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Get a Linux-powered Dell laptop for $299

Why buy a cramped, low-powered Netbook when for the same money you can own a full-size, full-featured notebook? And if you don't like Linux, there's always temporarily free Windows 7.

The $299 Inspiron 15n runs Linux, but so what? You can always load up Windows 7. Dell

Zowie! For less than the price of some Netbooks, you can get yourself a full-blown Dell notebook. Here's the deal: Dell is offering the Inspiron 15n for just $299. That's undeniably amazing, though there are a few caveats.

First, these are new units, not refurbs, and you don't have to deal with any rebates. Ahhh...gotcha! Those aren't caveats at all. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

The real consideration for most buyers is that the Inspiron 15n runs on Ubuntu Linux 8.10--a great operating system by all accounts, but no good if you need to run Windows apps. (I know, I know, there's always WINE, but I don't consider that a viable solution for everyday users. Yell at me in the comments if you disagree.)

Of course, you could always replace Ubuntu with, say, the Windows 7 Release Candidate, which is available free of charge and will run until March of next year.

If you think you'll go that route, I highly recommend spending an extra $35 to upgrade the Inspiron's Celeron processor to a 2GHz Pentium Dual Core T4200. The Celeron's fine for Linux, but a weakling for Windows. (Actually, it might be OK for 7, which manages nicely even on low-powered Atom processors.)

Everything else about the Inspiron is rock solid, including its 2GB of RAM, 160GB hard drive, DVD burner, and 15.6-inch wide-screen LCD. You also get a four-cell battery and one-year warranty.

I wish I could say that you'll get out the door for $299, but Dell charges $29 for shipping, and you may have to pay sales tax as well. Even so, this is a fantastic bargain for anyone seeking a full-fledged notebook at a Netbook price.