2 Windows 8 touchscreen laptops for tight budgets

Just in time for the back-to-school crowd: If you don't want to spend much on a new laptop but need a touchscreen, try one of these under-$600 systems.

Back-to-school shopping season is underway.

"The month before school starts is bargain time for notebook buyers, with lots of new models and heavy discounting," says Stephen Baker, an analyst at market research firm NPD.

Students (or parents of students) who intend to buy a new Windows 8 laptop will probably be looking for one with a touchscreen. Although Microsoft's latest operating system is useable with keyboard-only systems (and the latest version, Windows 8.1, makes that even easier), a touchscreen is a definite plus. And while laptops with touchscreens tend to be expensive, there are some entry-level systems that can be had for a reasonable price.

To see how far the laptop-buying dollar could be stretched, I looked at two new and relatively inexpensive models: the Asus VivoBook V400CA and the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 14z Sleekbook. These laptops both cost less than $600, but they both have a surprising array of amenities, from midrange processors and plenty of RAM to spacious hard drives and free online storage.

Making compromises

In order to keep the price low, each vendor has made some compromises. For instance, HP's TouchSmart 14z offers one of the latest quad-core AMD processors, but it comes with a traditional 500GB hard drive. In contrast, the Asus VivoBook V400CA has a second-generation Intel Core i3 dual-core processor but beefs it up with a hybrid drive that combines a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB solid-state drive.

Regardless of what the vendors did to keep the prices in check, these two machines offer a lot for a little. This may be just the start for inexpensive touchscreen systems, though. Before he retired as Intel's CEO earlier this year, Paul Otellini -- during a discussion of Intel's earnings for the first quarter of 2013 -- predicted that touchscreen notebooks could be available for as little as $200 by the end of the year.

That would leave a lot more money left over for students to get books, clothes and other necessaries for the upcoming school year. (Watch for Computerworld's back-to-school tech guide, coming soon.)

What follows are the facts about -- and my opinion of -- these two low-cost but good-quality touchscreen Windows 8 laptops.

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Two touch laptops: Product specs

Asus VivoBook V400CA HP Pavilion TouchSmart 14z Sleekbook
Processor 1.4GHz Intel Core i3 2365M 1.5GHz AMD A4-5000
Measurements (WxD) 13.3 x 9.4 in. 13.6 x 9.4 in.
Max. height 1.0 in. 0.9 in.
Weight 4.1 lb. 4.7 lb.
Display size 14 in. 14 in.
Display resolution 1366 x 768 1366 x 768
Graphics Intel HD 3000 Graphics AMD Radeon HD 8330
RAM installed/Max capable 4GB/8GB 4GB/8GB
Storage 500GB HD/24GB SSD 500GB HD
Ports 1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, audio, SD card 2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, audio, SD card
Connectivity Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth
Operating system Windows 8 Windows 8
Warranty 1 year 1 year
Price $540 to $590 $450
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