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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.

The Pavilion TouchSmart's pitiful Notebook WorldBench 8.1 score of 64 matches that of the $539 Dell Latitude 3330, but its scores on most of the other benchmarks are significantly worse than the Dell's. For example, the Latitude earned a PCMark 7 Productivity score of 932, versus the Pavilion's mark of 348. And the HP's scores on our media editing and encoding tests were off-the-chart bad. On the plus side, the superior graphics processor integrated into the AMD A4 processor helped level the playing field in at least some of our gaming benchmarks.

Connectivity and conclusion

One of the ways that HP kept this computer's price so slow was by provisioning it with cheap networking capabilities. The Realtek RTL8188EE Wi-Fi adapter is a single-band 802.11n model that supports a maximum physical link rate of just 150 mbps, and its hardwired ethernet adapter maxes out at 100 mbps.

For better wireless networking performance, you can plug an adapter into one of the Pavilion's USB ports. It has two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port, plus a multiformat media card reader. HP provides both HDMI and VGA video outputs.

The HP Pavilion TouchSmart 11z-e000 is tough to beat on price--you get a lot of computer for the money. Its closest rival in price--Dell's Latitude 3330--costs $100 more, doesn't have a touchscreen, and carries a smaller hard drive. The Dell is slightly faster and has a larger display, but I think the TouchSmart 11z is a better value in the long run.

Pros

  • Solid build
  • Touchscreen
  • Great battery life
  • Very inexpensive

Cons

  • Very, very slow
  • Chintzy network connectivity options
  • Less-than-optimal keyboard

Bottom line

If you insist on getting a laptop with a touchscreen, HP delivers a lot of computer for very little money. But you'll need to be patient with this one's performance.

Rating

2.5 stars

Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch

This solidly built notebook features a great touchscreen display, an even better keyboard, and a huge and fast hard drive. But Lenovo's networking component choices are a bit disappointing.

Lenovo laptops are the models of choice for many corporate IT departments, and the company manufactures some very good consumer-oriented machines, too. The IdeaPad Z400 Touch is a case in point. You wouldn't mistake it for a sleek Ultrabook--it's thick and heavy, and its battery life is wretched--but the Z400 did finish second on Notebook WorldBench 8.1 in our five-laptop competition. And despite Lenovo's copious use of plastic, the Z400 is built like a brick outhouse.

Lenovo stuck with Intel's third-generation Core processor for this budget-priced machine, pairing a 1.6GHz Core i5-3230M with 6GB of DDR/1600 memory. At 14.0 inches, its 1366-by-768-pixel display is much smaller than the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870's 15.6-inch display; but the IdeaPad Z400 boasts a ten-point touchscreen, whereas the Acer does not.

 

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