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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.

If your arms get tired from reaching out to stroke the Satellite's screen, you can use its touchpad, instead. The touchpad is centered beneath the keyboard, so it's off center from wrist rest, but that's where it should be. It supports all of the usual Windows 8 gestures, including two-finger scrolling, zoom, rotate, and flip. And you can slide in from the right border to call up the charm bar, or slide it from the left to switch between applications. The setup lacks distinct left and right mouse buttons, but you can click the lower area of the pad to obtain the same actions.

Toshiba took advantage of the display's width to provide a numeric keypad next to the alphanumeric keyboard. The half-size function keys in the top row have useful default actions mapped to them--including controls for such features as volume, brightness, and a media player.

The island-style keyboard has short-travel keys that nevertheless provide a desirable amount of tactile feedback while remaining nearly silent. I wouldn't have minded the half-size arrow keys if they hadn't been located so close to the edge of the wrist rest. The entire keyboard is recessed in a well, making it nearly impossible to tell whether your finger is tapping the up arrow or the down arrow without taking your eyes off the screen to look.

Benchmark performance

The Satellite L55Dt-A5253 finished third in our Notebook WorldBench 8.1 benchmark suite, a scant 2 points behind Lenovo's Intel Core i5--powered IdeaPad Z400 Touch, but 16 points behind the Intel Haswell--powered Acer Aspire E1-572-6870. The Toshiba's 750GB, 5400-rpm hard drive helped it grab a second-place finish in the PCMark7 Productivity component, but the faster CPU in the Acer Aspire more than compensated for that computer's smaller drive.

Given the amount of hay AMD has made over what it describes as its superior GPU/CPU integration, I had expected to see this A6-powered notebook clean up on the gaming benchmarks. It did reasonably well, but fell 5 fps short of equaling the performance of the Intel-powered Acer Aspire E1.

Connectivity and conclusion

Toshiba provides the usual three USB ports on its Satellite: Two of these are USB 3.0 and you can use the one USB 2.0 port to charge your smartphone (or other USB device) even while the computer is sleeping--a very handy feature. The media card reader in the front of the PC supports only SD media.

Aan HDMI-out supports digital display connections, and VGA handles analog. I don't want to see HDMI go away, but I'd like to see laptop manufacturers include DisplayPort 1.2 ports on their consumer offerings. A DisplayPort 1.2 connection would let you daisy-chain displays, and you could buy an adapter to handle just about anything else, including VGA.


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