HotHardware's 2010 Back To School Shopping Guide

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Netbook Shopping Guide

Who says Intel should get all of the love in the netbook space? AMD has been producing some rather attractive chips of late, particularly for netbooks. AMD's Athlon Neo chips have found their way into Dell's Inspiron M101z, which is a newer 11.6" netbook that's larger than the traditional 10" netbook, and thus, offers a more spacious keyboard that's more suitable for taking notes day after day. Dell also claims that this machine can get around 6.5 hours of battery life, and while it's a bit more expensive than some netbooks, it's capable of HD playback. And what student wants a notebook without HD playback support?

Dell makes this one available with AMD Athlon Neo K125 (single core) or K325 chips (dual core), ATI RS880M graphics (integrated), 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, a 1366x768 resolution display, three USB 2.0 ports and a VGA output. The starting price is $449, but more expensive options are available if you need more power.

Intel's Atom lineup is getting a bit long in the tooth, but the latest and greatest Atom is alive and well in Acer's newest Aspire One. The D255 ships with the dual-core Atom N550, and it's available in a variety of colors -- perfect for the student looking to match everything with the school colors.

It has a 10.1" display, 1GB of RAM, GMA 3150 integrated graphics, a 250GB hard drive, SD/MMC card readers, Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, a multi-gesture touchpad, and a 6-cell battery for up to 8 hours of use. At $399, it's also one of the cheaper netbook options, and when you consider that Intel's latest Atom is included, the price seems pretty reasonable.

Lenovo's ThinkPad X100e is a great netbook with a few pro features that aren't found on many others in the sub-$500 category. This just might be the toughest, most solid ultraportable at 11.6" currently on the market, and it's definitely the oneto get if you're partial to trackpoints and ThinkPad keyboards. We also dig the AMD Athlon Neo CPU under the hood, and this is one of only a few machines with a matte (anti-gloss) display at this size. Just remember to budget for an external optical drive if you think you'll be needing one.

Sometimes the average netbook just isn't enough. That's where HP comes in. The TouchSmart tm2t is half netbook, half tablet, and it's pure workhorse for students. It's ideal for flipping over and doodling notes during lectures, but the standard laptop design makes it ideal for...well, for being a standard laptop. It's almost like getting two machines in one, and despite the high price tag, it's one of the more flexible machines available today for students.

The 12" machine relies on Intel's CULV processor line, Windows 7 Home Premium, a full-size keyboard, touch panel, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, up to 640GB of hard drive space, HDMI 1.3 port, optional ATI Mobility Radeon graphics, optional Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-Fi, and a 6-cell battery. The $829.99 starting price may sound like a lot, but it's cheaper than buying a high-end netbook and a tablet, and it's easier to carry around than one of each.

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