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Four "Feature-Rich" Notebook Computers That Won't Break the Bank

Written By: Jake Coffin

November 2014

With the holidays right around the corner you may be doing some shopping for electronics, namely notebooks, laptops, or tablet devices. There is a lot of variety in features, components, and platforms that can shape your decision, but one of the big factors for a lot of us is price. Here, I've done some research and created a list of notebooks that will be a little easier on your wallet and won't break the bank.

All of these notebooks are quality machines, but it is always a good idea to get a feel for a product, in person, before you buy. You might want to check your local retailers to see if they have the models below on display so you can get a hands-on demo of the product.

Each of the machines listed here will be fine for word processing, surfing the web, watching/ streaming movies or TV shows, and making PowerPoint presentations. You can find systems with higher specs for around these prices, but they are usually from lower end manufacturers containing less quality components. These are all brands that have a good reputation for quality, and the specific models below have all received good reviews from various publications.



I will be focusing on productivity-based use (education/business), so if you are looking for a high-end system for intense gaming, encoding, rendering, American made, etc., then you may want to explore other options. Back in the USA has a number of vendors that fall into the "electronics" category. Two of these companies specialize in the manufacturing of Made in the USA computers:

  • Lotus-Based out of Florida, Lotus builds American made Notebook Computers and Desktop Computers for consumers, the government, small businesses, and large offices.
  • Puget Systems-Based out of Washington, Puget Systems specializes in custom built desktop computers, laptop computers, servers, and HPC workstations.

First, a couple notes on components:

  • Optical Drives (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drives) – You will have to decide if this is something you need. I use flash drives or email when I need to transfer to another machine, and I download most everything else. None of the systems below has an optical drive, so if this is a requirement, you may want to look at other options, or consider using an external drive.
  • Solid State Drives – These are drives that use flash memory instead of traditional hard drives that spin. They have fewer problems with data corruption, bad sectors, etc., and offer a pretty large performance boost in the speed of accessing data. It is really noticeable when booting up or accessing large files, but will not affect processing power (complex equations in excel, rendering graphics, etc.). The downside is that they are quite expensive, so you will end up either paying a lot for large capacity drives, or about the same for smaller capacity.

Now that we have covered some component issues…on to the list:

Apple MacBook Air MD760LL/B - $925

Back in the USA Article:  Four
Apple MacBook Air MD760LL/B - $925

I’ll be up front here. I have never been a huge fan of Apple computers. I like iTunes. I like my iPod. I am a PC enthusiast at heart, though. I realize that not everyone has this bias, so I am putting this little guy right at the top of the list. It is the only Apple product on the list, however there is also an 11-inch model available with similar specs. If you are a fan of Apple products, then this is pretty much the best model under $1,000. It’s a smaller sized laptop, at 13 inches, and only weighs 3 pounds. It comes with Mac OS X Mavericks. This is what you want if you desire a machine that has a decent amount of power in a compact package with an Apple OS. It is important to note that this is the only laptop on the list that does not have a touchscreen, and it does not support ‘2-i- 1’ versatility. The Intel i5 processor provides plenty of power for basic computing needs and the 128GB SSD drive supplies a moderate amount of space to store your data. Small and light, this system should deliver the Apple experience at a reasonable price.

  • i5 1.4/2.7GHz
  • 4 GB DDR
  • 128 GB SSD
  • 13 in LED LCD
  • 12 hour battery life



ASUS Transformer Book T100TAM-C1-GM - $359, $399, $469

Back in the USA Article:  Four
ASUS Transformer Book T100TAM-C1-GM - $359, $399, $469

This is a Windows ‘2-in-1’ with a detachable screen that can be used as a tablet or a laptop (this might be handy for showing someone your pictures/slideshows and definitely for reading digital books). With only a 10.1-inch screen, it is lighter than the MacBook at 2.6 pounds, but also has a less powerful processor, less ram, and less SSD capacity. The plus sides are that it is smaller and easier to tote around, and it’s extremely economical…with the 64GB version that comes with an extra 500GB external drive for storage only running $469. It comes with Windows 8.1, and a full version Microsoft Office 2013. This is the choice if you want something extremely compact that can serve as a laptop, a tablet, or an E-reader, at reasonable price. The emphasis here is definitely on versatility and not power. The specs listed below are for the most expensive package.

  • Intel Atom 1.46 GHz
  • 2GB DDR3
  • 64 GB SSD
  • 500 GB External HDD
  • 10.1 Touchscreen LCD
  • 11 hour battery life

Dell Inspiron i3147-3750sLV - $399

Back in the USA Article:  Four
Dell Inspiron i3147-3750sLV - $399

This is another Windows ‘2-in-1,’ but instead of detaching, the screen folds behind the keyboard to transfer into tablet form. This also has a larger screen than the transformer, at 11.6 inches. It has more RAM, and a larger capacity hard drive (500GB), though it is not an SSD. The two CPUs are comparable, but the Transformer’s Atom CPU is slightly more powerful. The Inspiron is also a little heavier at 3.07 pounds. If you like the idea of the Transformer, but want to forgo the SSD and not have to fiddle with an external hard drive, then this is a good choice.

  • Pentium 2.16 GHz
  • 4GB DDR3
  • 500GB HDD
  • 11.6 LCD
  • 7.5 hour battery life

Toshiba - Radius 2-in-1 15.6" Touch-Screen - $799

Back in the USA Article:  Four
Toshiba - Radius 2-in-1 15.6" Touch-Screen - $799

At first glance, the Radius looks like a more traditional Windows laptop. With a 15 inch screen, a 750GB HDD (not SSD), and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, this system should outperform anything previously listed; but again, there is no SSD. The keyboard on this model also folds behind the keyboard to double as a tablet. As the largest notebook on the list, the fact that it has the ‘2-in-1’ capability, is a surprising feature. Being the only full sized (15 inch+) notebook on the list, this is also the only one that offers a full sized keyboard with a 10-key number pad.

  • i5 1.7/2.7GHz
  • 8 GB DDR3
  • 750 GB HDD
  • 15.6 Touchscreen LCD
  • 8.5 hour battery life

Okay, now that you're armed with some valuable information about some options for electronics, let's get shopping. Don't forget to check out the electronics section on the Back in the USA website.


Other Articles of Interest:

Elio Motors-A New Class of Car (Or Motorcycle)

Tesla: The Enemy Within

The Sharing Economy: The Information Age Brings Back the "We"

Keep on Truckin'—Vehicles That Last Over 200,000 Miles



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