Laptop bargains: So you only have $350 to spend...

Large-screen and heavy vs. small-screen and slow--is a Celeron laptop more worthwhile than a Netbook?

Just the other day here at the CNET N.Y. offices, a co-worker IMed me with a question from his uncle, who was shopping for an affordable laptop for his niece. Should he consider buying a laptop he saw on sale recently, which had a large screen and a DVD burner, for only $350?

I had a feeling the laptop in question was similar to the Toshiba L455-S5975, and it turns out I was basically right. For ultracheap laptop bargains, there are two ways to go: buy a small, cheap Netbook, or go with a full-size low-end laptop sporting a processor such as an Intel Celeron 900.

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Either way, you're not getting a lot of processing power. To get something more significant, you need to climb up to around $500 and go with either a dual-core thin-and-light or a cheap Core 2 Duo or equivalent laptop, such as the Toshiba Satellite T135-S1309 (we reviewed the similarly configured but more expensive T135-S1310 here).

For around $300, though, 10-inch Netbooks like the Dell Mini 10v provide nice portability and design, but lack an optical disc drive or a full-size keyboard/screen, and tend to have less RAM and smaller hard drives.

The Toshiba Satellite L455-S5975, which we reviewed as part of our holiday retail laptop roundup, falls in the other camp. It has a bright, large 15.6-inch screen, a full-size tapered keyboard, and a DVD-burning drive. It also has a decent amount of hard drive space at 250GB.

But that's where the advantages end. With an underpowered single-horsepower Celeron, it can't achieve most of what you'd like a big-screen laptop to do in the first place, such as play back high-quality full-screen streaming video. It also lacks a Webcam, something many Netbooks have, which is nice for students who use webchat or Skype (although a USB plug-in can also do the trick). Most importantly, however, its battery life ran at under two hours, which is worse than any Netbook.

For portability and battery life, a Netbook is still the better choice. But if you really need that optical drive and feel like you can't live without a really large screen (in other words, you're looking to plant this on your desk and not travel much), something like the L455-S5975 might be a decent second computer for a household looking to save a little cash. But if it were us, we'd save a couple hundred more and go with something that doesn't look like it escaped from the year 2000. At least you can rest easy that everything comes with Windows 7 now, Netbooks included.

Read the rest of our Toshiba L455-S5975 review.

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

 

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