The beauty of PC technology is that, unlike cars for example, the entry level model rarely makes you sacrifice all that much over the more expensive offerings.  With desktop PCs, entry level and mid-range solutions are usually a GPU and memory upgrade away from being considered high end, but with notebooks, there's a slightly different story. 

The problem is that notebooks are still not quite upgrade friendly, so you're usually stuck with what you get out of the box with the exception of a memory or drive upgrade.  So, the worry is that cheap notebooks make you sacrifice far too much to even consider, but do they in reality?  Special holiday deals aside, $600 is the sweet spot for entry level notebooks these days, so what do you get for $600?  That's what we're here to find out.

We've rounded up a total of five notebooks, each priced at $600 and put them through their paces - trying to find a winner.  An interesting point to note is that most of the manufacturers that we reviewed here today didn't actually want their notebooks reviewed.  While they would gladly send us more expensive models, most manufacturers shunned away the opportunity for their $600 notebooks to compete in this roundup.  The real reason is that the profit margins on these notebooks are basically non-existent; the real money is made on upgrades or on higher priced solutions.  Although virtually all notebook makers offer entry level solutions, at $600, no one wants to sell them. They do because they have to.  So, we went out and purchased the notebooks that we could not get; after all, what good is a $600 notebook roundup with only one notebook?

What do you get for $600?

On the CPU side, although all of the notebooks that we're comparing here offer the option of configuring them with a Pentium M or Turion 64, in order to meet the $600 price point, you're stuck with a Celeron M or Sempron. 

Intel's Celeron M is actually a pretty interesting chip.  It's basically a Pentium M, with half the L2 cache (1MB vs. 2MB) and no Speed Step, meaning that a 1.5GHz Celeron M 370 always runs at 1.5GHz.  Obviously, from a performance standpoint, the Celeron M should be fairly competitive with the Pentium M, since all it's lacking is half the L2 cache.  However, from a battery life standpoint, having no Speed Step and having a smaller L2 cache means that the Celeron M won't fare as well as its more expensive and better known brother.  Remember that with a smaller L2 cache, the Celeron M will be forced to go to main memory for data accesses more frequently, which not only means lower performance, but it means that Intel's clever power conscious cache can't work its magic as often, leading to higher overall power consumption. 

A trick that Intel used to employ was to cut the L2 cache associativity of their Celeron parts in half, resulting in an even greater performance hit.  Luckily, with the Celeron M, this is not the case - so you get half the cache, but it still remains an 8-way set associative L2.  The L1 cache remains unchanged.

AMD's Sempron is quite similar. In this case, it is a Socket-754 Athlon 64, but without 64-bit support and with half the L2 cache (256KB vs. 512KB).  What the Sempron does preserve, however, is AMD's PowerNow! support, meaning that the processor can underclock itself to save power.  This roundup features two Sempron 2800+ based notebooks, both clocked at 1.6GHz, but thanks to PowerNow!, they can run as low as 800MHz. 

Wireless support is a very necessary part of any mobile experience in our opinion. Unfortunately at $600, wireless networking isn't guaranteed.  Only three out of the five notebooks reviewed here today feature integrated wireless, but at least one of those has since added wireless without increasing the price of the notebook.  So, while wireless networking isn't guaranteed, it is quickly becoming expected. 

As far as displays go, a $600 notebook will usually get you either a 14" or a 15" display, with an XGA (1024x768) or WXGA (1280x768) panel.  For graphics, you can expect to get something with integrated graphics.  The Intel platforms that we looked at all used Intel's integrated "Extreme Graphics", while the AMD solutions used ATI's Radeon Xpress 200M.  Both will offer entry level gaming performance, but neither will make these notebooks extremely functional gaming machines. 

The two biggest sacrifices that you make at $600 are in memory and drive space.  All five of the machines reviewed today come with 256MB of memory, which ends up meaning that they are great single-tasking machines; but start multitasking, and their performance drops off significantly.  

