1. Designer Looks: HP Pavilion dv2660se
The $900 HP Pavilion dv2660se offers strictly middling performance, but its exceptional battery life and a great design make it our winning laptop under $1,000. The notebook's WorldBench 6 score of 67 is significantly lower than the high-80s marks of some portables with the latest mobile chips, but it's not bad for a budget machine. Though the 14.1-inch, 1280-by-800-pixel screen could be a tad brighter, it's easy enough to read. Nice extras include a bundled copy of Microsoft Works 8.5, and the ability to play a CD or DVD without first launching Windows. The dv2660se also has upgrade potential thanks to a side connection (one that all Pavilion laptops have) for HP's xb3000 Notebook Expansion Base.
2. Got Game: Acer Aspire 5920-6954
Except for business applications, which it lacks, the $999, 7.2-pound Aspire 5920-6954 has just about everything that price-conscious home-office buyers could ask for. It includes a 250GB hard drive and both an HDMI port and an HD DVD reader. It also has a subwoofer for better-than-average sound and a handy volume wheel. The terrific keyboard boasts loads of useful shortcut buttons, including one to play music or movies without first launching Windows. This is also the only sub-$1,000 laptop here with a dedicated graphics chip: an nVidia GeForce 8600M GS with 256MB of memory. The Aspire posted a solid WorldBench 6 score of 70 (the second best in this group), and its battery life was average at 3.8 hours.
3. Built to Order: Dell Inspiron 1525
Like the excellent HP Pavilion dv2600se, this $999, 15.4-inch Dell has lots of entertainment features: an instant-on button, a webcam and even dual headphone jacks. The 1525's MediaDirect button also lets you view your calendar, contacts and PowerPoint presentations -- without booting into Windows. Our test model paired 2GB of memory and a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7250 CPU to produce a WorldBench 6 score of 78; that's 17 percent faster than the average score of 65 posted by the five models in this slide show. With the battery upgraded from the standard four-cell to a six-cell ($15 extra), our unit lasted just over four hours on a charge. Though you get only basic integrated graphics, the Inspiron 1525 does include an HDMI connection for HDTVs. And an important difference between this and most other inexpensive laptops: You can customize it down to the smallest detail -- even the lid color -- before finally clicking the 'Buy Now' button.
4. Lightweight Contender: Fujitsu LifeBook S7211
This svelte $899 Windows Vista Business laptop has only two significant drawbacks: so-so speed and an inability to burn DVDs. The S7211 notched a WorldBench 6 score of 56, putting it 14 percent behind the average of 65 earned by the five sub-$1,000 laptops we tested. Aside from a minor glare problem, the 14.1-inch, 1280-by-800-resolution screen is crisp and readable. We quickly acclimated to the petite keyboard, which features Fujitsu's dual-purpose Security Application Panel (numbered buttons for shortcut keys or a password). The S7211 weighs 5.2 pounds with a CD writer/DVD reader installed in its modular bay. Swap this optical drive out for a battery instead ($120 extra), and Fujitsu says you can get about 6.5 hours of operation. Our review unit lasted an average 3.8 hours with a single battery.
5. Sweet Sound: Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-EZ2201
The basic $699 Toshiba Satellite Pro A210-EZ2201 is the lowest-priced laptop of our sub-$1,000 group. and it's also rather slow, with short battery life, too. If pinching pennies is paramount, however, this 15.4-inch, Windows Vista Basic notebook can get mainstream work done without too much fuss. The only model here using an AMD processor, and only one of two to include just 1GB of RAM, the Satellite Pro A210-EZ2201 achieved a WorldBench 6 score of just 54. The sub-$1,000 laptop average was 19 percent faster. Performance aside, this black-and-silver unit has some nice features for a $699 notebook, including a DVD writer, a FireWire port and an ExpressCard/54 slot. It even has two surprises. One is an empty bay inside for adding a second hard drive. (A single 80GB hard drive comes standard.) The other is great sound -- this plain little laptop belts out music like Ugly Betty channeling Celine Dion.