good range of connectivity options, including standard ports.
  • The latest version of Windows/macOS/Chrome OS that runs smoothly.

We have tried to find machines that fit this description. Based on this, we also prepared the minimum and recommended system requirements. If you are strict about the $500 budget tag, you can only find laptops that fulfill the minimum system requirements. However, if you can spend a few more dollars, you can get one from the latter category and ultimately enjoy improved performance.

 Minimum System RequirementsRecommended System Requirements
CPUIntel Core i3Intel Core i3 / AMD Ryzen 5
RAM4GB8GB
Storage128GB SSD256GB SSD
Display13.3-inch HD (1366 x 768)15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
GPUIntegratedIntegrated
BatteryUp to 4 hoursUp to 8 hours

Best Laptops for Photo Editing Under $500

Rest assured, all the laptops on this list can smoothly run Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, (or a matching tool if Photoshop isn’t available for the platform). However, even the minute changes in the hardware specifications can help the software run faster and better. That is why we encourage making this substantially-better investment while choosing the device.

1. Best Overall: Acer Aspire 5

  • CPU: 1GHz Intel Core i5-1035G1
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours

The Acer Aspire 5 is our first pick for a photo editing laptop under $500. As this machine brings a better set of hardware, you may have to shell out a few more dollars. But, in the long run, it is an excellent investment. If you cannot move an inch from the budget restraint, you can check out the lower-end variant of the same machine, which costs less than $400.

Like we mentioned in the introduction, Acer Aspire 5 is one of those machines powered by a newer-generation processor from Intel. The Intel Core i5-1035G1, which has the base and Turbo Boost speeds of 1 GHz and 3.6 GHz respectively. The processor combined with the RAM and GPU can handle your preferred photo-editing suite without a problem. You won’t even have a problem if you overclock it through some multitasking. On the graphics side, though, the integrated Intel UHD card provides only satisfactory performance.

Adobe Photoshop and other photo editors require a considerable amount of RAM and fast SSD storage. Fortunately, it won’t be a problem for the device, as it packs 8GB of DDR4 RAM and 256GB of NVMe SSD storage. Combined, these two can assist the i5 chip in managing multitasking with ease. Unlike some manufacturers, Acer doesn’t include any bloatware on top of the Windows 10 installation.

Considering what you pay, the 15.6-inch full HD panel on the Acer Aspire 5 is excellent. Thanks to the full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080, you can enjoy maximum accuracy and color reproduction while dealing with RAW files. Although the panel has large bezels on the top and bottom parts, Acer has done an excellent job keeping the side bezels at a minimum. You won’t regret anything in this department.

Even though you are spending less than $500, the backlit keyboard along with a dedicated Numpad on the Acer Aspire 5 makes the machine look premium. The backlighting gets considerably bright, providing a smooth typing experience all day long. The manufacturer has also added a decent fingerprint scanner and an HD camera in the package. You don’t get any fancy features like Windows Hello, though.

Despite the bigger display, the machine follows a sleek design philosophy. It has a total weight of 3.97 pounds as well as a maximum thickness of 0.71 inches. You’d also love the extensive connectivity options, including 2 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, 1 USB 2.0 Type-A port, 1 USB 3.1 Type-C port, 1 HDMI port, and 1 RJ45 port. Because it’s running a 10th-gen processor, you can also benefit from Wi-Fi 6.

Acer claims the built-in battery is powerful enough to provide a battery backup of up to 8 hours, which isn’t so bad. However, as you can expect, the number will go down if you plan to use the device at top speed at all times. Altogether, if you are looking for the best laptop under $500, you cannot go wrong with this machine.

Pros
  • 10th-generation Intel processor
  • Sufficient RAM and SSD storage
  • Wi-Fi 6 and extensive connectivity
  • Full HD panel with good accuracy
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Bloatware-free design
Cons
  • Bezels are too big
  • The keyboard could be better

2. Best Runner Up: Lenovo IdeaPad 3

  • CPU: 2.1GHz AMD Ryzen 5 3500U
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon Vega 3
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours

The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is also a laptop that checks all the necessary boxes we might consider for speed and reliability. However, unlike the first pick, this one uses a chipset from AMD, which has a good history of clean performance. Without spending too much over the limit, you can also get some premium-looking features in the package.

First things first, the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor built into the system has a base clock speed of 2.1GHz. The same has a maximum Boost Clock of 3.7GHz, which is great when you want to handle a multi-layer doc on Photoshop or another editing suite from Adobe Creative Cloud. Included with the processor is the Radeon Vega 8 Graphics, an eight-core integrated GPU that performs better than Intel’s integrated options.

