Recently a family member asked me to help her buy a new laptop. She'd budgeted $500 for the purchase and sent me off to the local big-box store to pick one out. (Now that's trust!)
I came back with a shiny new Samsung and an apology: "Sorry, I couldn't stick to your budget. Here's your change." The machine had cost only $349.
These days, for users with modest needs, that's all you need to spend on a nicely equipped laptop. In fact, you might not even need to spend that much: Newegg has the Acer Aspire AS5733Z-4445 15.6-inch laptop for $329.99 shipped.
Not too long ago, that price would have netted you a Celeron- or Sempron-powered weakling. The Aspire is built around a 2GHz Intel Pentium P6100--an entry-level processor, to be sure, but sufficient for e-mail, Web browsing, word processing, etc. You know: the basics.
Other key specs include 3GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and a 15.6-inch display with a 1,366 x 768-pixel native resolution. Some may find that a little low, but I think it's fine for this screen size. Also, the keyboard has a dedicated numeric keypad--something you used to see only on larger laptops.
Another perk: the Aspire has a multigesture touchpad, meaning you can do things like drag two fingers to scroll Web pages. I now consider that a must-have feature.
The vast majority of user reviews rate this model four or five stars. So I think it's a safe bet for anyone with--again, note the key words here--modest needs. And if you'll pardon the gushing, what an amazing price.
Bonus deal: Here's a perfect companion for the new PC: Lenovo has its Wireless Mouse N30B for $10.50 shipped when you use coupon code USP1N19360 at checkout. (Sales tax may also apply.)