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5 budget laptops for college students: We name the best

Michael Brown | Aug. 20, 2013
Being a cash-strapped student requires making a few hardware compromises, but a nice notebook is still within reach.

One component that won't be easy to swap out is the Dell Wireless 1504 single-band (2.4GHz), 1x1, 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, which delivers a physical link rate of just 150 megabits per second. The laptop doesn't provide Bluetooth support, either. But it does have a gigabit ethernet interface.

Unlike most of the notebooks in this price range, the Latitude 3330's chassis contains some aluminum elements that render it considerably more rigid than the other machines we looked at. The lid, on the other hand, is rather flimsy, and the display inside doesn't feature edge-to-edge glass, as most of the others do.

The Latitude 3330's display isn't wide enough to accommodate a deck with both a full-size keyboard and a numeric keypad, but the system's arrow keys are full-size and not easily mistaken for anything else. Apart from not being backlit, the island-style keyboard is well designed and a joy to type on, delivering firm but springy tactile feedback. The Function keys in the top row play their traditional roles, so you'll need to hold down the Fn key and tap them to access their alternative assignments, such as controlling a media player.

Benchmark performance

The Latitude 3330 tied for dead last in our Notebook WorldBench 8.1 benchmark. Its overall score of 64 was more than 35 percent slower than our reference Asus VivoBook S550CA. Drilling down into some of the individual benchmarks from that suite, I note that the Dell finished next to last in the PCMark7 Productivity benchmark and the BioShock Infinite test, beating out only the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11z-e000.

Connectivity and conclusion

Dell broke the pattern of Intel-powered laptops providing only one USB 3.0 port. The Latitude 330 boasts two, plus one USB 2.0 port that can charge a device whether the computer is awake or asleep. It doesn't have an optical drive, but its media card reader supports both SD and MMC media.

Dell follows the crowd by providing HDMI and VGA video outputs. Because the Latitude's Wi-Fi adapter isn't an Intel model, the system doesn't support Intel's WiDi wireless media-streaming. If your primary concern is long battery life, however, be aware that this machine turned in a first-place finish, running for 5 hours, 13 minutes. And you can quickly pull out a run-down battery and snap in a fresh one to double the laptop's useful life. But that's one of the system's few truly bright spots.

Note: We also reviewed this model as a small-business laptop. You can read that review here.

Pros

  • Easily upgradable memory, battery, and hard drive
  • Solid construction

Cons

  • Lousy benchmark performance
  • No touchscreen
  • Weak Wi-Fi adapter

Bottom line

Dell's Latitude 3330 delivers very good battery life--but little else to recommend it at this price.

 

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