Lugging The Right Laptop

You're about to pack Junior off to college, but he'll need more than a pad and clean socks. Here's what to look for in a laptop

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Most laptops come with brawny processors, so we figured five other must-haves into the prices:

A HARD DRIVE WITH AT LEAST 160 GB

That will allow for storage of up to 62,000 photos, 35,000 songs, 90 hours of video—and homework, too.

AT LEAST 1 GB OF MEMORY

For Windows Vista Home Premium, add an extra GB to enhance gaming, digital video editing, and DVD production. Mac OS X users will want it for graphic design software.

WIRED AND WIRELESS NETWORKING

They're essential for connecting to campus networks and external devices such as digital cameras, printers, and stereo headphones. Get Bluetooth as well.

A LARGER-CAPACITY BATTERY

You need it in classrooms or other spots where plugs aren't handy.

AN NVIDIA OR ATI GRAPHICS CARD

For movies, photos, and 3D games.

WHERE TO BUY

Trying to get a great price on a laptop? Your first instinct will be to search online—and you should. But the best deal could be at the campus bookstore or computer shop. Selection will be limited—say four or five models instead of dozens—however prices are usually 15% lower than at a retailer like Best Buy (BBY ) or Circuit City Stores (CC ). Better yet, many campus-based vendors sweeten deals with longer warranties and on-site repairs.

APPLE BLACK MACBOOK

Consumers are ditching their PCs in droves, in part because of the Mac's ease of use and the iPod halo effect. Starting at $1,099, the MacBook offers storage for work and play and software that's easy to learn and use. Grab one before fall, and Apple (AAPL ) is throwing in a $199 rebate for an iPod nano. $1,675 store.apple.com

SCREEN: 12.1 in.

WEIGHT: 4.8 lb.

APPLE MACBOOK PRO

When money is no object, go MacBook Pro. The extra memory and horsepower could come in handy for YouTubers (GOOG ). The Intel (INTC )-based Macs also will get games and a new operating system this year. $2,500 store.apple.com

SCREEN: 13.3 in.

WEIGHT: 4 lb.

HEWLETT-PACKARD PAVILION TX1000

The screen swivels to view files and movies and includes touch technology. Dual headphone jacks let another join the fun. Buy now from HP and get a 15% discount. $1,410 shopping.hp.com

SCREEN: 12 in.

WEIGHT: 5 lb.

DELL XPS M1330

A snazzy backlit LED screen lowers power consumption. Dual headphone jacks, a 2-megapixel Webcam, and a high-definition connector round out the goodies. $2,010 dell.com

SCREEN: 15 in.

WEIGHT: 5.4 lb.

GATEWAY C-120X

A solid performer for productivity and casual gaming. It offers a built-in fingerprint reader but lacks a Webcam and has only two USB slots. $1,800 gateway.com

SCREEN: 13.3 in.

WEIGHT: 5.1 lb.

By Cliff Edwards and Michael Loeb

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