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Engadget's back to school guide: Netbooks and laptops

Joanna Stern

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Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we've got laptops and netbooks in our sights -- and you can head to the Back to School hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month.

You didn't think we'd let back to school season roll around without rounding up the latest gear, did you? Good, because here at Engadget we understand that not only is heading off to college nerve wracking, but picking out the best gadgets can as equally scary. We couldn't think of kicking off our back to school guide with anything but our top netbook / laptop choices since, you know, a good performing and well-rounded machine is absolutely essential for those hours of Facebook stalking, err of homework and studying. No matter what your budget, we've got you covered with recommendations and loads of mobile computing options. Now, on to the laptops...

On the cheap: Netbooks

Toshiba Mini NB305

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

A netbook probably won't suffice as a primary system, but it's ideal for taking notes in class or as a complement a clunky laptop or desktop. Thanks to its comfortable keyboard, wide touchpad and six hours of battery life, the 10.1-inch Toshiba Mini NB305 is still the best on the market. See our full review.

Key specs: 1.66Ghz Intel Atom N455, 1GB of RAM, 250GB hard drive, Windows 7 Starter.

Price: $370 from Amazon

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Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

ASUS Eee PC 1018P

This 10-incher may have the typical netbook specs (Atom CPU, Win 7 Starter), but its brushed aluminum lid makes it one of the best looking mini-laptops.

Price: $379.99 at Best Buy

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Acer Aspire One 721

The 11.6-inch Aspire One 721's AMD Neo II processor gives it more power than the other Atom netbooks and it can handle 1080p video.

Price: $437.95 at Amazon

On the cheap: Laptops

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 13 / 14

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Considering that there was once a day where most ThinkPads cost over $1,000, it's pretty amazing to even think that we can recommend the Edge series as our number one pick in the budget category. The 13- and 14-inch portables blend those stellar ThinkPad features with value, and if you look hard enough, you can find a plus-$900 config for under $600. They're not gaming machines, but the base AMD / ATI combo will provide good-enough graphics, and you can't get better than the chiclet keyboard for cranking out papers. See our full review.

Key specs: 2.10GHz AMD Athlon II X2 Dual-Core P320, 2GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, 250GB hard drive.

Price: $549 from Lenovo

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Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Gateway NV Series

Acer and Gateway offer an overwhelming amount of laptops under $600, but the 15.6-inch Gateway NV series is available with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive.

Price: $550 from NewEgg

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Dell Inspiron 14R

The Inspiron line has always been a very popular low-price option for students thanks to its plentiful color and configuration options. The 14-inch Inspiron R starts at $579 with a Core i3 CPU.

Price: $479 from Dell

Mid-range: Laptops

Toshiba Portege R705

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

You don't need to look any further than our review of the 13.3-inch Toshiba Portege R705 to understand why we love this laptop for students -- or really anyone under the sun. The 3.2-pound, inch-thick machine is made out of magnesium-alloy, but is light enough to carry to the library, packs a Core i3 processor and has a DVD drive. Also, it's got Intel's wireless display technology for streaming Hulu presentations to the big screen. There's no beating this for $800. See our full review.

Key specs: 2.26GHz Core i3-350M, 4GB RAM, 500 GB hard drive, Intel WiDi.

Price: $799 from Best Buy

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Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Apple MacBook

Apple's 13-incher is a little pricier than the others, but it's hard to look past its NVIDIA graphics, plastic unibody chassis and long battery life -- and you can't really beat the student discount and the free iPod touch!

Price: $999 from Apple (not including discount)

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

HP Touchsmart Tm2t

College ruled notebooks are so two-thousand and late. The Tm2's capacitive, Wacom-enabled 12.1-inch display is perfect for taking notes, but its also got Core i3 power and ATI graphics.

Price: $830 from HP

Money's no object: Laptops

Apple MacBook Pro 15

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Sure, the MacBook Pro 15 topped our list last year too, but there's no doubt this rig continues to be worth the cash. The all-aluminum chassis isn't only tough, but there's no beating the Macbook's backlit keyboard and wide multitouch touchpad. It's also got a speedy new Core i5 processor and NVIDIA graphics to boot. And like the MacBook, Apple's student discount and free iPod touch with purchase sweetens the deal. See our full review.

Key specs: 2.4GHz Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M graphics with 256MB of memory.

Price: $1799 from Apple (without discount)

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Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Envy 14 / 17

HP's new and improved Envys are available with 14- or 17-inch displays, Intel's Core 2010 CPUs, ATI graphics and etched aluminum shells. Need we say more?

Price: Starting at $999 from HP

Engadget's back to school guide Netbooks and laptops

Alienware M15x

Game as much as you study? We figured, which is why we have the 15.4-inch M15x on the list. Oh also, you can turn your dorm room into a rave with the different color backlights.

Price: Starting at $1,199 from Dell

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