Exactly how much back-to-school laptop can you get for $799?

At that $799 sweet spot in our retail laptop review roundup, you can get a very capable system, fine for any kind of schoolwork, plus reasonably heavy multitasking and HD video playback.

In our current roundup of retail laptops for the back-to-school season, we noticed that the most common price was $799. Halfway between the bargain basement single-core systems and the high-end desktop replacements, there was a surprising amount of variety, with Intel Core i3 and i5 CPUs, and screen sizes from 13.3 inches to 15.6 inches.

At that $799 sweet spot, you can get a very capable mid-range system that should be fine for any kind of schoolwork, plus reasonably heavy multitasking and HD video playback. Harder to find are features such as Blu-ray or discrete graphics, although we did find a couple of models with these high-end extras.

Two of the standouts were the HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx, which was one of the top performers in the category thanks to its Intel Core i5 CPU; and the Toshiba Portege R705, a slim 13-inch model that includes Intel's Wireless Display technology.

The picture is muddied somewhat because several of these laptops were originally listed at $799, but within the past few days, they've been bumped up to $829. But because they were (and may be again) widely available for $799, we're including them here.

Besides the Toshiba R705, two other notable laptops that hover between $799 and $829 are the Sony Vaio EA24, which adds a Blu-ray drive, and the Samsung Q430-11, which offers discrete graphics for gaming.

Note: Also see our roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges.

Check out details of each system below:

Dell Studio s1558-5691MSL
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.


HP Pavilion dv5-2045dx
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.


HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx
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.


Dell i14R-2265MRB
The bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite L645D-S4030 is a decent all-around budget laptop. However, with its short battery life and cheaper options available from the competition, it's not an overly impressive deal.
Read the full review.


Toshiba Portege R705
The bottom line: Toshiba's Portege R series has always impressive, and the new 13-inch Portege R705 is close to a perfect balance of design, price, and performance. Read the full review.


Sony Vaio EA24
The bottom line: Comfortable and feature-packed, with 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
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.


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Read the full CNET Review

HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx

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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

Dell Inspiron i14R-2265MRB

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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

Dell S1558-5691MSL

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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

Sony VAIO EA24FM/W

The Bottom Line: Comfortable, feature-packed, and with 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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

Samsung Q430-11

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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

HP Pavilion dv5-2045dx

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 full review

Read the full CNET Review

Toshiba Portege R705-P25

The Bottom Line: Toshiba's Portege R series has always impressed, and the new 13-inch Portege R705 is close to a perfect balance of design, price, and performance. / 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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