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Product Spotlight: Best of back-to-school laptops

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Product Spotlight: Best of back-to-school laptops

3:23 /

We've looked at dozens of new laptops available on retail store shelves and picked our favorites for every budget.

^B00:00:00 >> It's back to school time, and what better way to start off the academic year than with a brand, spanking new laptop. We went out, and we rounded more than two-dozen laptops. The catch is they had to be relatively new, and they had to be the fixed configuration retail models you can actually find on store shelves. We cut them up into four categories, entry-level, budget, mainstream, and high-end, ran a bunch of tests on them, and picked our favorites. I'm Dan Ackerman, senior editor here at CNET.com, and we're about to show you the best back-to-school laptop. ^M00:00:28 [ Music ] ^M00:00:34 In the entry-level category -- that's laptops between six and seven hundred dollars -- you're gonna find older Intel dual-core CPUs, not the newer Core 2 Duos, and you're gonna find machines that are good for web surfing, working on academic papers, emailing. As long as you keep your expectations modest, they should do fine. We like Sony's Vaio NR 430. It came in at the top or close to it in all of our benchmark tests, including battery life. And it's got a pretty decent design for such an inexpensive system. And that helped it get a leg up on a virtually identical configured Dell 1525. So our entry-level choice, the Sony Vaio NR 430. In the budget category -- that's laptops between seven and eight hundred dollars, you're gonna move up to Intel's Core 2 Duo CPUs, maybe get same more RAM, some more hard drive space. Our pick there was the Gateway T6836. That's the only one in that category to have to four gigs of RAM and the 64-bit version of Vista. That helped this guy beat the competition in our benchmark tests. And it still had pretty decent battery life. So in the budget category, we like the Gateway T6836. Our next bunch of laptops were from 800 to 999. We're gonna call that the mainstream category. And we like the Dell Studio 1535. It's got some of the cool high-end design features of the more expensive Dell XPS laptops, but the price is closer to the low-end Dell Inspiron line. Now, all the Intel-based laptops we looked at in the mainstream range had a Core 2 Duo, T5750 CPU, and that's a perfectly fine processor. This was the only one that had a faster T8100, so that helped it come out at the top of the pack in terms of performance, and we got more than three hours out of the battery. That's why for the mainstream retail back to school group, we like the Dell Studio 1535. If you go a little bit north of a thousand dollars -- we're gonna call that the high-end category of our back-to-school round up -- you're gonna find a bunch of 16 and 17 inch laptops that are pretty packed with features, but they're better at sitting in your dorm room being entertainment centers than throwing in a backpack and taking from class to class. So in that category, we especially like Gateway's P7811-FX. A better deal in a desktop replacement you're not going to find. It's got a massive 19 by 12 screen resolution. It's got one of Intel's new Centrino 2 CPUs. And it's got NVIDIA's very latest gaming graphics chip, the G-Force 9800. Of course, if you're going to enjoy those blazingly fast gaming frame race, please make sure all your school work is done first. That is the Gateway P7811-FX. Now one model we haven't mentioned here is Apple's 13-inch MacBook. It's a very popular choice for students. We were trying to keep this round up restricted to fairly new retail models. The current MacBook configuration has been around for a while. We reviewed that, and we love it. But if that's not right for you, one of these guys probably is. I'm Dan Ackerman, and that's the best back-to-school laptops. ^M00:03:21 [ Music ]

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