Solid $500 Laptops

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Know What You Need

Before you click to buy any budget system, make sure it will be able to do what you require. Although spending more money is exactly what vendors hope you'll do, you really are better off paying up front to get as much computing power as you need. You may not have to spend too much more, however.

For example, by spending $50 more to get the Dell Inspiron 6000, we got a one-year warranty, a 40GB hard drive, and a 15.4-inch LCD screen, compared with the Inspiron 1200's 90-day warranty, 30GB hard drive, and 14.1-inch LCD. As in our case with Dell, you may have to look at the next model up to get the features you want. Some vendors sell only fixed laptop configurations, with few or no options to upgrade before you buy.

Also, consider whether you really need a portable computer. Though prices for cheap laptops and cheap desktops are almost the same, you'll still get far more performance for your buck with a discount desktop. A $450 HP Compaq Presario SR1420NX Minitower ships with a 2.93-GHz Intel Celeron D CPU, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a nine-in-one integrated media card reader, and a DVD±RW drive. You'll have to add $100 for a 17-inch CRT display or $200 for an equivalent-size LCD monitor, though.

At a Glance
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