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The rise of the $299 Wal-Mart laptop

First Acer, then Hewlett-Packard, now Toshiba. The $299 laptop is a force to be reckoned with.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. PDT: adding Windows 7 and Celeron processor information.

There's a new $299 laptop in vogue at stores--and it's not a Netbook.

Toshiba 15-inch Satellite has bounced around in price from $299 to $329
Toshiba 15-inch Satellite has bounced around in price from $299 to $329 Best Buy

These laptops sport big screens, optical drives, plenty of memory, and reasonable graphics horsepower. In other words, this is nothing like a $299 Netbook.

And, in case you haven't noticed, they sell out quickly. The $298 Wal-Mart laptop was gone before most people could reach for their wallet and the Best Buy $299 Acer laptop vanished almost overnight once the price went viral.

Best Buy chimed in again very briefly for a few days (during the week of August 3) with a $299 Toshiba laptop sporting a 15-inch screen but then bumped the price up to $329.

But whether it's a $298, $299, $309, or $329, it's a laptop design that has landed. And it is a real competitor to the 10-inch Netbook, which costs about the same.

Here's the challenge: a lot of the Netbook's appeal is price. If retailers offer something with more robust hardware in the same price range, these tiny laptops are at risk of falling off back-to-school shopping lists.

And speaking of beefier hardware. The salient specifications of the Toshiba include a 2.2GHz Intel Celeron processor 900, 2GB of memory, DVD-RW/CD-RW drive, 15.4-inch screen, 160GB Serial ATA hard drive (5400 rpm), 802.11b/g wireless, 10/100 Ethernet LAN, Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD, and Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic Edition operating system.

It was reviewed by CNET when it was $350. With a few more dollars knocked off the price, it may warrant at least an additional half-star.


As one reader warned, Best Buy does not show--at least not on the Best Buy Web page for this particular Toshiba model (L305-S5955)--that the laptop qualifies for a free Windows 7 upgrade. This upgrade is indicated, however, on the Best Buy Web pages of more expensive laptops running higher-end versions of Windows Vista.

There also appears to be some confusion about the difference between the Atom and Celeron 900 processors. The Celeron 900 is rated at 2.20GHz, integrates 1MB of cache memory, and has an 800MHz bus. By comparison, the widely-used Atom N270 is rated at 1.60GHz, integrates 512KB of cache memory, and has a 533MHz bus.