Back-to-school 2010 retail roundup: Mainstream laptops

If you're looking to spend anywhere from $600 to $1,000 on a laptop, there are some awfully good retail options available.

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In our back-to-school 2010 roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 25-plus systems into four different price categories. We already took a look at Netbooks, and now it's time to take a peek at mainstream machines with a little more juice.

When we say "mainstream," for the purposes of this roundup we mean any laptop costing roughly between $600 and $900. That's a range that fits what most people are generally willing to spend for a full-featured computer. It turns out that some pretty great all-around laptops slot into this category, too, with very few compromises to be made.

Though we tend to find one or two most-deserving retail laptops in previous roundups, we found several winners in this back-to-school batch. To change things up a little, we listed our favorite features of each machine. Our favorite laptops were the Blu-ray/WiDi-enabled Sony Vaio EA24FM/W, the beautifully built and full-featured Samsung Q430-11, the slim and powerful HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx, and the Toshiba Satellite A665-S605.

Editors' note: See our roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges.

Check out details of each system below:

Top laptops:

Sony Vaio EA24FM/W (4 stars)
The bottom line: Comfortable, feature-packed, and boasting an eye-catching design, the Sony Vaio EA24FM/W and its combination of Blu-ray and Intel Wireless Display make it an affordable multimedia winner.
Read the full review.


Samsung Q430-11 (4 stars)
The bottom line: An impressively designed surprise, the Samsung Q430-11 is a feature-packed, fast laptop that looks more expensive than it is.
Read the full review.


Toshiba Satellite A665-S6050 (4 stars)
The bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite A665-S6050 is a smart choice for home use thanks to its outstanding audio output, Intel Wireless Display, and roomy 16-inch display.
Read the full review.


HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx (4 stars)
The bottom line: HP's slick and powerful Pavilion dm4-1065dx offers great core performance, long battery life, and an eye-catching design at a very competitive price, making it a very attractive back-to-school laptop.
Read the full review.


Other very good laptop bets:

Dell S1558-5691MSL (3.5 stars)
The bottom line: The Dell Studio s1558-5691MSL offers a little more for your money than competing laptops, though it's a bit bulky and short on battery life for a day in a backpack.
Read the full review.


Gateway ID49C07U (3.5 stars)
The bottom line: As a thin, affordable Core i3 laptop, the Gateway ID49C07u excels as an attractively priced back-to-school buy; however, its ergonomics and thin feature set might turn others off.
Read the full review.


HP Pavilion dv5-2045dx (3.5 stars)
The bottom line: The HP Pavilion dv5-2045dx is a respectable mainstream laptop, but it's only a good deal if you need Microsoft Office and antivirus software.
Read the full review.


Dell Inspiron i14R-2265MRB (3.5 stars)
The bottom line: With Windows 7 Professional and built-in WiMax, the Dell i14R-2265MRB is a retail laptop angling for the professional market, and as such might be a good option for a budget small-business machine.
Read the full review.


Good, but not great:

HP Pavilion dv6-3055dx (3 stars)
The bottom line: Be it for home, school, or the office, the HP Pavilion dv6-3055dx is a decent mainstream laptop with a few issues that keep it from being as good in reality as it is on paper.
Read the full review.


Asus K50IJ-BNC5 (3 stars)
The bottom line: The Asus K501J-BCN5 serves up long battery life, a backlit keyboard, and a year of AV protection. Unfortunately, these Next Class features add a considerable sum to the price; we like a cheaper yet similarly configured Asus K501J model better.
Read the full review.


Asus UL80J-BBK (3 stars)
The bottom line: The thin design and Nvidia Optimus automatic graphics switching on the Asus UL80J-BBK5 are appealing, but the underperforming CPU and battery life on this compact 14-incher are disappointments.
Read the full review.


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