The five laptops in the $700 to $800 price range that we reviewed as part of our Holiday Retail Laptop Roundup are a diverse group. These budget laptops are one step up from the entry-level models you'll see on Big Box store shelves, bumping you up to Core 2 Duo processors (from a Pentium Dual Core chip). The quintet we reviewed range in size from a 14-inch midsize model to a big 17-inch desktop replacement. In between are a pair of standard 15.4-inch models and a 15.6-inch model that features a cinematic display with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Our pick of the budget litter turns out to be the runt: the 14-inch HP Pavilion dv4-1125nr. It separates itself from its retail competition by including 64-bit Vista and 4GB of memory while also serving up multimedia-friendly features such as an HDMI port, dual headphone jacks, and a remote control. Had it delivered better battery life, it would have likely earned an Editors' Choice award. Still, the Pavilion dv4-1125nr serves up leading performance and excellent value. Just be sure to try out the glossy keyboard and touchpad before you pull the trigger on a purchase.
The two 15.4-inch laptops in this group tied for runner-up status. The Sony Vaio NS140E/W and Toshiba Satellite A305-S6872 are two solidly constructed mainstream laptops with nearly identical configurations. The Satellite A305 is a bit heavier but runs longer, thanks to its extended cell battery, and can charge USB devices when it's powered down. It also has a row of handy touch-sensitive media control keys above the keyboard, which the Sony lacks. For its part, the Vaio NS140 has the better keyboard and touchpad--at least to these fingertips--and Bluetooth.