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What $350 gets you in a Toshiba laptop: The L305-S5955

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.

For one thing, $350 gets you a lot of bulk. Sarah Tew/CNET

Our back-to-school retail roundup of laptops is currently under way, and one of the machines we recently tested was the cheapest of the bunch: Toshiba's $350 L305-S5955. That's the cost of a Netbook (and some cost even less).

It's hard to hate a laptop that only costs $350. Indeed, decent televisions weren't even this cheap half a decade ago. The first question that pops into one's head when confronted with such an absurdly low number is, "What am I getting for that?" The second question is, "Can I get away with owning one?"

For a 15.4-inch laptop, what comes under the hood? Last year's L305-S5875, which cost $675 and was housed in a nearly identical case, came with a 200GB hard drive, 3GB of DDR2 RAM, and a 1.86GHz Pentium Dual-Core T2390. Therein lies the difference: this year's L305 has a 160GB hard drive, only 2GB of RAM, and an inferior Celeron 900 processor for nearly half the cost. In essence, it has the guts of a Netbook in a 15.4-inch laptop's body (the earliest Netbooks actually used Celeron chips, before Intel release the Atom processor).

While this laptop is fine for basic e-mail, media viewing, music playing, and other simple tasks, we wouldn't recommend it for any sort of multitasking or serious mission-critical computing. It's already more than a bit of a dinosaur in 2009, and it won't get any less outdated, making it a questionable investment. On the other hand, Windows 7 should run fine on it (although most new Vista Basic systems are ineligible for a free upgrade), and this could be the sort of bargain a low-expectations consumer is looking for.

Read our full review of the Toshiba L305-S5955.