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So, it’s time for a new laptop. Whether you’re looking for a back-to-school machine or a new notebook for your next deployment, you couldn’t pick a better time to be on the hunt.
The rise of the tablet and a lukewarm reception for operating system Windows 8, have conspired to drop laptop prices into record territory.
Indeed, tech analysts say, sales of iPads and other tabs are poised to eclipse the sales of laptops within the next few months. Meanwhile, however, a new breed of hybrid machines is blurring the line between the two.
It’s not hard to find prices under $300 now for bare-bones laptops, and even the high-end machines are often hundreds of dollars less than just a year ago.
“This summer you’ll be able to score some extraordinary laptop deals at Black Friday-like prices,” say the industry watchers at DealNews. “And with new back-to-school sales surfacing each week, laptop deals are bound to break records.”
Here are five machines available right now for under $800:
Living in the cloud: Samsung Chromebook
Price: $249 for Wi-Fi, $330 for Verizon 3G
If you’re comfortable with keeping everything on the cloud and can’t get enough of all things Google, or just want a low-cost, nearly disposable second machine for Web browsing and bouncing around town, the Samsung Chromebook could be your best bet.
Running Google’s browser-based Chrome operating system on an 11.6-inch 1366x768 display and with more than six hours of battery life, Chromebook gets high marks for performance, better than comparable tablets.
But just to be clear, this is not something you can load up with anything other than Google’s suite of apps.
In fact, it has only a 16GB on-board drive — yes, that’s its hard drive, not its RAM. But it comes with two years of free 100GB Google Drive space online. That’s still not a lot, but you can always tap into more storage with an external drive through one of the machine’s two USB ports.
“This is simply a relatively cheap, durable laptop that you can leave around the house and that anyone can log onto as needed. It’s also thin and light enough to toss in your backpack, making it a great option for students who need a simple computer for doing their homework,” say Wired magazine’s reviewers.
Ultraportable: Toshiba Portege R930
Price: starting at $749
Like it or not, Windows 8 was made for touching. Taking a page from app-centered smart phone displays, Microsoft’s latest OS takes all that touchy-feelyness to the PC screen.
The Portege gets high marks for doing that well with its bright 10-point multitouch 13.3-inch 1366x768 resolution display, in a sleek ultrabook package that won’t break the bank.
For those who haven’t walked down the laptop isle recently, “Ultrabook” is Intel’s new marketing tag to set apart higher-end laptops with profiles similar to the Apple’s Macbook Air.
Weighing in at 2.5 pounds, the Portege packs a lot into its 0.63-inch-thick magnesium alloy chassis with three USB ports (one USB 3.0), HDMI, 1GB Ethernet, card reader, 1.3-megapixel webcam, Bluetooth 4.0 and an RGB port for an external monitor.
With the baseline model installed with a Core i3 dual core processor, 6GB of DDR3 memory and a high-speed 128GB solid state drive, it gets just under six hours of runtime in battery tests.
No-petting workhorse: Dell Inspiron 17-3721
Rather not gunk up your screen with your dirty paws? Dell’s no-frills workhorse doesn’t have the speed or grace of the more fancy racehorses out there, but its 17.3-inch 1,600x900 no-touchy display gives you plenty of room to roam.
With four USB ports — two of them the latest USB 3.0 — an HDMI connection, and 8x multicard readers and Ethernet, you’ve got plenty of plug-in options. And if you still want to burn discs or watch a DVD downrange, this is one of the few you’ll find still equipped with an optical drive.
Weighing in just under 6 pounds with about 3.5 hours of battery life, it has an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive along with a bare-bones 1-megapixel webcam.
And that’s about it. No Bluetooth, no backlit keys, no 1080p display.
Still, PC Magazine recently gave this model its Editor’s Choice award for budget laptops.
“It’s a true home and student workhorse PC for about the same price as a tablet, which makes it attractive to users who need Windows program compatibility plus a real keyboard,” PC Magazine says.
Pure flexibility: Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S
Price: Starting at $749
The Yoga 11s, which just hit shelves in late June, is the laptop-tablet hybrid that has everyone buzzing.
Befitting its name, the Yoga starts as a conventional laptop and folds completely backward into a tablet or can be propped up into “tent mode” as its own stand. It has a surprisingly solid yet lightweight feel.
Unlike its predecessor, the Yoga13 — which runs a stripped-down Windows RT — the 11S sports the full Windows 8 operating system on its 11.6-inch 1366x768 high-def 10-point multitouch screen with about six hours of battery life.
While tipping the scales at just over 3 pounds, the Yoga is heavy compared to even the fattest tablets. But CNET reviewers still gave it their “Best iPad Alternative” award, while describing it as a “useful hybrid that doesn’t forget it’s a laptop first.”
“Of all the different ways to create a hybrid, Lenovo’s Yoga method is arguably the best, especially if you’re interested in a no-compromise laptop experience. It’s certainly better than the older rotating-center-hinge design, which acted as a single potential weak point in many hybrids,” CNET says.
Downside: At least for now, the Yoga does not sport the new Haswell processor, which boosts both battery life and graphics performance.
Get your game on: Asus G46VW
Price: starting at $799
To keep up with the latest titles, a good gaming machine needs a blazing fast processor and a dedicated graphics card. While it’s usually hard to find that in notebooks for under $1,000, the generically named Asus G46VW delivers at prices just starting to dip under $800.
Sporting a speedy Core i7 processor, with a 6MB L3 cache, 8GB DDR3 memory and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M graphics card with 2GB dedicated video memory, this machine packs plenty of gaming punch, along with 750GB of storage. Weighing in at 5.5 pounds, the machine sports a 14-inch 1366x768 display.
The backlit keyboard will keep you on target during all-nighters, and the built-in 1-megapixel webcam will keep you connected while coordinating the next raid.