There is no more archetypal a small living space than a college dorm. Sure, us New Yorkers have to deal with closet-sized apartments, but next to the squalor of a freshman quad, crashing in the Lowest East Side is living in luxury. Such cramped conditions call for thin and light gadgets. When I was in college, I made the mistake of lugging a mini-tower to my dorm. Big mistake. A laptop not only takes up less precious mini-fridge space, but it can be hauled to classes for mid-lecture notetaking, Minesweeper-playing, and Facebook-squatting. And college campuses are custom-made for the devices. These days, the hallowed halls of higher education are some of the most wired corridors on Earth.
So, here we go. The best cheap laptops for toting to campus. With one exception, we’ve stuck to machines that start at under a grand. After all, college kids are poor and break and lose things. Of course, since virtually all laptops are customizable, all prices are approximate — a few extra gigs of memory or a sweet new HD-DVD drive will boost any price.
You don’t need me to tell you about this one, but Apple makes it simple. The 13-inch MacBook is ridiculously easy to tote, pretty as hell, and shines with just about everything that matters to college kids—movies, music, media editing. Of course, Macs were never known for their games, so get Parallels or Boot Camp if your fragging fingers are feeling frisky. And while it might cost a bit more than a comparably-powered Windows machine (and is the only machine we are featuring with a sticker that tops a grand), a Mac is a virtual vaccination that will keep you free of viruses, which spread through campus computers faster than mono at DTD.
Starts at about $1099
Dell Inspiron 1420: For the Color-Conscience
I still don’t get why people make such a big deal over what color a gadget comes in. But they do, and if you are one of those people, while i won’t pretend to understand what goes through your mind, I will recommend this computer. After all, one of its eight available colors is sure to make you happy. On a more technical note, this computer is a pretty damned good deal. Most configurations clock in under a grand, and it comes with a healthy 160GB hard drive, 2-to-4 gigs of RAM, an okay-sized 14.-inch monitor, and a I-guess-it’s-now-standard Core 2 Duo processor. Also neat: For about 150 more clams, you can get it preloaded with 3G broadband from any of the non-T-Mobile carriers who offer such surfing services. And at 5.9 lbs, you’ll feel it, but it won’t keep you from carrying your psych books either.
Acer Aspire 4710-2013: For The Savvy Shopper
For the cost of a pre-price-cut iPhone, you can get a pretty sweet CPU. I’ve played around with some of Acer’s new laptops a bit and, other than the sheer heft of their up-scale multimedia offerings, have been seriously impressed. Their designs have improved like crazy (this model got some input in that department from BMW Group Designworks USA, although it still doesn’t feature cup holders), and their machines have become incredible values. For just $600, you can get a Core 2 Duo processor, 8x DVD burner on a nice-looking 14.1-inch model. For the money, I’d reckon to say this machine can’t be beat.
Toshiba Satellite P205-S6237: Bonkers For Big Screens
Campus networks are great for sucking up multi-gigabyte flicks. Unfortunately, a small screen means you have to rest the laptop on your body, potentially killing future unborn children from hot drives and seriously cramping your style (and ability to share the silver screen.) This model gives you a 17-inch screen and more-powerful-than-expected speakers for under a grand — a rarity in the computer world. I’ve heard less-than-stellar reports on the system’s benchmarking and battery life, and it doesn’t approach Toshiba’s upmarket Qosmio’s in terms of multimedia prowess, but it also won’t rape your wallet like it’s big brother.
Everex StepNote SA2053T: The Ultra-cheap Ultraportable
Most ultraportable notebooks are ultra expensive. The fact is, cutting heft usually comes at a hefty price. Shave off the weight and the cost by picking up this notebook. At just 3.8lbs, you’ll have no trouble running between lectures with this in your bag. Under the hood, things don’t look so bad either. It’s got a 1.73-GHz Core Duo processor, a 100-gig hard drive. and a DVD burner. And who the hell is Everex? I’m not too sure, but if they keep pumping out machines like this, they could turn themselves into the Vizio of notebooks. And notice the Wild Hogs screenshot. Maybe these guys hang out with Steve Jobs.