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Laptops For Less: 25 Notebooks Under $600

Our handy guide to the best and latest low-cost notebook computers from Acer, Compaq, Dell, Everex, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba.

InformationWeek Staff

February 6, 2008

22 Min Read

With portables supposedly outselling desktop PCs last year, obviously someone considers them an intriguing proposition. To be honest, once you realize that you can take it with you -- good or bad as that might be to your personal life -- it’s easy to understand the attraction.


Acer Aspire


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Acer's Aspire AS4520-5582 comes with an AMD Turion 64 TL-52 and Windows Vista Home Premium.

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What no one typically mentions, however, is equivalence: A portable that performs as well as an equivalent desktop will cost considerably more than the desktop system and, within the subset of all available portables, will have a shorter battery life and weigh more than you probably want it to if you’re carrying it for any prolonged period of time.

Determined to keep a lid on spending, we’ve ducked those issues entirely and focused on laptops that cost $600 or less. These are not Road Warriors or Productivity Studs and certainly not gaming environments by any measure. They are meat and potatoes (and, in some cases, just potatoes) computer buddies. In fact, when you get down to the $450 and lower models, you’ll actually be in a world of throwaways (or, hopefully, hand-me-downs) that will let you gauge what you really need in terms of portable computing abilities without the risk of making a costly mistake right off the bat.

As you look through the list, there are several things to keep in mind:

  1. Linux is still not a mainstream operating system, and, if you're already comfortable with Windows, it could end up being counterintuitive no matter how "Windows-like" the user interface is made to look.

  2. More memory is always better than less, especially with Vista.

  3. Solid state disks (SSD) are trendy hard disk alternatives but, for their price, you get far less capacity than with a mechanical drive. Despite the power savings SSDs offer, that's never been a good situation in computing.

  4. Smaller screens generally mean smaller, lighter, and easier-to-carry portables. They’re also tougher on older eyes at anything but the most modest resolutions. Young of heart is great. Young of eyes can sometimes be better.

Best of all, none of these systems should be beyond your consideration. As with any utensil, what you can do with one of them depends on whether you’ve selected the correct one for the job you want to get done. Forks and soup don’t usually match up well. A spoon, on the other hand, can provide a marvelous experience in context.

All of the specifications were gleaned from the product Web pages at their manufacturers’ sites or from reseller sites. Some of these portables may no longer be available from their original manufacturers, but they still have a significant presence in the retail channel. Time may not be "of the essence" but procrastination isn’t such a great thing either. The pricing listed is the lowest price found at the time this was written.

Laptops For Minimalists




The XO-1 was developed by the One Laptop Per Child organization for use by children in the developing world.

OLPC XO-1
While the One Laptop Per Child's (OLPC) G1G1 (Give 1, Get 1) program is officially over for now, don't necessarily cross the XO-1 laptop off your list. The organization discovered that getting consumers to buy one for a child in an emerging nation on the promise of getting one of the colorful notebooks for themselves was very successful. Although minimalist in terms of function, it's more than enough for the average Internet browser and e-mail recipient. If OLPC restores the G1G1 program, give it some serious consideration.

Asus Eee PC 2G Surf
If you have a hankering for an XO-1 but missed the last G1G1 program, ASUS Eee PC is the closest you're going to get right now -- right down to the solid state drive (SSD) and Linux operating system. At 2 pounds, it even beats the XO-1 on the scales. There's currently a second version -- called the 4G and priced at about $50 more -- that doubles the model's SSD storage to 4 GB. Like the XO-1, the Eee PC is a bit of a trendy novelty in some circles. Unlike most trendy bits, it's priced quite mundanely and Linux makes the supplied memory more than adequate. (Rumor also has it that more iterations are in the pipeline.)




At 2lbs. and $399 The Everex CloudBook won't break the bank -- or your back.

Intel ClassMate
Intel is not a charitable institution. While the Classmate is specifically destined for underdeveloped nations, given the success of OLPC's G1G1, it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar program forthcoming from Intel. As with the XO-1, the Classmate is minimalist but will serve your Internet needs quite well. Most analysts expect the price to finally settle well below its current floor.

The Everex CloudBook
The CloudBook is aimed at the minimalist Eee PC market but offers more, and conventional, storage capability. While that might not brighten the eyes of technocrats, it can make this little laptop more useful. Powered by the open source gOS Rocket operating system, and aimed at the mass market, the Everex CloudBook comes with popular applications from Google, Mozilla, Skype, and OpenOffice.org onboard. Look for it this month on Wal-Mart.com. Laptops with a Little More




Fit for work: Acer's TravelMate TM4320-2451 runs Windows XP Professional and comes with 802.11b/g WLAN, gigabit LAN, and a V.92 modem.

