Back-to-school 2009 retail laptop roundup: Asus' K50IJ-RX05 is our favorite entry level model

In our current roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 30-plus systems into four different price categories, from sub-$500 entry level models to high-end ones that cost more than $1,000.

In our current roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 30-plus systems into four different price categories, from sub-$500 entry level models to high-end ones that cost more than $1,000.

In that entry level category, covering laptops up to $499, we looked at laptops from Toshiba, HP, Dell, and Asus. Diving below the $500 mark is always risky when buying anything other than a Netbook, and we found systems that ranged from brick-like to not-so-bad. The biggest difference was in the processors, where you could find anything from a painfully slow Intel Celeron 900 to a reasonably usable Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200.

We ended up with a near-tie between the $429 Dell i1545-012B, with an Intel dual-core CPU, and the similar Asus K50IJ-RX05, which won us over by offering a nicer design, more RAM, and a bigger hard drive for only $70 more.

Two important notes -- on this particular page we're *only* talking about retail-specific models that cost less than $499. For a roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges, check here; for our latest MacBook reviews, check here .

Check out details of each system below:

Asus K50IJ-RX05 *BEST*
The good: Subtle, attractive design; comfortable keyboard; very good battery life, performance for its class.

The bad: Limited growth potential.

The bottom line: As long as you won't need more than what it already has, the budget-friendly Asus K50IJ-RX05 is money well spent.

Read the full review here.

Dell i1545-012B
The good: Dual-core CPU for about the same price as a Netbook; 16:9 wide-screen display.

The bad: Very stripped-down design; missing some basic features.

The bottom line: The Dell Inspiron i1545-012B is one of the better deals you'll find for a mainstream laptop priced less than $500.

Read the full review here.

Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955
The good: Ridiculously affordable; decent screen; handles streaming video well.

The bad: Slow, older CPU; thick and boxy; no Webcam.

The bottom line: While it's hard to argue with a $350 laptop, the underpowered L305-S5955 is, basically, a Netbook in a larger case, with slightly better video playback.

Read the full review here.

Compaq Presario CQ60-417DX
The good: Decent keyboard and touch pad, good screen, low price.

The bad: Slow processor, no SD card reader or Bluetooth.

The bottom line: Saddled with a processor that's bottom-tier, the CQ60-417DX is a budget laptop with the chassis of a superior machine but the guts of an inferior one.

Read the full review here.

Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965
The good: Features a dual-core processor for a very aggressive, entry-level price.

The bad: Unattractive, bulky design; missing useful features such as Bluetooth or a Webcam.

The bottom line: For a price just north of Netbook territory, Toshiba's chunky 15.6-inch Satellite L505D-S5965 has a solid, but uninspiring, selection of specs that at least won't hinder your basic computing needs.

Read the full review here.

Check out the rest of the 2009 Back-to-School retail laptop and desktop roundup here.

About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.

 

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