Back-to-school buying season is underway.
"The month before school starts is bargain time for notebook buyers with lots of new models and heavy discounting," says Stephen Baker, vice president at NPD for industry analysis.
Students (or parents of students) who intend to buy a new Windows 8-based laptop will probably be looking for one with a touch screen. Although Microsoft's latest operating system is useable with keyboard-only systems (and the latest version, Windows 8.1, makes that even easier), a touch screen is a definite plus. And while laptops with touch screens tend to be expensive, there are some entry-level systems out there that can be had for a reasonable price.
To see how far the laptop-buying dollar could be stretched, I looked at two new and relatively inexpensive models: the Asus VivoBook V400CA and the HP Pavilion TouchSmart 14z Sleekbook. Each of these laptops costs under $600, yet they have a surprising array of amenities, from mid-range processors and plenty of RAM to spacious hard drives and free online storage.
In order to keep the price low, each vendor has made some compromises. For instance, HP's TouchSmart 14z offers one of the latest quad-core AMD processors, but comes with a traditional 500GB hard drive. By contrast, Asus' VivoBook V400CA has a second-generation Intel Core i3 dual-core processor but beefs it up with a hybrid drive that combines a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB SSD.
Regardless of how they get to their price, these two machines offer a lot for a little. This may only be just the start for inexpensive touch-screen systems, though. Before he retired earlier this year, during a discussion of Intel's earnings for the first quarter of 2013, CEO Paul Otellini predicted that by the end of the year there could be $200 touch notebooks available.
That would leave a lot more money left over for students to get books, clothes and other necessaries for the upcoming school year. (Watch for Computerworld's back-to-school tech guide, coming soon.)
What follows are the facts about — and my opinion of — these two low-cost but good-quality touch-screen Windows 8 laptops.
2 touch laptops: Product specs
The Asus VivoBook V400CA excels at delivering an enviable mix of performance and features. At about $540 - $590, it is a real back-to-school value.
The system's black-and-silver case measures 13.3 x 9.4 in., making it slightly narrower than the TouchSmart. When closed, the slim system is 0.9 in. high in front and a tenth of an inch higher at the rear; it slides into and out of a backpack without a problem.
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