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CNET's back-to-school 2009 retail laptop/desktop review roundup

With laptops and desktops as standard equipment in many classrooms and dorm rooms, the back-to-school season is a busy one for computer shopping. We are once again scouring the shelves of big retail stores to find retail versions of popular systems.

With laptops and desktops as standard equipment in many classrooms and dorm rooms, the back-to-school season is a busy one for computer shopping. We are once again scouring the shelves of big retail stores to find boxed versions of popular PCs, from entry-level systems starting at $349 to quad-core powerhouses.

Many of these are similar to those you'd be able to configure online from companies such as Dell and HP, but these are specific retail models that have slightly different names and features, and are--thanks to the deep discounts offered by brick-and-mortar store back-to-school sales--sometimes a better deal than buying direct from a PC maker.

These are also the exact same systems you'll find in Sunday newspaper sales circulars, so check the list below for a review before heading out to the store. We'll update this list with ratings and live links as the systems get reviewed over the next several weeks (and a couple of these systems haven't been announced yet, so we'll reveal those names as we go).

(Note: Apple's iMac, MacBooks, and Mac Minis, while popular with students, are the same whether purchased direct from Apple or in a store--you can find our latest MacBook reviews rounded up here, our iMac reviews here, and our Mac Mini reviews here. Similarly, Netbooks rarely have specific retail store configurations, so you can find our favorite Netbooks collected here.)

LAPTOPS

Entry level ($499 or less)
Toshiba L305-S5955 (2.5 stars)
Compaq Presario CQ60-417DX (2.5 stars)
Dell i1545-012B (3.5 stars)
Toshiba L505D-S5965 (3 stars)
Asus K50IJ-RX05 (4 stars)

Budget ($500 - $699)
HP G60-445dx (2.5 stars)
Toshiba A505-S6960 (3.5 stars)
Toshiba M505-S4940 (2.5 stars)
Toshiba M505-S4945 (3 stars)
Toshiba P505D-S8930 (3 stars)

Mainstream ($700 - $999)
HP Pavilion dv3-2155mx (3.5 stars)
Asus UX50V-RX05 (2.5 stars)
Dell S1440-022B (4 stars)
HP Pavilion dv4-1465DX (3.5 stars)
Sony Vaio NW125J/T (3.5 stars)
Toshiba E105-S1602 (4 stars)
Dell x1340-024B (3 stars)
HP TouchSmart tx2-1275dx (3 stars)

High-end ($1,000 and up)
Asus G71GX-RX05 (3.5 stars)
Sony Vaio FW480J/T (3.5 stars)
HP Pavilion dv7-2185DX (3.5 stars)

DESKTOPS

Budget ($549 or less)
HP Pavilion SlimLine s5120y (2.5 stars)
Dell Inspiron 537s (2.5 stars)
Asus Essentio CM5570-AP002 (3 stars)
Gateway SX2800-01 (3.5 stars, Editor's Choice)
HP Pavilion P6110y (3 stars)

Mainstream ($550 - $725)
Dell Inspiron 545s (3 stars)
Asus Essentio CM5570-AP006 (3 stars)
Dell Inspiron 545 (2.5 stars)
HP Pavilion P6130y (2.5 stars)

High-end ($726 and up)
Gateway DX4300-03 (3 stars)
Asus Essentio CG5270-BP003 (3.5 stars)
HP Pavilion Elite e9120y (3 stars)
Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007 (3.5 stars)

Updates:
>See our favorite laptop in the entry level category here.
>See our favorite laptop in the budget category here.
>See our favorite laptop in the mainstream category here.
>See our favorite laptop in the high-end category here.
>See our favorite desktop in the budget and mainstream categories here.
>See our wrap-up of back-to-school desktop reviews here.

See more news, reviews, and recommendations in our Laptops and Desktops sections.