Best laptops for under $600

It's a great time to buy a budget laptop, especially if you don't want to wait for Windows 8.

$600 laptops compared
Sarah Tew/CNET

Not too long ago, a budget laptop was, by default, a big, ugly plastic box. It may have gotten the job done in terms of school or office work, but it wasn't going to turn any heads at the coffee shop, or fit comfortably onto an airline tray (with the exception of too-small Netbooks, which had their own list of problems).

We'll look back on 2012 as the first year when budget laptops really got a fair shake, with many models looking and acting much more like their expensive cousins than ever before.

Even at the very low end of budget -- laptops that are $600 or under -- you can get a slick-looking HP Envy Sleekbook , or a powerful Acer Aspire V5 .

Here are a handful of recent favorites, from 11-inch ultraportables to 17-inch desktop replacements, each of which costs about half as much as a 13-inch MacBook Air.

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 ($550)
The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 crams the horsepower of a full-fledged budget ultrabook into an 11-inch ultraportable, for several hundred dollars less than most equivalent products. There are drawbacks, of course. The keyboard feels cramped; the touch pad is small; and the larger 500GB hard drive isn't a fast solid-state drive (although, compared with the puny 64GB of space on the entry-level MacBook Air, you're getting a king's ransom of space). Read the full review.

Dell Inspiron 17R ($699 as reviewed, starts at $599)
Dell's Inspiron line is one of the few to offer a product for those seeking maximum screen for minimum investment. The Inspiron 17R starts at $599, although our specific review config costs $699. For that extra $100, you trade up from a second-gen Intel Core i3 CPU to a third-gen Core i5, plus get a larger hard drive. However, all these systems are built into a similar chassis as Dell's more expensive 17R SE (or Special Edition) model. Read the full review.

Sony Vaio E ($449)
With performance that's acceptable, but not exactly zippy, and a body that feels a bit plasticky and clacky, I'd be more comfortable with the 11-inch Sony Vaio E at $399, rather than $449. But for portable Web surfing and basic productivity, it does the job. And, thanks to AMD's insistence on including decent graphics hardware from the former ATI (now just AMD's GPU division), this system actually does a decent job of playing games. Read the full review.

HP Envy Sleekbook 6 ($599)
Don't let the awkward name put you off. This is one of the best-looking midsize laptops I've ever seen for $599. If you're shopping for that Intel name brand, or high power for gaming (or a high-res screen), this isn't for you, but for mainstream appeal at a budget price, it's a top contender. Read the full review.

Lenovo ThinkPad X130e ($499)
The education-targeted Lenovo ThinkPad X130e is a mixed bag of an 11-inch laptop: not exactly inspiring or all that ergonomic, but built like a tank. At $549 for the AMD E-300 version, it's in the same ballpark as an iPad, and it's far more versatile for everyday use. Read the full review.

Compare these laptops head-to-head.

Read the full CNET Review

Acer Aspire V5-171-6867

The Bottom Line: The Acer Aspire V5-171-6867 crams the horsepower of a full-fledged budget ultrabook into an 11-inch ultraportable, for several hundred dollars less than most equivalent products. It's a great budget laptop to consider, but sacrifices have been made to shrink down that much computer into a tiny package. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Dell Inspiron 17R

The Bottom Line: If you need maximum screen size at a minimum price, the basic 17-inch Dell Inspiron 17R is powerful enough for everyday tasks, but the lower screen resolution is a constant reminder of its budget origins. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Sony Vaio E Series SVE11113FXW

The Bottom Line: With only a handful of 11-inch laptops still available, serious travelers are flocking to ultrathin 13-inch models instead. But the low price and good battery life of the Sony Vaio E keep it from being counted out. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X130e

The Bottom Line: The business-oriented Lenovo ThinkPad X1 has a few quirks, but is otherwise a very impressive business-oriented ultrabook with strong crossover potential. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

HP Envy Sleekbook 6

The Bottom Line: The ultrabook-like HP Envy Sleekbook 6 is the sharpest-looking $599 laptop you're likely to find, although you'll pay a performance premium. / Read full review

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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