While tablets are all the rage, students looking for a physical keyboard, gobs of storage and enough processing muscle for serious multitasking should still make a laptop their primary computing device. But which is the right notebook for your budget?
The good news is that you can find plenty of versatile machines for the same price as a slate — or less. As you go up the price ladder, you’ll find faster dual- and quad-core CPUs, discrete graphics for playing the most demanding games and Blu-ray drives for watching the latest HD movies. Some of these systems are so powerful that they can easily double as your dorm’s entertainment center.
BEST UNDER $400
Acer Aspire One 722
Don't call it a netbook. The 11.6-inch Acer Aspire One 722 swaps out Intel's weak-sauce Atom processor for a beefier AMD C series APU. This 3-pound machine is light enough to carry around all day, has HDMI out for watching Netflix or Hulu on your TV, and lasts nearly 7 hours on a charge. Not too shabby for a laptop that costs $120 less than an iPad. ($379, Full Review)
BEST UNDER $600
Dell Inspiron 14R
You don't have to be stuck with the same design all four semesters. Dell's Inspiron 14R features a lid that can be removed with the press of a button, and swapped with one of three colors (Peacock Blue, Fire Red, or Lotus Pink) for $29.99, or two artist-designed patterns ($59.99 each). Inside this 5-pound system is a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 3GB of RAM and a 320GB, 7200-rpm hard drive. Or get your game on with optional AMD graphics. ($549; Full Review)
BEST UNDER $800
HP Pavilion dv6t
HP's Pavilion d6t offers an unbeatable combo of style and substance for $749. This 15.6-inch laptop has a slick metal dark umber finish, plus CoolSense technology for keeping temps down. A 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-2410M processor and switchable Intel/AMD graphics run the show, and you get 640GB of storage for all of those legally obtained movies. Beats Audio technology ensures strong enough audio to rock the dorm room, while the TrueVision HD webcam will help students stay in touch with the fam. ($749; Full Review)
BEST UNDER $1,000
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch)
Weighing a mere 2.3 pounds and measuring just 0.68 inches at its thickest, the 11-inch MacBook Air is ready to go wherever you do. This ultraportable uses 64GB of flash memory to wake instantly and boots in less than 20 seconds. Despite its small size, the Air has a huge touchpad and spacious keyboard. The newest version of the Air even sports Apple’s amazing new Lion OS X operating system. ($999, Full Review)
BEST UNDER $1,500
This laptop's light show is so fun you can probably charge for admission. The Alienware M14x dazzles with its soft-touch finish and customizable backlighting for the keyboard, logo, front grille and even the ring around the touchpad. When you're done fiddling around you can get down to some serious playtime with a 2-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 1.5 GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M graphics. The HD+ display (1600 x 900 pixels) is so bright and crisp it will make Duke Nukem Forever look good. ($1,374, recommended config; Full Review)
You can check out Laptopmag's entire list of back-to-school notebook picks here.
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