Back-to-school 2010 retail budget laptop roundup

Find out which budget laptops came out on top in the Back to School 2010 version of our retail system roundup.

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
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Dan Ackerman
3 min read

The Asus K501J-BBZ5 is a good-looking budget laptop with enough power for students. Sarah Tew/CNET

The budget category of our back-to-school 2010 roundup collects retail-specific laptops on the lower end of the price scale, and should be of particular interest to students looking to upgrade their tech without spending too much.

Compared with previous years, and with the other categories in this year's back-to-school roundup, the budget-priced selections seem a little thinner than we'd like, with only one all-around standout. Part of that may be the economic climate, in which PC makers are less generous with features and components for budget systems, and have a desire to move buyers accustomed to $300 Netbooks into more mainstream-priced systems.

The Asus K501J-BBZ5 is probably the best all-around deal, with a decent design and usable Intel dual-core processor (but not the current Core i3 found in more expensive mainstream systems). Battery life was good, but the Asus oddly lacks an HDMI output, so it probably won't be your dorm room media center.

Most of the other laptops in this category had either single-core Intel processors or dual-core AMD processors, which generally were not as fast or had especially weak battery life or annoying design flaws. HP's Pavilion dv5-2035dx makes good use of its AMD Turion II processor, and was one of the more upscale-looking budget laptops, but some users hate its redesigned touch pad; we'd suggest test-driving one in a retail store first.

Note: Check out our roundup of retail laptops in all price ranges.

Check out details of each system below:

Asus K501J-BBZ5
The bottom line: The Asus K501J-BBZ5 is a well-built, good-looking budget laptop with enough power for most students or home users; however, many would-be buyers will bemoan its lack of an HDMI port.
Read the full review.

Toshiba Satellite C665-S5049
The bottom line: The entry-level Toshiba Satellite C665-S5049 won't turn any heads with its plain looks and modest features, but it avoids any serious misstep, a statement not every ultra-affordable laptop can make.
Read the full review.

HP Pavilion dv5-2035dx
The bottom line: The HP Pavilion dv5-2035dx is an AMD-based laptop that straddles the line between budget and mainstream laptops. We like the updated design and can tolerate the merely average performance, but the new touch pad is an exercise in frustration.
Read the full review.

Toshiba Satellite L645D-S4030
The bottom line: The Toshiba Satellite L645D-S4030 is a decent all-around budget laptop. However, with its short battery life and cheaper options available from the competition, it's not an overly impressive deal.
Read the full review.

HP G62-225DX
The bottom line: Poor battery life and a stiff mouse button sour the deal for the otherwise attractive and affordable HP G62-225DX. Read the full review.

HP Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX
The bottom line: Sluggish performance is usually the deal breaker for an entry-level laptop, and though the single-core Compaq Presario CQ62-215DX is far from speedy, its biggest flaw isn't a lack of power but rather the finger power it requires to use the stiff mouse buttons.
Read the full review.

Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL
The bottom line: We'd like the attractive and affordable Dell Inspiron iM501R-1212PBL more if it wasn't so slow and squeaky.
Read the full review.

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