Lenovo has allocated sufficient memory and storage options, you don’t have to worry about your multitasking needs. The 8GB of DDR4 RAM onboard will easily handle a couple of windows of Photoshop even if you have some web pages opened in the background. Similarly, the 256GB of SSD storage may seem little in the first look, but it contributes well to the system’s boot up speed.

According to Lenovo, this portable machine comes with a 14-inch Full HD IPS panel with a top resolution of 1920 x 1080. The company also adds that the panel has thinner bezels, but we disagree with this part. Sure, Lenovo has cut down the size of bezels on the left and right sides, but that’s it. Due to the surprisingly massive chin at the bottom, the laptop’s display module looks bulky at times.

Because it has been made for professionals and students, Lenovo has included a premium-ish keyboard with the package. It’s a backlit keyboard and provides impressive comfort during extended typing sessions. From a photo editor’s point of view, getting used to the keyboard shortcuts won’t be a problem. We would have loved to see a better version of the trackpad, though.

Other aspects of this machine’s design are also equally impressive. For instance, it weighs only 3.30 pounds, and that number translates to a comfortable carry-around experience. Due to its thickness of 0.71 inches, almost any bag can accommodate this device. Lenovo has gone full-swing in connectivity, offering 3 USB ports, 1 HDMI port, and support for Bluetooth 4.1 and Wi-Fi 5. There is also a privacy guard for the webcam.

The built-in battery on the machine provides up to 10 hours of running time, which is superb on paper. But you should expect less than 10 hours in real-life, especially if you plan to use apps like Excel, Word, Google Chrome and Lightroom along with your photo-editing suite.

The company has added a one-touch key to switch between powerful performance and quiet modes. All these aspects contribute to making the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 a nice choice for photo editors and others.

Pros
  • High-performance AMD Ryzen processor
  • Better integrated graphics options
  • Sufficient RAM and SSD storage
  • Premium-feeling backlit keyboard
  • HD webcam with privacy shutter
  • Lightweight and slim design
Cons
  • No Wi-Fi 6 or Bluetooth 5
  • Bezels could be slimmer

3. Best Value for Money: ASUS VivoBook 15

  • CPU: 2.1GHz AMD Ryzen 5 3500U
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon Vega 8
  • Battery: Up to 5 hours

If a compact design is your priority while choosing a photo editing laptop, you should consider what the ASUS VivoBook 15 has to offer. This machine accommodates the same great performance we saw in the devices mentioned above with some premium features. The best part? You can stay close to the $500 budget mark.

As we said, the ASUS VivoBook 15 is using an AMD Ryzen R5 3500U as the main powerhouse. With its base clock speed of 2.1GHz and a maximum turbo speed of 3.7GHz, this chip is the perfect choice for entry-level photo editors due to its optimized performance. The AMD Radeon Vega 8 integrated video graphics will serve you better than what an Intel counterpart may offer on the GPU side.

The machine seems to respect the industry expectations in terms of RAM and memory. Just like the previous picks on this list, it also packs 8GB of DDR4 RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. It’s good to see that laptops are moving away from the infamous 128GB limit. In this case, the extra-capacity 256GB drive is enough to keep not just your apps but also the documents for lightning-fast access.

ASUS has packed one of the best display panels you can expect at this price range. The 15.6-inch panel uses the NanoEdge Bezel technology from the company, meaning that the bezels are kept to a minimum. When combined with the resolution of 1920 x 1080, you don’t have to look back in terms of visual quality. So that you know, this device has a screen-to-body ratio of 88%, which isn’t something you see under $500.

The keyboard included in the package may look like the standard one, but its innovative design offers a more comfortable typing experience. ASUS uses a technology called ErgoLift, which places the keyboard at a more ergonomic angle. Apart from the unique backlit keyboard, ASUS has also added a decent trackpad with good precision.

At a weight of 3.50 lbs and a great thickness of 0.78 inches, ASUS VivoBook 15 belongs to the category of slimmer notebooks. Even while keeping things slimmer, ASUS has included 3 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, 1 USB 3.1 Type-C port, 1 HDMI port, and a microSD card. The maker has also placed a fingerprint scanner right next to the trackpad, and it supports Windows Hello Login as well.

There are quite a few downsides, though. For instance, you still don’t have access to Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. Similarly, the machine doesn’t offer the battery backup that you expect from such a package. At maximum, you can use the device for up to 5 hours on a single charge. Therefore, if on-the-go photo editing is what you are looking for, you should keep the power adaptor at a reachable distance.

