Explainer: The best back-to-school laptops at every price

  • Dell

    Built to last. That's really what parents and students are looking for when shopping for the perfect school notebook. It should have strong specs that won't render it obsolete by sophomore year, as well as a body that can stand up to those daily dashes across campus.

    These five picks — the best laptops in each price segment from under $400 to over $1,000 — pass those tests with flying colors while delivering style and unique features. You'll find everything on our list from a netbook with a spill-resistant keyboard to a portable PC that can stream their favorite YouTube clips wirelessly to the nearest TV. Here are five choices for best back-to-school laptop, from the editors at Laptop.

  • Samsung NB30 - from $329.99


    Klutz proof. As the semi-rugged cousin of the popular N series, the NB30 can take more than its share of abuse during the school day. This netbook automatically parks the hard drive head in case the system gets bumped; its keyboard is spill-resistant; and its ridged chassis is not only stylish, but can absorb some impact, too.

    Inside, the system features a 1.66-GHz Intel Atom N450, and a smallish 5,400-rpm, 160GB hard drive. While its battery life of about 6.5 hours isn't the best, the NB30 should see your student through most of the day. Read Review | Compare Prices

  • HP G62t - from $479.99


    Affordable style. Proof that you don't need to spend a lot to get a lot, the G62t packs a 2.26-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 7,200-rpm, 320GB hard drive. More important, the chassis isn't dullsville: we appreciate its sophisticated taupe color and pattern, which is reminiscent of the much more expensive Envy 13. Of course, you don't get everything: the resolution of the 15.6-inch screen is a low-ish 1366 x 768, and the graphics capabilities are basic. Read Review | Compare Prices

  • Dell Inspiron 14R - from $604.99


    Who needs cable? This 14-inch notebook does something that will make your student smile—and potentially save you money. Intel's Wireless Display technology lets users beam Hulu, YouTube, and any other Web video to the big screen from across the room.

    Dell has also added cool new colors, such as Lotus Pink, Mars Black, and Peacock Blue. Standard specs include a 2.26-GHz Intel Core i3-350M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. Expect about 5 hours of endurance from the six-cell battery, and almost 10.5 hours from the nine-cell battery. Read Review | Compare Prices

  • ASUS U30Jc-A1 - from $894


    Best of both worlds. This 13.3-inch laptop gives the MacBook a run for its money. Its automatic switchable graphics—thanks to Nvidia's Optimus technology—promises up to 10 hours of battery life, plus the power to blow away some bad guys between classes using the discrete Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU.

    The U30Jc is decked out in a cool brushed aluminum chassis and comes with crisp Altec Lansing speakers. Other key specs include an Intel Core i3-350M processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 320GB The storage device that holds your OS, programs, and data. Read Review |  Compare Prices

  • Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch) - from $1,199


    Elegant and powerful. As much as we like the plastic $999 MacBook, this thin-and-light 4.5-pound laptop is worth the splurge. It has the same sturdy and elegant aluminum unibody construction as its predecessor, plus a backlit keyboard and SD Card slot.

    And now it packs a faster 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and double the graphics performance, courtesy of an Nvidia GeForce GT 320M GPU. Better yet, it lasts nearly 8 hours on a charge. Add in Apple's easy-to-use Snow Leopard OS — and the ability to install Windows if you want — and you have a near-perfect portable. Read Review |  Buy From Amazon

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