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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Best Back-to-School Laptops

Student with Laptop

Twenty years ago, bringing a computer to school meant something luggable at best. A decade ago, students faced a tradeoff: a computer they could tote to classes or a more capable, powerful machine for the dorm room. Now, by contrast, it's easy to find a powerful notebook for under $1,000. Too bad the price of tuition hasn't gone down.

The Best Back-to-School Laptops

Macbook Laptop
Apple MacBook


Price: $849 and up

Weight: 5 pounds

Thickness: 1.08 inches

Apple's entry-level notebook is a lot costlier than other companies' cheapest laptops--and it's also a whole lot more capable. You're never going to wonder if this machine is able to tackle the tasks a modern laptop is expected to handle, from editing multimedia clips to crunching numbers and putting together classroom presentations. If you can't decide on a laptop, get this one.

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MacBook Pro Laptop
MacBook Pro 15-inch

MacBook Pro 15-inch

Price: $1,529 and up

Weight: 5.6 pounds

Thickness: 0.95 inches

Apple has packed a burly Intel Core i5 processor, a powerful Nvidia graphics chip and a big honking battery into this machine's aluminum shell. The 15-inch display is gorgeous. If you must pay more than $1,500 for a machine that weighs more than 5 pounds, this is the way to go First Class.

Dell Inspiron 15 Laptop
Dell Inspiron 15

Dell Inspiron 15

Price: $379 and up

Weight: 5.6 pounds

Thickness: 1.02 to 1.48 inches

For a laptop with a full-sized keyboard and a 15.6-inch display, the price on this machine is very nice. Don't be afraid to load up on options. Add a respectable Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of random-access memory and a beefy 500 GB hard drive, and this machine can still be had for just $599.

HP Pavilion dm4t Laptop
HP Pavilion dm4t

HP Pavilion dm4t

Price: $729.99 and up

Weight: 4.4 pounds

Hewlett-Packard offers a bewildering array of notebook options. It's hard to go wrong with the HP Pavilion dm4t, however. It's not HP's cheapest thin-and-light model, but it packs plenty of power and value into a machine that weighs 4.4 pounds and is less than an inch thick. Specify a model with Intel's 2.26 GHz Core i5-430M Dual Core processor, 4 GB of random access memory, a 500 GB hard drive and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 graphics card, and you'll still pay just $908.99.

Asus U30Jc

Asus U30Jc

Price: $849.99 and up

Weight: 4.8 pounds

Thickness: 1.2 inches

You'll pay more, both in money and weight, for a notebook that can play the latest videogames. This laptop, however, keeps the cost of putting some gaming action onto its 13-inch screen surprisingly low. Intel's Core i3-350M processor packs a decent amount of power into this relatively small machine. The real magic, however, is this machine can turn its Nvidia discrete graphics processor on for a bit of gaming and turn off the rest of the time, conserving battery life.

HP Mini 311Netbook
HP Mini 311

HP Mini 311 Netbook

Price: $359 and up

Weight: 3.26 pounds

Thickness: 1.2 inches

It's hard not to love netbooks. They're thin, they're light, they're cheap. The drawback: The cheaper options often lack real computing punch. The HP 311 offers a good deal more than you'll find on the cheapest netbooks. It packs a Nvidia Ion graphics chip along with Intel's Atom netbook processor, giving this notebook more oomph than a typical netbook. The 11.6-inch screen and bigger keyboard also makes this much more comfortable for regular use. This might be a good option for a student who is lugging a desktop computer to school with them, and wants something portable for the classroom.

Alienware m11x
Alienware m11x

Alienware m11x

Price: $799 and up

Weight: 4.4 pounds and up

Thickness: 1.29 inches

This machine packs a lot of power into a very portable device. The price for this 11-inch laptop is nice too. An Intel Core i5 CPU and zippy Nvidia graphics processor come standard. The biggest drawback? Do you really want your kid playing shoot-'em-up games during college lectures?

See the Full List of Best Back-to-School Laptops

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