Pros
  • Compact & lightweight design
  • Bezel-free Full HD display
  • Ergonomic backlit keyboard
  • Sufficient performance stats
  • Impressive integrated graphics
Cons
  • Subpar battery backup
  • No Wi-Fi 6 or Bluetooth 5

4. Best Renewed Model: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 12-inch FHD (2160 x 1440)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD 4400
  • Battery: Up to 9 hours

Renewed laptops are an excellent choice when you have a serious budget constraint, you know. Devices in this category can offer premium-quality performance without costing a lot. If this idea sounds fine to you, it makes sense to check out the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Despite being half a decade old, this model is still an amazing choice for Photoshop.

First of all, the Surface Pro 3 runs on an Intel Core i5-4300U, which has a base clock speed of 1.9GHz. When running heavy-duty apps like Photoshop or Lightroom, the processor can overclock up to 2.9GHz, which is a decent figure. As you can guess, this is a fourth-generation Haswell processor, and you can’t expect lightning-fast speed from this one. The same is the case for its integrated graphics options as well. Therefore, you will have to keep your dreams of aggressive multitasking at bay.

An area where Surface Pro 3 gets right is the allocation of RAM and SSD storage. Despite being very old, you get 8GB of DDR3 RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. Therefore, even when you upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, resources won’t be a problem. Since the Surface Pro 3 uses Intel’s architecture, you won’t have trouble installing conventional apps.

You may think that the 12-inch panel may not be sharp enough, but you’ll be wrong. This full HD panel has an improved resolution of 2160 x 1440. While this isn’t up to 4K resolution, the visuals are impressive even with those bulkier bezels on the sides. You cannot expect the best experience from this panel if you’ve plans to use programs like Premiere Pro or After Effects, though. As far as Photoshop is concerned, it should be enough.

Because the touch-screen input is the main navigation method on this device, it doesn’t ship with a keyboard. Nevertheless, you won’t have trouble getting a standard Bluetooth keyboard or a Surface-branded keyboard case from the market. However, if you want to get the best out of that multi-touch screen, you should pair the device with a Surface Pen — or a compatible stylus.

In terms of design, there aren’t any complaints, by the way. The machine has a total weight of 1.76 pounds, and you won’t have trouble traveling with a laptop even when you have paired a keyboard with it. It’s also very thin, almost to an extent where you forget its existence in your backpack. Microsoft has added a couple of full-sized USB ports and a Mini DisplayPort on the device, making things easier.

We should also note that the device is equipped with a couple of cameras on the front and back. The stand also works efficiently in providing a genuinely ergonomic working angle. Complementing the machine’s portable design, its battery can power the system for up to 9 hours, which is impressive. You can optimize this further by adjusting the brightness and the apps you run on it.

Pros
  • Truly portable and lightweight
  • 8GB of RAM and SSD storage
  • Touch and Surface Pen input
  • Dual-cameras for better connectivity
  • Ergonomic design options
Cons
  • It runs on an old-generation CPU
  • A small display with big bezels

5. Best with Intel i3: HP Notebook 14

  • CPU: 1GHz Intel Core i3-1035G1
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Display: 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD G1
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours

Many people consider 14 inches as the optimal screen size for a photo editing laptop. While it isn’t as small as a 13-inch device, you don’t have to handle something as bulky as a 15.6-inch beast, either. So, if you need a device that combines impressive hardware with a 14-inch panel, you should check out the HP Notebook 14.

Like our top pick, HP Notebook 14 is also using a 10th-generation i5 processor from Intel. The Intel Core i3-1035G1 brings the best performance and battery life thanks to its base clock speed of 1GHz and the top speed of 3.4GHz. The CPU works in sync with the integrated graphics card to provide a smooth experience while working on Photoshop.

While a discrete video graphics card can make things better, we can’t expect that when you are spending less than $500.

The addition of 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB of NVMe SSD storage contributes well to the overall performance of the system. By default, this laptop runs on Windows 10 in S mode, but you can change that from settings. Having said that, Windows in S mode can provide you with a better computing experience if you can find a photo editor that works in that mode.

Next, we come to the whole reason for choosing this machine: the 14-inch display panel. As we said, this full HD panel is the most appropriate choice for photo editors. Even when you are on the go, its 1920 x 1080 top resolution is enough to relive the sharpness of your photos. Although there is a prominent chin on the bottom side, the minimal side bezels provide a more immersive look to the panel.

