Reviews: Best Budget Laptops for College

College is rough financially.

I should know: I'm going back for my last semester of undergrad this fall.

Other than the knowledge I've acquired in the hundreds of classes I've taken over the past four years, one thing I've really learned is that, no matter how cash-poor you are, you can't get by without a personal computer.

• Click here for's Personal Technology Center.

Even if you're so po' you can't afford the other "o" and "r," we have four notebooks that will cover your academic needs without emptying your wallet.

The hippest computers for the teen to twenty-something set are Macs, arguably, and the Apple 13-inch MacBook finds a nice niche in student life, both because of its reasonable price and hearty features.

Starting at $1,099, the 5-pound MacBook features a 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor, 1 GB of RAM,and standard 80 GB storage capacity.

Both the RAM and hard drive are upgradeable, and it comes complete with Apple's complimentary iLife software and built-in Webcam. It runs both OS X and Windows XP and Vista (allow a full gig of RAM for each OS).

All this is capped off with Apple's signature iconic design. The one downside is that the MacBook only has two USB ports, so you may consider an adapter that will up that amount.

Perhaps the most exceptional choice is Dell's Inspiron 1420 notebook, PC Mag's current Editors' Choice for the budget laptop class.

Just because it's a budget laptop (priced accordingly at $1,099) doesn't mean it skimps on features.

Quite the contrary: this laptop boasts both quantity and quality.

This notebook is ridiculously pimped, with a standard-voltage processor, 120 GB hard drive, 2 GBs of RAM, a DVD burner, and discrete graphics — perfect for LAN parties in the dorms — and that's only the beginning.

The 14-inch screen features 1,440-by-900 resolution. Depending on the student's girth, the 1420's weight may be a bit daunting: it checks in at 5.9 pounds with the nine-cell battery, which lasts three-and-a-half hours (PC Mag analysts tested it while watching a DVD).

If that's too much for you, consider downgrading to a six-cell battery, which knocks the total weight down to 5.4 pounds.

For an additional $29, you can personalize the 1420 with colors whose names hint toward a Crayola crayon box, like Ruby Red, Espresso Brown, Spring Green and Flamingo Pink. This tantalizing deal is only available with an E-value code, however.

A practical choice is Fujitsu's Lifebook A6030. For a student that wants a laptop but doesn't plan on taking it everywhere, this is a fine choice.

Its 6.3 pounds are a bit heavy for lugging around campus every day, but this notebook packs more features than other, lighter budget laptops.

In addition to its bright, 15.4-inch screen, the Lifebook has five USB ports and 2 GB of RAM, so you can easily multitask. Tack on the 802.11n support, and you've got a great machine.

Though the 80 GB hard drive should be enough space for most students, you may consider buying an external drive. They're good to have anyway.

The downside of this computer is its weak battery life, which only lasted 1 hour 40 minutes playing a DVD. On the other hand, most people carry their power cords with them anyway, so this may be a non-issue.

At $1,299, you should consider this Fujitsu.

The HP Pavilion dv2500t may retail for $1,409 direct, but you can easily find it for a few hundred cheaper, making this another great budget laptop.

Its features cater well to the student lifestyle: there's a built-in 1.3-megapixel Webcam, it's a light 5.3 pounds and has a full-size keyboard.

This notebook also features the Intel Santa Rosa chipset, which will boost your sound and video, and your Internet browsing (whether at home or in class) will be lightning fast, considering you're running off an 802.11n wireless router.

These new technologies will keep it hip enough for forthcoming school years.

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