HotHardware's 2011 Back To School Shopping Guide


MSI X-Slim X370

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. MSI's X-Slim X370 is one of the first ultraportables to ship with AMD's Fusion platform within, and we're big fans of the APU. It's significantly quicker in use than any of Intel's Atom chips, and the battery life / graphics are improved as well.

The 3.11lb. system has a 1.6GHz AMD E-350 Zacate APU, 500GB hard drive, 6 hours of battery life (under strain), 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's highly portable, well equipped and brimming with new technology, but you'll want to take note that it doesn't have an optical drive (in case that's a deal-breaker). It starts at just $600, which is about as low as it goes for this category of machine.

Dell XPS 15z

Just because you're going to school, doesn't mean that you're giving up fun. For the gamer/student hybrid, there's the Dell XPS 15z. 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 one of the best mixes of brains and brawn available in the 15" form factor that's available today.

Dell allows you to customize this rig to fit your budget and needs. Core i5 and i7 CPUs are available, and it can be equipped with NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M (2GB) + Optimus graphics, a beautiful 1080p display, Bluetooth 3.0, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory, a slot-loading DVD burner, backlit keyboard, 8-cell Li-ion battery, 802.11n Wi-Fi, HDMI 1.3 port and an eSATA socket. The XPS 15z starts at $999, but can be beefed up easily if you've got the student loans to cover it.

Asus G74

Asus' G73 series remains one of the company's best gaming laptop lines, but if you're going all-out, you might as well spring for the newly revealed G74. The G74SX-A1 and G74SX-3DE recently went on sale in the U.S., and we'll soon have a review up as well. You won't make it through too many classes with horsepower like this pushing the battery to its breaking point, but if you're hoping to game your way through freshman year, the specifications here will certainly help.

Both notebooks sport an Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7 2630QM (2GHz) processor, 17.3-inch Full HD (1920x1080) LED display, a heaping 12GB of DDR3-1333 memory, 1.5TB (2x750GB) storage, Blu-ray reader, Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M discrete graphics with 3GB of GDDR5 memory, USB 3.0, illuminated keyboard, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. The G74SX-3DE ups the ante with a 3D-capable display and bundled Nvidia 3D Vision kit, otherwise they're the same notebook with the similar hardware inside.

Lenovo IdeaPad S205

Hauling around textbooks is trouble enough; do you really need a massive notebook weighing you down too? If you're looking to trim your packing list, Lenovo's IdeaPad S205 is a good bet. At just 11.6", it's one of the smaller, slimmer laptops on the market, and with the 1.60Ghz dual-core AMD Fusion E-350 APU powering it, it'll certainly perform better than a netbook from yesteryear.

Specs wise, you're looking at a 1366 x 768 resolution, 3GB of DDR3 SDRAM, ATI Mobility Radeon 6310 graphics, and a 350GB HDD. The $429 starting tag is definitely an eye-pleaser, but higher-end configurations are available as well if you've got the change.

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