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Students might be on a tight budget, but let's face it: They also make up a sizeable amount of PC gamers. If you have the money to make sure you can frag when you're not studying, Dell's new Alienware 14 strikes the right balance between portability and gaming chops. It weighs in at a little over 6 pounds, which is hardly svelte compared to an Ultrabook, but far from the brick that gaming notebooks used to be. Starting at $1,199, the Alienware 14 gives you an Intel Core i7-4700MQ Haswell processor, 8GB of RAM, 750GB hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics card. For an extra $100 you can increase the resolution of the 14-inch screen from 1,366x768 to 1,920x,1080, and of course, you can spend even more for additional RAM, a solid-state drive instead of a hard drive, a better graphics card, and so on.
There's plenty of debate over whether you should consider a Chromebook for your primary laptop, but students, with their limited budgets and familiarity with storing everything digital in the Cloud, can't dismiss it out of hand. For just $249, you can get Samsung's version that runs Google's Chrome operating system. While the specs are paltry -- 2GB of RAM, a mere 16GB hard drive -- that's beside the point if you just want to take notes, write papers, and surf the Web. ZDNet's James Kendrick calls the Samsung Chromebook the "best $249 you can spend." Use the money you save on textbooks or some posters to liven your dorm room walls.
HP 2000 series
If you want a dirt-cheap Windows laptop, HP's 2000 family of portables can be purchased for as low as $300. Instead of relying on Intel, the lowest-cost 2000 notebooks use AMD's E series processors, though other, slightly pricier models use Pentium or Core i3 CPUs. Even if it doesn't deliver maximum computing punch, the HP 2000 lineup still comes with 4GB of RAM, at least 320GB of hard drive space, and a 15.6-inch screen for a budget price.