One pleasant surprise from the past couple of months has been the number of good-to-great laptops we've reviewed that can be had for $1,000 or less. That price range is usually Compromise City, with cheap-looking systems that may have decent CPUs, but skimp on a lot of other stuff. And, of course, no one wants to be seen in the coffee shop with a hunk of molded plastic while every other table sports a metal MacBook.
Whether you're gearing up for the fall semester or you're just ready for a pre-Windows 8 upgrade, the systems below all strike a good balance between price, design, and features.
If you just love the Zenbook look and feel, then this version, the UX32A, is a way to get it for under $800, albeit with outdated components and some performance compromises.
The Vizio Thin+Light CT14 has an excellent consumer-electronics-inspired design, and is enviably thin and light. Its clutter-free desktop and minimalist looks showcase the fact that this is not just another rote laptop.
The IdeaPad U310 offers up an attractive design and all the basic bells and whistles of a 13-inch ultrabook for $799, making it an all-around decent choice that's perfectly priced for back-to-school shoppers.
With a new slim design, the Dell Inspiron 14z impresses by including an Intel Core i5 CPU and discrete AMD graphics, all for a very reasonable price. It's almost enough to make you forget about Dell's higher-end XPS laptops.
The ultrabook-like Sleekbook 6 is the sharpest-looking $599 laptop you're likely to find, although you'll pay a slight performance premium. Just don't let the awkward name put you off.
Sony Vaio E Series 11-inch ($449)
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 the full review of the Sony Vaio E Series 11-inch.
This year's model is faster, packing a third-gen Intel Core i5 processor that's nearly indistinguishable from the one in the larger . USB 3.0 ports have been added, and battery life is better, finally clearing 5 hours and then some on our tests.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these laptops head-to-head.