Acer
Acer Aspire AS4520-5582
Acer AS5315-2142
Acer Aspire AS4710-2013
Acer Aspire AS5720-4126
Acer TravelMate TM4320-2451
Acer TravelMate TM5520-5313
Acer TravelMate TM2480-2968
In theory, the difference between Acer's Aspire and TravelMate lines is that the former is meant for around the house or down at school where you need a Web cam, while the latter model gets to be tucked under your arm, tossed on the back seat or otherwise toted around town. In this price range, however, the TravelMate TM4320-2451 and TM2480-2968, at 5.3 pounds, are probably the easiest on the shoulders. Even so, when you add a case, charger, and the usual list of carry-along suspects, you're probably looking at a bundle closer to 6.5 pounds. Call us snobs, but on the Aspire side of the equation we can't help but give the nod to the AS5720-4126 for its 2 GB of memory.

Dell
Dell Inspiron 1525
Dell Vostro 1000
For decades, Dell avoided AMD processors in anything it sold. Not too long ago, however, it discovered that it could charge less, making a laptop more attractive to consumers. Keep in mind, when comparing the Inspiron 1525 and the Vostro 1000, that the Intel-based portable (the Inspiron) carries more memory and has a larger hard disk capacity, both of which are important factors if you're going beyond the Internet.

Everex
Everex StepNote NC1502
Everex StepNote SA2053T
With the StepNote, having both VIA and Intel processors gives you a choice of pricing. While the Intel version (the SA2053T) has more memory and hard drive capacity, it nets you a smaller screen (while keeping the same 1,200 by 800 resolution).

Gateway
MT6729
The moment Gateway blessed the MT6729 with 2 GB of memory, it gave it a leg up on almost every other laptop with integrated graphics. While cost-effective and space saving, integrated graphics "borrow" system memory, leaving less for the operating system and applications to use. That's especially important when using memory-hungry operating systems such as Vista.




A 15.4" LCD, Intel Celeron 530 processor, and Windows Vista Home Basic come with the Compaq 6720s.

Compaq
HP Presario F730US
HP Pavilion DV6605US (GS662UA)
HP 530 (KD084AT#ABA)
Compaq 6515b (RM184UT#ABA)
Compaq 6720s
When Hewlett-Packard purchased Compaq, it added a boatload of additional choices to its product line. There are small but telling differences among the group. For example, the 6715b and 6720s differ in processor brand and memory size and while the 6715b might arguable be the stronger of the two choices from a CPU point of view; its 512 MB memory could preclude any heavy lifting in a Vista environment. The same holds true for the two 530 variants. The lower end of either model is great for long walks on the Internet, but more memory is always the trump card when you need something serious done.




Toshiba's Satellite A205-S5804 has a 120GB drive, 1GB of memory, and weighs 6 lbs.

Lenovo
Lenovo ThinkPad R61e
3000 N Series N200
The Thinkpad line is Lenovo's acquisition from IBM while the 3000 N Series N200 represents Lenovo's breakaway into its own brand identity. What should that mean to you? Only that there are some confusing configurations available such as the two shown here. Despite the processor and operating system differences, they are as close as two peas in a pod. With just 512 MB of memory, however, the R61e powered by Windows XP might be the better overall choice.

Toshiba
Toshiba Satellite A205-S5804
Toshiba Satellite A215-S5802
Jupiter has more moons than Toshiba has Satellites -- but not by much. These two are the antithesis of each other, with the A205 being a strict Intel interpretation of the portable while the A215 turns to AMD and ATI for its motivation. Is one better than the other? If you're an Intel fan, obviously it's the A205. If you're an AMD supporter you'll probably strongly disagree with the validity of that contention.

Acer




An Intel Celeron M Processor 540 runs Windows Vista Home Premium on the Acer Aspire AS5315-2142.

1. Acer Aspire AS4520-5582
CPU: AMD Turion 64 TL-52
Speed: 1.6 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated NVIDIA GeForce 7000M graphics
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: Super-Multi drive
Screen size: 14.1 LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g WLAN, gigabit LAN; V.92 modem; 5-in-1 card reader; integrated Web cam,
Weight:5.5 pounds
Price: $599

2. Acer AS5315-2142
CPU: Intel Celeron M Processor 540
Speed: 1.86 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: Super-Multi drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras:802.11b/g WLAN, 10/100 LAN, V.92 modem; 5-in-1 card reader; integrated Web cam
Weight:6.2 pounds
Price: $521

3. Acer Aspire AS4710-2013
CPU: Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2080
Speed: 1.73 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: Super-Multi drive
Screen size: 14.1" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g WLAN, 10/100 LAN, V.92 modem; 5-in-1 card reader; integrated Web cam
Weight: 5.7 pounds
Price: $599




With its 15.4" widescreen LCD and Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2330 processor on board, the Acer Aspire AS5720-4126 tips the scales at just over 6 pounds.

