HP Pavilion G6-1301
The G6 is a solidly built, smart-looking laptop that shows few obvious signs of cost-cutting. The dual-core AMD E2-3000M processor only runs at 1.8GHz, but does include an integrated Radeon HD6380 GPU to help with graphics and video performance, and you get a healthy 6GB memory and 750GB hard disk. Battery life is also above average in this category, rated at a maximum of five hours.
In fact, the only things I dislike are actually down to some odd design decisions rather than cost-cutting compromises. The keyboard is relatively narrow and feels a bit cramped, and the trackpad lies flush with the wrist-rest panel and is almost invisible. You'll no doubt get used to these foibles over time and if style and storage are high on your list, then this Pavilion should satisfy, although that AMD processor might leave you wanting more horsepower from HP.
Reg Rating 75%
More info HP
Lenovo doesn’t make it easy to find out about its laptops, providing little information on its own web site and selling different specs and configurations through different retailers. The G570 model on sale at PC World only has a Core i3 processor, but we managed to track down this model with a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, along with 4GB memory and 500GB hard disk for a competitive £399.97 – yup, just scraping in at under £400.
Admittedly, the G570 isn’t particularly exciting to look at, but it’s solidly built and has a large, comfortable keyboard, an important consideration for that 20,000 word dissertation. The screen could be a little brighter in order to improve the viewing angle a bit, but that’s nit-picking at this price. At around 2.5kg it's a bit on the weighty side, but it should survive some rough treatment and ticks all the right boxes.
Reg Rating 85%
More info Lenovo
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My advice would be to rummage through the bargain bins at your local PC outlet (or virtually) and buy last year's model. There's very little difference in spec, and you should be able to get comparable performance for <<£300. Look for a 4GB system with a free memory slot - a 4GB SODIMM costs just over £10 and is generally the best and simplest performance boost.
Don't forget to reinstall your preferred OS to eliminate all the bloatware the manufacturers love to load these babies with. You really don't need a 6-month 'free' trial of McAfee AV.
Ultrabook = ultra profit. It's Intel trying to convince everyone to spend more.
Unless your wanting to play 3D games then even the cheapest new laptops you can buy these days will do the stuff most people want to do, internet, email, photo editiing, streaming videos, office, can even do video editing just not as fast as the more expensive laptops.
The comment about one of the laptops only having 3Gb of RAM? I am using a laptop with 'only' 2GB and i can't remember the last time i had a problem with low memory, even with thunderbird, libreoffice and firefox with about 10 tabs open
I find an SSD is the single most effective performance upgrade at work. I've got 1 and 2 GB RAM single core laptops that are outperforming £1K+ laptops simply by swapping the HD for an SSD.
Higher Quality Kit For Cheap
I also agree about the second hand laptop for kidlets going off to school. Given the condition of the machines that come through the door of our shop for emergency repair work through the school year on the weekend.
Better yet - make the kids pay for the machine and repairs out of their own money cause chances are your going to slop down the better part of tuition and boarding for them anyways.
Pick up something like an old stock or refurbished Acer TimelineX or Thinkpad X200 series on the cheap - toss in the cheapest SSD you can get your hands on, pick up a handflul of the back to school thumbdrives that float around for next to nothing and you'll have a fairly strong runner that you (or they) won't have to worry too much about.
Plus with a slighly older laptop you have a good idea of relability over time - tons of reviews - known bugs/design flaws - compaitibility with certain things.
If going to school is anything like back when I went - its all about the drinking and the ladies anyways then bashing out homework at a coffee shop on the morning it is due through the haze of a hangover or best case while still drunk.