When it comes to the keyboard and trackpad, you can’t expect anything fancy from this device. You get the same high-quality keys that you see on HP products, but this one doesn’t have a numeric pad. However, it’s great that HP has included a backlit keyboard at this price. Even though it doesn’t come with any precision drivers, the trackpad offers an overall smooth navigation experience.

The overall design of the machine also stays close to the style we have seen with HP products. The machine has a total thickness of 0.71 inches and weighs 3.24 pounds. While these aren’t the slimmest specs you’d find in the market, it makes sense. Fortunately, the company has added enough connectivity options, including 2 USB 3.0 Type-A ports, 1 USB 3.1 Type-C port, 1 HDMI port, and a multi-card reader.

It still doesn’t have Wi-Fi 6, which is a bummer. On the flip side, even after packing some of the best hardware we have seen for the price, the HP Notebook 14 can keep running for up to 10 hours. The 45W Smart AC power adaptor does an impressive job of quick charging as well. Finally, you can always expect a decent performance from the webcam and speakers that HP has included.

Pros
  • 14-inch Full HD thin-bezel panel
  • 10th-gen Intel i5 processor
  • Sufficient RAM and SSD storage
  • Comprehensive connectivity options
  • Good battery life
Cons
  • It doesn’t come with Wi-Fi 6 or Bluetooth 5
  • Windows S may cause compatibility issues

6. Best From Dell: Dell Inspiron 14

  • CPU: 1GHz Intel Core i3-1035G1
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Display: 14-inch HD (1366 x 768)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel Iris Plus G4
  • Battery: Up to 6 hours

In the first look, the Dell Inspiron 14 doesn’t strike as a great laptop. However, when the stakes are high, you can consider this device for an overall smooth photo-editing experience. However, to survive the low-system hardware situation, you will have to either slow down your power requirements or look at some hardware upgrade options.

The Intel Core i3-1035G1 is probably the best thing about this sub-$500 machine. It has a top clock speed of 1GHz, and it can boost all the way to 3.4GHz. While these numbers are good enough to keep Photoshop running, you shouldn’t try to multitask the hell out of this device. In the same way, you can rely on the Intel integrated graphics to handle the basic needs.

The problem is that you cannot rely on the built-in hardware when it comes to multitasking. The device packs only 4GB of DDR4 RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. While the 128GB of SSD storage is the best, as it can help you with loading speeds, you need to find a way to get rid of that 4GB RAM restriction. It’s barely enough to run Photoshop or even a couple of Chrome browser windows.

Moving to the display compartment, we see another not-so-great part of the package. The 14-inch panel is a good-looking one, but it has an old-gen, subpar HD Ready panel. Therefore, you cannot expect any fancy-superb visuals from this department. On the bright side, the 1366 x 768 panel won’t consume much power, letting you get the best out of those batteries.

The colors won’t be so accurate while editing, which is a compromise.

The keyboard and trackpad on this machine work better than we expect them to. This could be a reason to pick Dell over other manufacturers in the same price range. The backlit keyboard offers a seamless typing experience all day long. The matte-based padding on either side of the trackpad provides an excellent place to rest the palms while typing.

Design-wise, the Dell Inspiron 14 resembles almost every other laptop in this price range. It has a weight of 3.66 pounds and measures 0.8 inches thick. We’d say the design is comparatively bulky, but you’ll be fine after a day’s practice. The machine offers some legacy ports on the connectivity front, including multiple USB 3.0 Type-A ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 Ethernet port, and a multi-card reader. You don’t see any USB Type-C ports.

At the end of the day, this laptop offers an adequate battery backup of up to 6 hours. While it isn’t a high figure, most people can live with it. As you can see, going for this sub-$500 laptop means many small and big compromises on the way. You should be ready to either live with those compromises or upgrade the hardware to suit your needs.

Pros
  • Affordable pricing
  • Offers legacy connectivity
  • A premium-quality keyboard
  • 10th-generation Intel processors
  • Full SSD storage
Cons
  • Upgrades are necessary
  • HD Ready display

7. Best Chromebook: Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5

  • CPU: 2.1GHz Intel Core i3-10110U
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB SSD
  • Display: 13-inch FHD Touch (1920 x 1080)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours

People may not tell you this, but Chromebooks are an excellent choice when you need a super-fast computer for photo editing. Since Adobe Photoshop is not yet available for the platform, you need to use an alternative like Snapseed, Pixlr E, Polarr, or the good-old GIMP. All these work perfectly on the Chromebook Flex 5, which is an increasingly popular pick for Chrome OS.

