Back-to-school 2009 retail laptop roundup: Asus' K50IJ-RX05 is our favorite entry level model

In our current roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 30-plus systems into four different price categories, from sub-$500 entry level models to high-end ones that cost more than $1,000.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read

In our current roundup of retail-specific laptops, we've divided our 30-plus systems into four different price categories, from sub-$500 entry level models to high-end ones that cost more than $1,000.

In that entry level category, covering laptops up to $499, we looked at laptops from Toshiba, HP, Dell, and Asus. Diving below the $500 mark is always risky when buying anything other than a Netbook, and we found systems that ranged from brick-like to not-so-bad. The biggest difference was in the processors, where you could find anything from a painfully slow Intel Celeron 900 to a reasonably usable Intel Pentium Dual Core T4200.

We ended up with a near-tie between the $429 Dell i1545-012B, with an Intel dual-core CPU, and the similar Asus K50IJ-RX05, which won us over by offering a nicer design, more RAM, and a bigger hard drive for only $70 more.

Two important notes -- on this particular page we're *only* talking about retail-specific models that cost less than $499. For a roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges, check here; for our latest MacBook reviews, check here.

Check out details of each system below:

Asus K50IJ-RX05 *BEST*
The good: Subtle, attractive design; comfortable keyboard; very good battery life, performance for its class.

The bad: Limited growth potential.

The bottom line: As long as you won't need more than what it already has, the budget-friendly Asus K50IJ-RX05 is money well spent.

Read the full review here.

Dell i1545-012B
The good: Dual-core CPU for about the same price as a Netbook; 16:9 wide-screen display.

The bad: Very stripped-down design; missing some basic features.

The bottom line: The Dell Inspiron i1545-012B is one of the better deals you'll find for a mainstream laptop priced less than $500.

Read the full review here.

Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955
The good: Ridiculously affordable; decent screen; handles streaming video well.

The bad: Slow, older CPU; thick and boxy; no Webcam.

The bottom line: While it's hard to argue with a $350 laptop, the underpowered L305-S5955 is, basically, a Netbook in a larger case, with slightly better video playback.

Read the full review here.

Compaq Presario CQ60-417DX
The good: Decent keyboard and touch pad, good screen, low price.

The bad: Slow processor, no SD card reader or Bluetooth.

The bottom line: Saddled with a processor that's bottom-tier, the CQ60-417DX is a budget laptop with the chassis of a superior machine but the guts of an inferior one.

Read the full review here.

Toshiba Satellite L505D-S5965
The good: Features a dual-core processor for a very aggressive, entry-level price.

The bad: Unattractive, bulky design; missing useful features such as Bluetooth or a Webcam.

The bottom line: For a price just north of Netbook territory, Toshiba's chunky 15.6-inch Satellite L505D-S5965 has a solid, but uninspiring, selection of specs that at least won't hinder your basic computing needs.

Read the full review here.

Check out the rest of the 2009 Back-to-School retail laptop and desktop roundup here.