Looking for the best bang for your PC buck? Our friends at Laptop Magazine and Laptop Mag—who oversee 140+ notebook and netbook reviews every year—have rounded up the top performers under $500.
The price of Windows laptops continues to decline, with the average system costing just $456 in December 2011. However, you don't have to settle for something that's underpowered or poorly made when you opt for a bargain notebook. You can get a second-generation Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB hard drive in this price range, which is plenty of power for everyday computing.
HP offers the 15.6-inch, 2.1-GHz Core i3 HP g6t for only $494. We reviewed its cousin, the HP Pavilion g6-1c77nr, very favorably in 2011, praising it for its solid performance, comfortable keyboard, and good speakers.The Pavilion g6t is no slouch compared to the g6-1c77nr, featuring a 2.2-GHz Intel 2nd Gen Core i3-2330M CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. Although the Gateway NV55C54u (also on this list) offers slightly better performance and longer battery life, this is a great deal for a performance laptop.
A great deal from Newegg.com, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420 is a less-fancy-looking version of the ThinkPad Edge E420s that earned an Editor's Choice award from us in May 2011. We were impressed with the laptop's sophisticated design, light weight, excellent keyboard, and strong battery life.
The ThinkPad Edge E420 features a 2.3-GHz Intel Core i3-2350M processor, a 14-inch 1366 x 768 anti-glare display, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive.
The Dell Inspiron 14R, only $499 on Dell's Web site, packs a 2.2-GHz Intel 2nd Gen Core i3-2330M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB HDD, and Intel HD graphics into 14-inch frame. We were impressed with the Pentium-powered Dell Inspiron 14R we rereviewed in 2011, and for the same price today you get a more powerful processor, twice the RAM, and twice the hard drive storage capacity. What's more, the new Inspiron 14R features switchable lids, allowing you to choose a look to your liking.
We really liked the Gateway NV55C54u when we reviewed it in December 2011. Despite its faux-wood finish, small touchpad, and somewhat weak audio, the 15-inch NV55C54u offered solid performance thanks to its 2.4-GHz Intel Core i3-370M CPU and 4GB of RAM, and nearly 5 hours of battery life. Gateway also threw in a dedicated number pad, which is helpful for gamers and accountants alike. As low as $400 right now, the NV55C54u is one of the best notebook deals around.
We gave the HP Pavilion dm1-4010us 4 stars when we reviewed the laptop in October 2011, and for good reason. The Pavilion dm1 features a comfy keyboard, reliable touchpad, and solid performance, all bundled in an attractive 11-inch chassis.
This configuration of the Pavilion dm1, on sale for $448 at Best Buy, boasts a 1.65-GHz AMD Vision E2 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB HDD. The laptop also features Beats Audio for superior sound and AMD Radeon HD 6320 graphics. Although the HP Pavilion dm1-4010us has below-average battery life, its other attributes more than make up for this deficiency.
The Toshiba Satellite P755-S5320, on sale for $499 at Best Buy, boasts more powerful performance and a larger hard drive than most of the notebooks on this list. Although the P755-S5320 won't play hardcore games on its Intel HD graphics, the laptop features a 2.2-GHz Intel 2nd Gen Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 640GB hard drive. Toshiba claims that the 6-cell lithium-ion battery will last up to 6 hours and 23 minutes.
Although this laptop won't win any contests for performance or design, the 14-inch ASUS X44L-BBK4 boasts plenty of power for less than $400. The 2.2-GHz Intel 2nd Gen Core i3-2330M CPU and 4GB of RAM ensure that you'll be able to surf the Web, listen to music, and watch movies without seeing a slowdown, and its 500GB hard drive offers plenty of storage capacity. Buyers could do far worse than the ASUS X44L, selling at Bestbuy.com for $379.
At $329 from Best Buy, the Lenovo B575-1450AHU is a steal. Lenovo packed as many features as they could into this 14-inch laptop. It boasts a 1.65-GHz AMD Dual-Core E-450 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB HDD. The laptop even boasts a dedicated numeric keypad, an ultra-comfy Accutype keyboard, and a fingerprint reader. These features put the Lenovo B575 over the top on budget buyers' "must-have" lists.
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