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?
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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 centre.
Here’s our top 12 laptops for the back-to-school season in every size and price range, from under $400 to $1,500.
Click here to see the best back-to-school laptops →
This post originally appeared at Laptopmag.com.
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Weighing just 3.2 pounds, Acer's new 11.6-inch laptop provides plenty of punch and portability for under $400. The Aspire A0722 features a 1-GHz AMD C50 Fusion processor with ATI Radeon HD6250 graphics, 2GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive.
This notebook's six-cell, 4400 mAH battery should last up to seven hours. colour options include Espresso Black or Aquamarine, and the system has a moulded lid that looks like a pond after you've dropped a pebble into it, making it one of the more stylish netbooks we've seen at this price.
Starting at $379
Thanks to AMD's Fusion processor, this 3.4-pound, 11.6-inch laptop blows past netbooks in terms of performance and lasts six and a half hours on a charge.
The Pavilion dm1z's stylish black exterior extends to the spacious chiclet keyboard and deck, and the 1366 x 768 display is bright and crisp.
As part of HP's CoolSense technology, the Thermal Assistant software automatically adjusts the fan speed if it senses the notebook is on a person's lap or on a table. Your student will not only look cool, she'll feel cool, too.
Individuality doesn't have to come at a price. Dell's second-generation Inspiron 14R features a lid that can be removed with the press of a button, and swapped with one of three colours (Peacock Blue, Fire Red, or Lotus Pink) for $29.99, or two artist-designed patterns ($59.99 each).
But it's not all about looks. Inside this 14-inch system is a 2.1-GHz Intel Core i3-2310M procesor, 3GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 7200-rpm hard drive. Built-in Intel WiDi technology also lets students beam content wirelessly to an HDTV (with optional adaptor).
Future captains of industry, taken note. A sporty interpretation of the classic ThinkPad, the E420s has chrome trim, edge-to-edge infinity glass, and a rubberised chassis.
Its spill-resistant keyboard is among the best we've ever used, and we like that it has both a touchpad and a TrackPoint.
Inside, a 2.3-GHz Core i5-2410M CPU, 320GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, and 4GB of RAM will provide all the power your student needs, and its 6 hours of battery life will get them through a full day of classes.
Starting at $699
Even when they're off, these 14- and 15-inch notebooks will look like they're on. Thanks to a unique design that channels ambient light around the chassis, the VAIO C appears to glow--especially if you choose the Neon Green or Neon Orange colour option.
Red and Blue options are also being added to the mix, but more conservative types can opt for Bolt Black or Lightning White.
The fireworks don't end there: Consumers can choose from Intel Core i3 or Core i5 CPUs, discrete AMD Radeon graphics, and Blu-ray drives.
Starting at $730
HP's revision to its high-end 15-inch mainstream notebook offers students style and substance. The Pavilion dv6 has a metal dark umber finish, a subtle Hewlett Packard logo on the back edge of the notebook, and CoolSense technology for keeping the temperatures down.
Beats Audio technology ensures strong enough audio to rock the dorm room, while the TrueVision HD webcam will help him stay in touch with the family.
This Best Buy-exclusive laptop has everything a student could want: Blu-ray, Intel Wireless Display ($99 Netgear adaptor included), a backlit keyboard, USB 3.0, and a special utility that lets you use your notebook as an external speaker for your portable media player.
The 14-inch Satellite E305 also features a powerful Intel Core i5-S2410M CPU and a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hybrid hard drive.
Decked in an elegant silvery aluminium, it has a full 1080p display, Blu-ray, and a huge speaker bar above the keyboard encloses Bang & Olufsen audio, adding to your student's entertainment experience.
Your student doesn't have to lug around a thick machine to get a big screen. At 0.97 inches, the Dell XPS 15z is the thinnest 15-inch notebook around. This aluminium beauty sports a second-gen Intel Core i5 processor, Nvidia graphics, two USB 3.0 ports, and a minimum of 4GB of RAM. The notebook also comes standard with a backlit keyboard, powerful speakers, and can be configured with a bright 300-nit 1080p display.
Starting at $999
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 your student does. This ultraportable uses 64GB of flash memory to wake instantly and boots in less than 20 seconds.
An older but plenty capable Intel processor and Nvidia GeForce graphics team up to provide snappy performance and more than 5 hours of battery life. Despite its small size, the Air has a huge touchpad and spacious keyboard.
The new OS X Lion means more multitouch gestures, a built-in App Store, and the all-important Auto Save for protecting work.
Starting at $999
A multimedia monster rises again, this time with a quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM CPU, top-of-the-line NVIDIA GeForce GTX560M graphics with battery-saving Optimus technology, 6GB of DDR3 RAM, and dual 7,200-rpm, 500GB hard drives.
The Qosmio X775-Q7272 boasts a 17.3-inch HD (1600x900) display. When they're not gaming, students will also be able to enjoy high-def movies thanks to the Blu-ray drive and harman/kardon speakers backed by Dolby Advanced Audio and Waves Maxx Audio 3 processing technology.
Other features include USB 3.0 with Sleep & Charge to juice Junior's gadgets even when the system is off. Best of all, this beast weighs only 6.6 pounds.
Starting at $1,499
For students who don't have enough room for a notebook and a TV, this innovative 18.4-inch entertainment laptop pulls double duty. Uniquely, the Aspire 8951G Ethos' touchpad can be removed and doubles as a remote control for when you want to watch Blu-rays on the 1080p edge-to-edge glass display.
And this notebook can handle any game, thanks to a quad-core Intel Core i7-2630QM processor, 8GB of RAM, and Nvidia GeForce GT555M graphics with 2GB of memory. Five speakers (and a subwoofer) powered by Dolby Home theatre Audio provide plenty of audio oomph.