HotHardware's 2010 Back To School Shopping Guide

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Notebook Shopping Guide

Anyone who has attempted to lug a full-size notebook around at a university can tell you that it's not easy. Particularly when you're also lugging around 40 pounds of textbooks. If you have no interest in beefing up your back muscles in order to haul around a huge notebook, it's possible that an ultraportable will best serve you. Toshiba's 13.3" Portage R700 is a new member of this category, and the specifications are right down the average student's alley. The company claims that this is the lightest 13.3" machine with an optical drive, which is mighty important given just how many textbooks come with supplemental material on CD or DVD.

The 3.2lb. system has a Core i3 CPU, 500GB hard drive, 8.5 hours of battery life (under ideal circumstances), VGA/HDMI outputs, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, two USB ports, an SD card reader, Windows 7 and one of the most spacious keyboards in the product category. It also comes with Intel Wireless Display, which means that you can easily project your school PowerPoints onto displays, be it for a presentation or just group work. It's highly portable, well equipped and brimming with new technology. It starts at around $999. Here are a few recommended e-tailers where the Portage R705 can be found.

Just because you're going to school, doesn't mean that you're giving up fun. For the gamer/student hybrid, there's the HP Envy 14. It's portable enough to be hauled around in a backpack day-in and day-out, but the internal specifications will allow you to game with the best of 'em. It's a homework crusher by day, and a LAN party attendee by night. It's just about the best mix of brains and brawn available in the 14" form factor that's available today.

HP allows you to customize the Envy 14 to fit your budget and needs. Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs are available, and it can be equipped with ATI's Mobility Radeon 5650 (1GB), 4GB of DDR3 memory, a slot-loading DVD burner, backlit keyboard, 8-cell Li-ion battery, 802.11n Wi-Fi, HDMI 1.3 port and a Mini-DisplayPort. The Envy 14 starts at $999, but can be beefed up easily if you've got the student loans to cover it.

Haven't you heard? 14" is the new black! If HP's Envy 14 was just too powerful (or too expensive) for you, Asus' 14" U43F is a great alternative. The Best Buy-only model that we tested here is priced at $899, and you definitely get a lot of bang for that buck. It's one of the few machines shipping with Intel Wireless Display support baked right in, not to mention a USB 3.0 port, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, an internal optical drive and a 2.40GHz Core i5-450M CPU. The integrated graphics may give you pause, but if you're not a hardcore gamer, why spend the extra money on a discrete GPU? Oh, and the bamboo finish is just icing on the cake.

We know that most students don't really need a huge notebook for carrying to classes and taking notes, but for those who are relying solely on a notebook for use in their dorm and on the go, a bigger machine may make sense. MSI has a great many options in the notebook sector, with their new 16" GT660R being one of the nicer options when looking for a desktop replacement.

The 16" machine is equipped with a Core i7 processor, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 285M, 6GB of RAM, a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive, Windows 7 Home Premium and a 7.7lb. chassis. Like we said, we wouldn't recommend carrying this around often, but it's possible in a pinch.

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