Back-to-school laptops: Best Buy exclusives reviewed

As back-to-school deals flood the market, PC World looks at four fixed-configuration laptops available only at Best Buy.

You see them in the Sunday newspaper circulars: one amazing laptop deal after another. In coming weeks, we'll be picking up preconfigured notebook PCs from various major electronics stores -- just as you might -- and giving them an honest once-over.

For starters, we've tested four notebooks from Best Buy's Next Class lineup: the Dell Studio 14z, the HP dv4-1465dx, the Sony VAIO VGN-NW125J, and the Toshiba Satellite M505-S4940. These four machines range in price from $650 to $800, and all court the back-to-school crowd. But what kind of report cards will they bring home?

Of the four laptops in this batch, Dell's Studio 14z is easily the most powerful and the best all-around choice for a student's day-to-day needs. It's my favorite because it has a snazzy screen and a proper discrete GPU (nVidia's GeForce 9400M). Those advantages should win over students who need a little multimedia kick -- and a platform for playing games in their off-hours.

Just bear in mind that it doesn't have an optical drive (you'll have to grab an external drive separately) or a card slot for flash memory (a pain if you want to plug in a camera's memory card). Smart shoppers should be advised, too, that they can get a configurable 14z directly from Dell for a lower starting price.

As for the other laptops in this cohort, Toshiba wins for awesome audio; Sony's large, widescreen system looks good from a distance (and offers plenty of ports); and HP's Pavilion dv4 is a meaty all-in-one machine that rates as a pretty good value overall.

Next: Dell Studio 14z review

Do you want to see more in-store comparison stories like this? What particular retail chain's laptops would you like me to look at next? Let me know!

This story, "Back-to-school laptops: Best Buy exclusives reviewed" was originally published by PCWorld .

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