4. Acer Aspire AS5720-4126
CPU: Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2330
Speed: 1.60 GHz
Memory: 2 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 160 GB
Optical Drives: Super-Multi drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g WLAN; gigabit LAN; V.92 modem
Weight:6.17 pounds
Price: $599

5. Acer TravelMate TM4320-2451
CPU: Intel Celeron M Processor 530
Speed: 1.73 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows XP Professional
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: Integrated CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 14.1" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g WLAN, gigabit LAN, V.92 modem; 5-in-1 card reader
Weight:5.3 pounds
Price: $592




Road trip-ready: Vista Business and an AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile Technology TL-52 processor ride onboard the TravelMate TM5520-5313.

6. Acer TravelMate TM5520-5313
CPU: AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile Technology TL-52
Speed: 1.60 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Business
Graphics: ATI Radeon Xpress 1250 graphics
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: Super-Multi drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g WLAN, gigabit LAN, V.92 modem; fingerprint reader; 5-1 card reader
Weight: 6.4 pounds
Price: $599

7. Acer TravelMate TM2480-2968
CPU: Intel Celeron M Processor 440
Speed: 1.86 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows XP Professional
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 14.1" LCD
Resolution: 1200x800
Extras: 950; 802.11b/g WLAN, 10/100 LAN, V.92 modem
Weight: 5.3 pounds
Price: $487
ASUS




The Asus Eee PC 2G Surf weighs just 2 pounds and runs on Linux.


8. Asus Eee PC 2G Surf
CPU: Intel Mobile CPU
Speed: N/A
Memory: 512MB
OS: Linux
Graphics: Intel UMA
Hard Disk: 2 GB Solid-State Disk
Optical Drives: N/A
Screen size: 7" LCD
Resolution: 800 x 400
Extras: 10/100 Mbps; 802.11b/g; MMC/SD(SDHC) card reader
Weight: 2 pounds
Price: $300

DELL

9. Dell Inspiron 1525
CPU: Intel Pentium Dual Core T2330
Speed: 1.60 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Vista Home Basic Edition
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: CD / DVD Writer (DVD+/-RW Drive)
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: Dell Wireless 1395 802.11g Mini-Card
Weight: 6.6 pounds
Price: $599




Dell's Inspiron 1525 runs on an Intel Pentium Dual Core T2330 and comes with Vista Home Basic Edition.

10. Dell Vostro 1000
CPU: Mobile AMD Sempron Processor 3600+
Speed: 2 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: ATI Radeon Xpress 1150
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD/DVD Writer (DVD+/-RW Drive)
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,024 x 768
Extras: Dell Wireless 1390 802.11g Wi-Fi Mini Card
Weight: 6.2 pounds
Price: $474

EVEREX




At 2 pounds and $399, the Everex CloudBook won't break the bank -- or your back.

11. Everex CloudBook
CPU: VIA C7-M ULV
Speed: 1.2 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: gOS V2 Rocket
Graphics: VIA UniChrome Pro IGP
Hard Disk: 30 GB
Optical Drives: N/A
Screen size: 7" LCD
Resolution: 800 x 480
Extras: 802.11b/g; 10/100 Ethernet; 4-in-1 Media Card Reader
Weight:2 pounds
Price: $399





A chrome finish and a wide-screen display give the Everex StepNote NC1502 good looks to go with its plain-jane notebook functionality.

12. Everex StepNote NC1502
CPU: VIA C7-M ULV
Speed: 1.2 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: VIA Chrome9 HC IGP
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: N/A
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g; 10/100 Ethernet
Weight: 5.9 pounds
Price: $398

13. Everex StepNote SA2053T
CPU: Pentium Dual-Core Processor T2080
Speed: 1.73 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Hard Disk: 100 GB
Optical Drives: Dual Layer DVDRW
Screen size: 12.1" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 802.11b/g; 10/100 Ethernet; 4-in-1 Media Card Reader
Weight: 5.9 pounds
Price: $498
GATEWAY




The HP Presario comes with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core TK-55 processor and Windows Vista Home Premium.