As far as disk space goes, all five machines come with a 4200RPM 40GB drive, so you'll have to keep your installed programs and media collection as lean as possible.  If you can make due with the memory and disk limitations, however, you can get some serious work done on these machines, and for $600, it's tough to complain.

All of the notebooks reviewed today were reasonably portable, although not what we would consider thin and light.  They all weighed between 5 to 6 lbs, with a footprint hovering around 13 - 14" x 9 - 10".  All of the notebooks were over 1" in thickness, with the largest being around 1.5".  But thankfully, the construction of these entry level notebooks is seemingly on par with the more expensive models.  They may not be as sleek or compact as their more pricey alternatives, but at least they don't feel cheap. 

With that said, and you prepared for the roundup, let's get to the contenders.  We have three machines from Compaq: the Presario V2000, V2000Z and M2000Z; one from Dell (Inspiron 2200); and finally, the Gateway NX200S. 

Compaq Presario V2000, V2000Z and M2000Z
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • trexpesto - Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - link

    Didn't notice much about screen quality.
  • cactux - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link


    Such articles are great, but you say nothing about the Linux compatibility of these PCs.
    In only 5 minutes, you could test them, using for example a Knoppix. This Linux distribution boots are works from one CD.
    This would allow you to say what works and what fails (sound, screen, nouse, etc.)

  • CB1 - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    Want Linux? Get an Acer. A version of the Acer TravelMate TM2312LCi has been sold briefly with a Linux boot disk and no OS. There is an Asian linux distro linked at Acer's website.

    HP has had an Ubuntu option available in Europe.

    I've just booted a Compaq X1000 from the latest Ubuntu live disk, and it produces a perfectly working desktop, at the correct screen resolution. I wasn't in a location to check the modem or wireless, but I doubt there would be problems. Win 2K wouldn't give me the proper screen res or colours without the Compaq driver disk.

    Short of gaming, you'll have as many issues with Win as Linux. I don't think it requires special consideration in the test.
  • nullpointerus - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    I'd love to see a test like this, too.

    In the meantime you take a look at building your own laptop from Linux-compatible parts:">
  • artifex - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    ...because a couple of weeks ago, we bought my sister a v2000z, with a 3000+ chip, for $400 or so after rebates. I think the office supply company that sold it to us figured out they screwed up, because it hasn't been that low, since :) Anyway, at these prices, look at the Sunday ads before you buy, because if one is substantially cheaper than the Gateway, like ours was, go for it instead.
  • Myrandex - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    I have seen plenty of laptops for sale under $600 with 512MB ram. Well at least on a sale and not a regular price. I wouldn't buy a machine w/ 256MB of ram at all anymore :-/
  • bupkus - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    What's with these 90 day warranties?
  • unclebud - Tuesday, November 29, 2005 - link

    heartily enjoyed!
    and also printing out to share with my coworkers -- the most asked question for me "is how good is this laptop?"
    can just give this to them (to read) instead...
  • MacLean - Tuesday, November 29, 2005 - link

    You can't review low price great bang for the buck laptops without including a model from Acer. The Acer AS3003 is AMD Sempron based, has WI-FI and all the of the specifications reviewed for the other models.

    I am very interested to find out how the integrated SIS Mirage 2 graphics go head to head vs. Intel and ATI.

    Hardly a beauty contest if you don't invite all the contestants.
  • CB1 - Wednesday, November 30, 2005 - link

    I too was surprised by the absence of a model from Acer. They are ubiquitous in the market here in Vancouver, and have a good reputation for quality. Their bottom end models, both Cel M and Sempron, use SiS chipsets. I could care less about gaming capabilities of the onboard video, but would really like to know about the performance and battery life of the Cel M Acers with an SiS chipset.
    Please include one when you test the new Dell model.
    Otherwise, this was a very well done and thorough test, up to the usual Anandtech standards. The idea of testing the loss leader versions was brilliant.

    Bottom end model locally is the Acer TravelMate TM2312LCi-H.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now