Freshman year of college may no longer be the gateway to the magical world of laptop ownership, but even if you already have a notebook, who can resist a new machine in the spirit of starting fresh when September rolls around? Whether you're looking for a Core i5 companion to get you through semesters of paper-writing, Facebooking and WoWing, or a super-sleek centerpiece to your bare-bones dorm, there's a vast playing field of machines to choose from. While sifting through the countless options would surely get you back in the academic research frame of mind, it's a daunting task. We're here to take some of the work off your plate with nine solid mainstream laptops that should satisfy every budget.
On the cheap

Sony VAIO E Series

Sony's VAIO E Series is available in 11.6-, 14- and 15.5-inch flavors, all of which sport a new "wrap design" that reminds us of a notebook (the pen and paper kind). Though the E Series got the Ivy Bridge refresh, the $450 11-incher runs an AMD E2-1800 CPU, and the entry-level 14-inch model offers an Intel Pentium chip. All models feature a standard 1,366 x 768 display, though you can trick out the two larger sizes with backlit keyboards.
Key specs: 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, dual-core 1.7GHz AMD E2-1800, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB, 5,400RPM hard drive.
Price: $450 and up on Amazon
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HP Pavilion dv6
Non-Intel CPUs have a happy home in the budget-laptop space, and HP's new dv6 lineup gives AMD some love in the base configuration. For $550, you get a dual-core A6-4400M processor clocked at 2.6GHz, though stepping up to pricier models earns you Ivy Bridge insides. All configurations benefit from Beats Audio, and the understated design with chrome accents is one of our favorites in the Pavilion series.
$550 and up on Amazon
Samsung Series 3
So the Samsung Series 3 didn't get the Ivy Bridge upgrade this time around -- it simply stepped up to Sandy Bridge processors -- but the notebook does have a sleek design with brushed-chrome trim, and it's far from ill-equipped when it comes to other specs. The line is highly customizable, offering Pentium processors all the way up to Core i7, and storage ranges from 320GB up to 1TB.
$450 and up on Amazon


Toshiba Satellite P850-BT2N22

The P in Toshiba's Satellite P line stands for "premium," and the 15.6-inch P850 does boast a lovely Champagne Silver etched-aluminum design and Harman Kardon audio rather than the SRS technology found on its C and L Series counterparts. This 5.4-pounder includes 6GB of RAM and 640GB of storage, though stepping up to the $800 configuration affords you a 1TB hard drive. Though there's an optical drive on board, you won't find an SD card slot here.
Key specs: 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, dual-core 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M, starting at 6GB of RAM and a 5,400RPM, 640GB hard drive.
Price: $700 at ToshibaDirect
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Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition
This special edition lives up to its name with a healthy selection of special extras. Skullcandy headphones come bundled, there's an anodized aluminum lid and Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premier Elements are pre-loaded. You get your choice of Core i5 or Core i7 Ivy Bridge CPUs, up to 8GB of RAM and up to a 1TB hard drive.
$900 and up at Dell
Though the VAIO S Series has somewhat of a business pedigree, the 13.3-inch model weighs 3.8 pounds and measures 0.95 inches thick. A third-gen Intel CPU, optional discrete graphics from NVIDIA (for $100 more) and a DVD drive are solid incentives too, as are the seven tasteful color options and up to seven hours of battery life.
$800 and up at Sony

Money's no object

MacBook Pro (2012)

College campuses are littered with notebooks bearing that famous Apple logo these days, and if you (or your parents -- let's be honest) are well-heeled enough to shell out for the recently updated MacBook Pro, it's a sound investment. Trust fund types might prefer the Retina display model, but the standard Pro, with its Ivy Bridge processor and famously comfortable keyboard and touchpad, is far from a slacker. We do recommend shelling out for an SSD, though.
Key specs: 13-inch (1,280 x 800) display, dual-core Intel Core i5, starting at 4GB of RAM and a 5,400RPM, 500GB hard drive.
Price: $1,140 and up on Amazon
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HP Envy 15
We liked the Envy 15 when we reviewed it earlier this year, thanks to its solid display and strong audio experience, and the system's recent step up to Ivy Bridge should only make things better. A backlit keyboard and Beats Audio (complete with a subwoofer) come standard, and though the design borrows heavily from the MacBook Pro, this 5.8-pound laptop is a looker.
$1,100 and up at HP

Samsung Series 7 Chronos (15-inch)
If the Series 7 Gamer seems a bit of a stretch, Sammy has a solid step down in its 7 Series. Now running a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor, the 15-inch Series 7 Chronos doesn't ditch the generous feature selection of earlier models. You get NVIDIA GeForce GT630M graphics, an optical drive and 1TB of storage.
$1,000 and up on Amazon