Sub-$400 laptops for sale

It's the back-to-school sales season and some well-equipped laptops are now available for under US$400. The laptops have between 11.6-inch and 15.6-inch screens and are capable of Web surfing, casual gaming and playback of high-definition movies. Some sub-$400 laptops include Advanced Micro Device's new Fusion processors or Intel's previous generation of Core processors, which were popular at this time last year.

But if you are looking for faster performance and have cash to spare, laptops priced starting at $500 offer top-level performance and include the latest components. These laptops typically include AMD's new A-series chips or Intel's latest Core processors, which are based on the latest Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. There are also sub-$300 netbooks available with smaller screens, but they have slower application and graphics performance.

The HP Pavilion DM1z

A good laptop, especially for those who need a lightweight machine at a budget price, is Hewlett-Packard's $399 Pavilion DM1z. The laptop is sized like a netbook with an 11.6-inch screen, but is faster at running programs and graphics. The laptop also offers long battery life, which PC World measured at six hours and 40 minutes. The laptop has AMD's dual-core E-350 processor, which combines a Radeon graphics processor and a CPU in one chip. The graphics performance on the laptop is great, but the CPU doesn't match up to Intel's latest Core processor. The DM1z is light at 3.52 pounds (1.6 kilograms) and brings solid value for its low price.

For a larger screen, HP's Pavilion DM3T may be worth considering. But with Intel's Pentium U5400 processor, its graphics capabilities will be inferior to the DM1z.

HP also uses Sandy Bridge processors in many Pavilion and Envy laptops, with screen sizes starting at 14 inches and prices starting at $500.

Other inexpensive AMD laptops

Some other Fusion-based laptops include the $329 Toshiba Satellite C650D-BT4N11, which comes with a 15.6-inch screen and AMD's 1GHz dual-core C-50 processor. Wal-Mart is selling an Acer AS5253-BZ602 laptop with a 15.6-inch screen and the E-350 chip. Laptops with 15.6-inch screens are less portable and may be better as desktop replacements.

Inspiron 14R

Dell's Inspiron 14R is priced starting at $399 and comes with Intel's previous-generation Core processor. At around 4.96 pounds, the laptop is not as light as HP's DM1z and the Core i3-380M chip may not be as fast as Sandy Bridge processors. Dell said the laptop provides about five hours of battery life, but PC World measured it at three hours. The larger screen also plays a role in draining battery, but at $399, the feature-rich laptop isn't too bulky and has capable application and graphics performance.

Dell is also selling a configurable Inspiron 14R laptop with Sandy Bridge processors starting at $549.99. A cheaper Sandy Bridge laptop option would be the Inspiron 15R, which has a 15.6-inch screen, and is priced starting at $499.99.

Dell's Ubuntu laptop

Dell's $399 Vostro V130 laptop has some impressive features including a brilliant 13.3-inch WLED screen, but it does not run Microsoft's Windows 7 OS. The laptop comes with Ubuntu Linux, but it is possible to buy Windows 7 separately to load on the PC. The laptop is thin and does not include a DVD drive. The V130 comes with Intel's latest ultra-low-voltage Celeron U3600 processor, which should provide capable performance for Linux enthusiasts to perform daily tasks. At $399, you get 2GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive and a six-cell battery. Battery life for the laptop was not provided.

New AMD Llano laptops

Laptops from Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Samsung and Acer priced between $500 and $700 with AMD's latest A-series Fusion processors are available through online stores. Wal-Mart has an HP Pavilion g6-1b60us laptop priced at $549 with a dual-core A4-3300M processor, 15.6-inch screen, 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory. Wal-Mart is also selling the $548 Toshiba Satellite L755D-S5204 with the same AMD processor, a 15.6-inch screen, 4GB of RAM and a 640GB drive.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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