Back-To-School Buyer’s Guide: Desktop Replacements

by Reads (7,543)

Desktop replacement notebooks are those which are portable enough to carry around in a backpack from time to time, but heavy enough to make it cumbersome to do so on a daily basis. These computers tend to offer faster performance than smaller notebooks, and it is rare to find a model which does not offer a high performance dedicated graphics option. Some of these notebooks can be large enough to fill up your entire desk, truly replacing your full-size desktop and monitor. Sizes range between 15" up to 20.1", with prices that start around $500 dollars and go well over $3,000.


Dell Dell XPS M1530 (Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 1.5GHz, 120GB HDD, 2GB RAM)

Dell XPS M1530

The 15.4" Dell M1530 has been sitting at the top of our most popular list since it was released. With styling that makes any head turn, and 3 colors to chose from you can bet it won’t just blend in with the crowd. This feature packed notebook can be loaded with a slot loading Blu-Ray drive, NVIDIA 8600M-GT graphics card with GDDR3 memory, and LED backlit display.

When not taking typing up a research paper you can play the latest games or output your favorite HD movie through HDMI to your big screen TV. With prices starting as low as $999, how can you NOT want to run out and buy it?

View review of the XPS M1530

Lenovo ThinkPad T60

Lenovo ThinkPad T61

The 15.4" Lenovo ThinkPad T61 has long been a favorite for businesses, as well as many thrifty individual computer shoppers. This notebook offers solid performance and nearly indestructible hardware at a price that is right on par with normal consumer notebooks.

If you can get over the boxy design and solid black color the ThinkPad T61 will almost never let you down, even if you accidentally drop it on occasion. Currently prices start as low as $795 on the standard configurations and $1,239 on the mobile workstations.

Buy the ThinkPad T61 direct from Lenovo


HP Pavilion dv6700

Chances are that if you walk into any big-box retail store, if they have one notebook on display it will be the HP dv6500 or dv6700. This notebook has proven to be widely popular with its low starting price, great build quality, and numerous configurations sold in stores.

Models with AMD and Intel processors, integrated graphics or dedicated graphics, and even models with custom artwork on the cover. Expect to see some great deals on this model line right before school starts as many stores phase these models out for the new dv5 series. Prices start at $699 for the dv6700t as well as the dv5t/z.

View review of the dv6700t

View review of the dv5z

HP Pavilion HDX

The 20.1" HP HDX could probably be described as the perfect desktop replacement computer, which can also fold up to look like a notebook. This notebook doesn’t skimp on any feature, with its jaw dropping HD screen, dual hard drives, full-size keyboard, pop-out wireless controller, and optional Blu-ray optical drive. Users don’t even have to worry about an HDMI output, when the notebook screen can take the place of a TV in a small dorm or apartment. Configuration options also include an Intel X9000 processor and NVDIA 8800M-GTS graphics card. Prices start at $1,399 right now… movies and surround sound audio system you need to buy yourself.

View review of the HDX

Apple MacBook Pro

The Apple Macbook Pro is considered one of the most stylish and trendy notebooks to own, and offers quite a punch with impressive hardware specifications. The notebook is offered in 2 sizes, 15.4" and 17", with NVIDIA 8600M GT graphics offered across the board with graphics memory size differences depending on the low-end or high-end configuration.

Details such as glossy or matte LCD screens are also left up to the user, something that some manufacturers don’t let users chose between. Entry price is quite high, starting at $1,999 for the 15" model, and $2,799 for the 17" model, but most say it is worth it.

View review of the MacBook Pro


Dell Studio 17

As the winner of our Editor’s Choice award in June 2008, the 17" Studio notebook is the latest creation from Dell. This stylish notebook offers an impressively stylish design, backlit keyboard, and Blu-ray drive for making use of its beautiful WUXGA screen.

Backing up the awesome design is a durable chassis and high quality feel that lets you know the notebook will live through years of abuse. Performance is very good (depending on configuration) and for the occasional trip to the classroom, the notebook managed 2 hours and 39 minutes of battery life. Prices start at $899 for the 17" model, and $749 for the 15" model.

View review of the Studio 17


Toshiba Satellite A305

The 15.4" Toshiba Satellite A305 offers a fantastic design and a wide range of system options to fit in with almost any personal preference. You can buy the A305 in both Intel and AMD version, multiple types of graphics options including integrated graphics, as well as ATI 3470 and ATI 3650 dedicated graphics with HDMI out. The highest configuration with the ATI 3650 graphics enable you to handle most modern games with ease with a 3DMark06 score of over 3,800. The A305 is also one of the few 15" notebooks that supports dual hard drives for easy expansion and future upgrades. The A305 Intel configurations start at $798, while A305D AMD models start at $699.

View Review for Satellite A305 / A300


The all new 16.4" Sony FW is a different kind of widescreen notebook, one that targeted toward users interested in true HD screens. This includes movie junkies who don’t want to see black bars top and bottom of their favorite flick, or those who just like really wide screens.

With great styling and perks such as the new Centrino 2 platform you are sure to stay ahead of the curve for a while. Just don’t expect to see this notebook in stores or shipping until early August. Prices start at $1,059 which is a bargain for all that you get.

View review of the VAIO FW


The17" Asus M70s screams mobile entertainment, with its onboard Blu-ray player, WUXGA high resolution display, and built-in subwoofer. Users looking to replace a desktop will be glad to see they aren’t skimping in any category, including storage, where the M70s provides 1TB of space for movies and music.

The included Blu-ray player and subwoofer allow a great movie experience, no matter if you are in a dorm room with friends or in the backseat of a car on a road-trip. Depending on the vender and configurations offered, expect to spend at least $1,500.

View review of the M70s


Gateway M-152XL

The 15.4" Gateway M-152XL is a notebook aiming right at the consumers interested in the HP dv6700 or Toshiba A300 notebooks. It offers similar design elements with a brightly colored gloss plastic screen cover and aluminum trim to contrast the high gloss finishes found on other notebooks.

Performance is almost at a dead heat with the Toshiba A305, but faster than the HP dv6700, which doesn’t offer a high-end graphics card that can compete with the ATI HD 2600. Prices currently start at $699 for models with integrated graphics, or $1,099 for models with the ATI HD 2600 dedicated graphics.

View review of the M152XL


Keep in mind this list doesn’t represent every desktop replacement notebook currently on the market. Our back-to-school guides are designed to highlight a few laptops we believe appeal to a wide range of students (and their parents).  

Remember, to get advice on which notebook to buy don’t just go with what’s popular, visit our What Notebook Should I Buy for School forum to ask what everyone else thinks you should buy based on your needs. 



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