14. Gateway MT6729
CPU: Pentium dual-core T2330
Speed: 1.6 GHz
Memory: 2 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 160 GB
Optical Drives: Dual Layer DVD Burner
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g; 5-in-1 card reader; Expresscard Type 54
Weight: 6.24 pounds
Price: $549

HP

15. HP Presario F730US
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core TK-55
Speed: 1.8 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce Go 6100
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: LightScribe Super Multi 8X DVDR/RW with Double Layer Support
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g
Weight:6.6 pounds
Price: $599




The HP 530's 15.4" wide-screen adds sparkle to its basic components -- an Intel Celeron M processor running Windows Vista Home Basic.

16. HP Pavilion DV6605US (GS662UA)
CPU: AMD Mobile Athlon 64 X2 TK-55
Speed: 1.8 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 7150M
Hard Disk: 160 GB
Optical Drives: LightScribe Super Multi 8X DVDR/RW with Double Layer Support
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g; 5-in-1 card reader
Weight: 6.14 pounds
Price: $599

17. HP 530 (KD084AT#ABA)
CPU: Intel Celeron M
Speed: 1.86 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g
Weight: 6 pounds
Price: $449

COMPAQ (A subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard)




Compaq 6515b's processor is an AMD Mobile Sempron 3500+; the operating system is Windows Vista Home Basic.

18. Compaq 6515b (RM184UT#ABA)
CPU: AMD Mobile Sempron 3500+
Speed: 1.8 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: ATI Radeon X1250 IGP
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 14.1" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g
Weight: 5.7 pounds
Price: $570

19. Compaq 6720s
CPU: Intel Celeron 530
Speed: 1.73 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: V.92 modem; 10/100 Ethernet; 802.11a/b/g; 5-in-1 card reader
Weight: 5.7 pounds
Price: $540




A 15.4" LCD, Intel Celeron 530 processor, and Windows Vista Home Basic come with the Compaq 6720s.

INTEL

20. Classmate
CPU: Intel Mobile Processor ULV
Speed: 900 MHz
Memory: DDR-II 256M, 512M SO-DIMM
OS: Windows XP Pro / Linux
Graphics: Integrated Intel 915GMS
Hard Disk: 1 GB for Linux, 2 GB for Windows XP Pro NAND Flash
Optical Drives: N/A
Screen size: 7" LVDS (w/LED B/L)
Resolution: 800 x 480
Extras: 10/100M Ethernet 802.11b/g
Weight: 3.08 pounds
Price: $285

LENOVO




The 4-in-1 multicard reader makes transferring media files to and from the Lenovo 3000 N Series a snap.

21. Lenovo Thinkpad R61e
CPU: Intel Celeron M 540
Speed: 1.86 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows XP Professional
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 10/100 Ethernet 802.11b/g
Weight: 6.4 pounds
Price: $581




The XO-1 was developed by the One Laptop Per Child organization for use by children in the developing world.

22. 3000 N Series N200
CPU: Intel Celeron M Processor 530
Speed: 1.73 GHz
Memory: 512 MB
OS: Windows Vista Home Basic
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 80 GB
Optical Drives: CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 10/100 Ethernet 802.11b/g
Weight: 6.02 pounds
Price: $599

OLPC

23. OLPC, XO-1
CPU: AMD Geode LX-700
Speed: 433 MHz
Memory: 256 MB
OS: Linux
Graphics: Integrated in Geode
Hard Disk: 1,024 MB (1 GB), SLC NAND flash
Screen size: 7.5 LCD
Resolution: 1,200x900
Extras: 802.11b/g; 802.11s
Weight: 3 pounds
Price: N/A

TOSHIBA




Toshiba's Satellite A215-S5802 sports an AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-57 processor, and weighs less than 5.78 pounds.

24. Toshiba Satellite A205-S5804
CPU: Intel Pentium dual-core T2330
Speed: 1.60 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100
Hard Disk: 120GB
Optical Drives: DVD Super Multi
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 10/100 Ethernet 802.11b/g
Weight: 6 pounds
Price: $599

25. Toshiba Satellite A215-S5802
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 TK-57
Speed: 1.9 GHz
Memory: 1 GB
OS: Windows Vista Home Premium
Graphics: ATI Radeon X1200 IGP
Hard Disk: 120 GB
Optical Drives: DVD Super Multi
Screen size: 15.4" LCD
Resolution: 1,200 x 800
Extras: 10/100 Ethernet 802.11b/g
Weight: 5.78 pounds
Price: $500

For Further Information:

Acer

Compaq

Dell

Everex

Gateway

HP

Lenovo

OLPC

Toshiba

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