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Bargain Notebooks: What to Look For


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bargain_notebooksThese days, it's easy to find mainstream notebooks for far less than $550, sometimes even less than $450. You won't get the latest features in such a bargain system, but you will get a full-fledged computer you can use for years if you choose wisely.

Here are the minimum specs you should look for in a bargain notebook:

Processor: Any dual core processor should provide adequate performance. Avoid single-core CPUs such as the Intel Celeron or the Atom N270. You should also be able to get a clock speed of 2.0 GHz or above, but anything 1.8 GHz or higher will do.

RAM: You should be able to get at least 2GB of RAM, preferably 3GB. The more RAM you have, the less time your computer will spend spinning its hard drive as it swaps memory to disk.

Hard Drive: Anything with a size of 160GB or more should suit the needs of anyone, but the most avid movie-downloader. More important than hard drive capacity is speed. Most systems in this price range will sport reasonably-peppy 5,400 rpm drives, but if you have the chance to get a 7,200 rpm model, jump at it. You'll wait less time for programs to load.

Screen Size: Most bargain notebooks come with 15.4-inch screens, but occasionally you'll find a good deal on a 14.1-inch system (for example, the Gateway T-series pictured at right). If portability is important to you, go for the smaller size to save on weight and bulk.

Screen Resolution: At this price, chances are you'll be getting 1280x800 resolution.

Operating System: In this price range, you'll definitely be getting a Windows machine, but take a careful look at which version of Windows Vista you're getting. Stay away from systems sporting Vista Home Basic, which lacks many basic features (ex: the Aero glass special effects) and go for a system with Vista Home Premium.

Wi-Fi: 802.11g Wi-Fi is more than sufficient for all your Web surfing needs. It's nice, but not necessary to get the faster 802.11n systems.

Weight: To get such a low-priced system, you normally have to compromise on weight and accept a bulkier system. Anything below 6 pounds should be considered acceptable, though you ought to be able to get something that is less than 5.5 pounds. If you can get something less than 5 pounds, go for it.

Optical Drive: Every system in this price range comes with an optical drive. At the very least you'll be able to get a DVD-ROM / CD-RW drive that will let you read any kind of DVD, while reading/writing CDs. If you can get a drive capable of burning DVDs, consider it a bonus, but not a requirement.


The following features are useful, but not required. Consider them a bonus.

  • Memory Card Reader: You can buy an external memory card reader for 10 dollars or less, but it's a great convenience to have one built-in.

  • Bluetooth: If you plan to pair your notebook with wireless headsets, speakers, or your cell phone, you can always buy a USB bluetooth adapter, but it helps to have one inside.

  • Webcam: If you want to make video calls, you'll need a webcam. If not, you don't need one.

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