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Attack of the Celerons: Shaving price and performance at once (Compaq CQ60-417DX reviewed)

Budget retail laptops are cutting prices, but sticking older Celeron processors in many of their entry-level models. Be forewarned; you get what you pay for.

Looks the same as other HP laptops, but not nearly as powerful inside. Sarah Tew/CNET

Editors' note: This review is part of our 2009 Retail Laptop and Desktop Back-to-School roundup, covering specific fixed configurations of popular systems that can be found in retail stores.

One thing we noticed when reviewing the lowest-priced entry-level laptops in our retail roundup was the presence of the Intel Celeron 900 processor. Showing up twice (in the Compaq CQ60-417DX and the Toshiba L305-S5955, discussed below), it's an outdated, poorly performing CPU.

The sneaky thing, however, is that this processor shows up in a chassis that also houses more highly powered machines. Perhaps this downgrading and price-cutting has been inspired by the success of Netbooks. Regardless, it can be confusing for consumers. $350 or $399 sounds like a great deal for a laptop, but is it still worth it with an processor that's not much better than a Netbook?

In our Back-to-School retail laptop roundup, we've taken a look at a few real bargain-basement machines. Along with the Toshiba Satellite L305-S5955, the Compaq Presario CQ60-417DX comes in at less than $400. Although it's 50 dollars more than the Satellite L305-S5955, it also has a larger, 15.6-inch, higher-resolution 16:9 screen, comes with a Windows 7-upgrade-eligible Windows Vista Home Premium OS, and has a keyboard and touch pad that were far more comfortable for us. But, you should be forewarned: both systems are nearly identical otherwise, and both come with a pretty bare-bones Celeron 900 processor.

However, for only $29 more, you can get a laptop with a significantly better dual-core processor in the Dell Inspiron 1545-012B, so the underpowered processor at the CQ60-417DX's core can't be overlooked. For your entry-level computing needs, we recommend looking elsewhere.

For the same price, would you rather have a larger screen and Vista, or a Netbook?

Read the rest of our review.