Although Chrome OS requires comparatively lower power, Lenovo has equipped this machine with an Intel Core i3-10110U processor. This dual-core processor from the 10th generation series has a base clock speed of 2.1GHz and a Max Turbo frequency of 4.1GHz. It means even when you keep multiple Chrome OS apps running at a time, this machine can keep up. The integrated graphics on the chip takes care of basic hardware acceleration needs as well.

The device ships with 4GB of DDR4 RAM, which is enough for something like Chrome OS. The same number would have struggled on a Windows PC, but they work well for Chrome OS. Similarly, 64GB of SSD storage in the package may seem slightly too small in the first look, but it’s not. Because you deal with cloud storage all the time, you can live well with this 64GB of high-speed local storage.

The display is one of the best aspects of the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5, making it an undeniable choice for photo editors across the domain. You get a 13.3-inch full HD display with the standard 1920 x 1080 resolution and thinner bezels. This multitouch-enabled touchscreen display offers an innovative method of navigation as well, and Chrome OS is now well-optimized for touch-based input.

Although the machine is equipped with a touch screen display, Lenovo has provided a top-end keyboard and trackpad. The keys offer a superb typing experience, and you don’t have to worry about gestures, either. Whenever you need it, you can reach out to the touch screen. We should also mention that the flexible design of the laptop improves its usability to a great extent.

The Lenovo Chromebook Flex is incredibly thin and lightweight. The total weight of 2.97 pounds and thickness of 0.67 make it a great companion for students and professionals who work on the way. The laptop’s I/O panel offers 2 USB 3.1 Type-C ports, 1 USB 3.1 Type-A port, and an audio jack. You’ll need an adaptor to connect the laptop to an external display.

We should keep in mind that Chromebooks are supposed to be always-connected devices, and this design is suitable for that purpose. On top of the standard connectivity, you have the power of Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5. Even with this extraordinary performance inside, the Chromebook Flex 5 can offer a remarkable battery life of up to 10 hours, which is impressive.

Pros
  • An affordable price-tag
  • A vast library of Chrome OS and web apps
  • Modern connectivity options
  • 360-degree flexible design
  • Incredible battery life
Cons
  • Adobe Photoshop isn’t available
  • Requires an internet connection always

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the system requirements for Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop requires a system with a processor of 2GHz speed, 2GB RAM, 5GB of free hard drive space, and HD-ready screen resolution. While these are the basic requirements, you should ideally have a new-gen processor, 8GB RAM, full SSD storage, and a decent graphics card.

Can I edit photos on an Intel Core i3-powered computer?

The answer depends on which Intel Core i3 processor your computer is using. As you know, Intel updates its processor lineup every year, and the processors become better. For example, the 11th-generation i3 can beat a 7th-generation i5 processor without any problem. So, if you have a new-gen chip, it should be fine.

Can I edit photos on a Chromebook?

Although Photoshop isn’t yet available for Chrome OS, Chromebooks are an incredible choice for your photo editing needs. You just have to choose a compatible photo editing app like Snapseed or Pixlr E. You can also select one of the web-based photo editors.

Do sub-$500 laptops last?

Considering that these devices ship with newer-generation processors and SSD storage, you can keep using them for a couple of years for sure. After that, depending on your performance requirements, you may have to make an upgrade.

Do I need a 4K laptop for photo editing?

You don’t need a 4K laptop for photo editing. As long as you have a full HD panel with 1920 x 1080 top resolution, you don’t have to worry at all. At the same time, if you deal with 4K images a lot, the extra space on the screen can help you handle things better.

Verdict

As you just saw, having an under-$500 doesn’t stop you from getting a decent laptop for photo editing. You just have to make a few compromises here and there. For instance, if you can spend a few more dollars on top of the $500, you can get a decent Windows PC running 10th-generation Intel processors and 8GB of RAM. 

  • The Acer Aspire 5 is an impressive option if you need a device that can handle not just Photoshop but also other apps with ease.
  • The HP Notebook 14 packs almost all the good features you look for in a photo editing laptop, while keeping the prices under the limit.
  • ASUS VivoBook 15 is also an excellent choice if you need a multi-purpose laptop powered by AMD Ryzen processors.
  • Last but not least, we can recommend Chromebook devices if you can use an online photo editor instead of Photoshop.

It’s really impressive to find that you have this much choice even when tied to a $500 budget.

Freedom 251 Staff

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