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5 budget laptops for college students: We name the best

Michael Brown | Aug. 20, 2013
Being a cash-strapped student requires making a few hardware compromises, but a nice notebook is still within reach.

All work and no play makes for a boring lifestyle, but you'll want to stick with casual games on this computer. We dialed BioShock Infinite's resolution down to 1024 by 768 and its image quality to Low, and Acer's laptop still managed to render the game at no better than a sluggish 25 frames per second. Intel has made strides with its integrated graphics, but its Intel HD Graphics 4400 still isn't up to snuff for hardcore gaming. Even so, its gaming score beat everything else in the field (aside from our reference notebook).

Connectivity and conclusion

The Aspire E1-572-6870 offers a gigabit ethernet connection for occasions when you can plug into a network, and a Qualcomm Atheros AR956x dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter for times when you can't. The laptop also has a Bluetooth 4.0 + HS adapter to support theoretical data-transfer speeds of up to 24 mbps, though the only good application I've ever found for Bluetooth is streaming audio).

Acer provides an HDMI-out for connecting the computer to digital displays and TVs, and a VGA output for older monitors and video projectors (the latter could come in very handy in classrooms and conference rooms, which tend to have vintage equipment). The system also has three USB ports, but only one of them is USB 3.0. The included memory card reader supports only SD Card.

i enjoyed using Acer's Aspire E1-572-6870. The machine is blessedly quiet, and it delivered a respectable 4 hours of battery life (middle-of-the-pack performance in this roundup).


  • Haswell-class CPU
  • Bright 15.6-inch display
  • Relatively lightweight
  • Dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter


  • No touchscreen
  • Lots of flex in the chassis and lid
  • Just one USB 3.0 port

Bottom line

You won't get everything in a 15.6-inch notebook priced below $600, but Acer made nearly all the right compromises to get to that price point.


4 stars

Dell Latitude 3330

If someone tells you "Dude! You're gettin' a Dell!" in reference to the Latitude 3330, run away. Dell makes plenty of good computers, but this isn't one of them.

Admittedly, the Latitude 3330 didn't burst into flames or poke anyone's eye out during our testing. But you have many better choices in the same price range. Though one of the five budget notebooks in this roundup (HP's Pavilion TouchSmart 11z-e000) delivered even lower performance than this one--probably because it has an even less powerful CPU than the Dell's 1.5GHz Intel Core i3-2375m--the HP also costs $110 less than the Latitude 3330 and has a ten-point touchscreen. The Dell's 13.3-inch, 1366-by-768-pixel display doesn't support touch, though its trackpad does support simple gestures such as two-finger scrolling.

The Latitude has only 4GB of DDR/1600 memory, but an open and readily accessible slot accommodates a second module to double its memory. Its puny 320GB, 5400-rpm hard drive is similarly easy to access and upgrade. And this is one of only two notebooks in our roundup to include a removable and upgradable battery (the other one again being the HP Pavilion).


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