Back-to-school laptop report card

Unlike most electronics, laptop computers enjoy two big retail seasons: the usual winter holidays and a bigger bump during the back-to-school weeks. PCs are a crucial tool for many college kids. And the ability to throw a cheap but powerful laptop into a book bag and head to the library (or at least escape a loud dorm room) makes portable computers all the more important.

But which one should you buy? The tech gurus at CNET posted this year's honor roll. The list, pasted below, sticks to machines that students really need (i.e. no gaming PCs) but otherwise runs the gamut. I included the CNET score and links to its full reviews.

Since there is always a more powerful computer out there, it's often better to pick a price range first. Keep an eye on weight and battery life, which CNET often carefully dissects, and make sure to ask the college or department if it prefers Macs or PCs.

One quick note: CNET is a notoriously hard grader. Six out of 10, a failing grade in most colleges, is considered "good" by the site's reviewers. Five is average. Eight is "excellent" – there are only four of those on this list.

Entry Level ($699 or less)
Compaq CQ50-115NR (Score: 5.2)
Dell Inspiron 1525-121B (Score: 6.7)
Sony VAIO NR430E/L (Score: 7.0)
Toshiba Satellite L305-S5875 (Score: 6.0)
Toshiba Satellite L355D-S7815 (Score: 5.3)
Budget ($700 - $799)
Dell Inspiron 1420-123B (Score: 6.3)
Dell Inspiron 1525-122B (Score: 6.5)
Gateway T-6836 (Score: 8.1)
HP Pavilion dv2915nr (Score: 6.6)
HP Pavilion dv6915nr (Score: 6.3)
Toshiba Satellite A305D-S6848 (Score: 6.1)

Mainstream ($800 - $999)

Dell Studio 1535-125B (Score: 8.0)
HP Pavilion dv2945se (Score: 5.9)
HP Pavilion dv9925nr (Score: 5.9)
HP Pavilion dv6985se (Score: 8.0)
HP Pavilion dv5-1002nr (Score: 6.1)
Sony VAIO CR510E (Score: 7.1)
Sony VAIO NR498E/W (Score: 6.1)
Toshiba Satellite A305-S6858 (Score: 7.2)
Toshiba Satellite U405D-S2852 (Score: 5.5)
High-end ($1,000 and up)
Dell XPS M1330-126B
Gateway P-7811 (Score: 8.6)
HP dv7-1025nr (Score: 7.5)
HP dv5-1004nr
HP dv5-1015nr
Sony VAIO FW140 (Score: 7.4)
Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q701

If this is still too much info, CNET today hyped the Dell Studio 1535 as a late but excellent addition to this year's laptop crop. "If you're heading off to college in a week or two and have budgeted $1,000 for a laptop that needs to get you from orientation to graduation, it's hard to argue against this member of Dell's new Studio line," they write.

[Via CNET]

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