8 Best Buys for Essential Gear

Laptop

Monstrous desktop replacements and supersmall ultraportables exist, of course, but for us, the all-purpose laptop offers the best combination for anyone seeking a well-rounded notebook.

Our choice in this category best represents the delicate balance that considers cost, specs, and performance. The top-ranked portable on our all-purpose laptops chart right now is the $1299 Micro Express JFL9226. This 6.6-pound model lacks the sleek lines and polish of its competitors, but it delivers the right mix of performance and features, for a good price.

Our test system, which came configured with a 2.53-GHz Core 2 Duo T9400 processor and 3GB of RAM, whipped through our WorldBench 6 tests as if the other members of the all-purpose laptop pack were standing still. Whether the task was to burn disc images or to encode video, no other model could keep pace; the JFL9226 earned an impressive score of 103 on the World­Bench 6 test suite. And it did all that while lasting almost 4.5 hours in our battery tests.

The next-fastest all-purpose laptop, Sony's VAIO VGN-SZ791N, scored nine points lower on the test suite but costs almost twice as much.

The Micro Express notebook's 256MB nVidia GeForce 9600GT GPU knocked out reasonably solid numbers in our graphics tests. The results indicated that this system would be good enough to handle most tasks, but not sufficient to support modern, top-flight games jacked up to the 15.4-inch screen's native 1280-by-800-pixel resolution.

Bottom Line: The Micro Express JFL9226 cuts most of the right corners to produce a capable, budget-friendly companion for the road.

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