We had a late arrival to our mainstream back-to-school laptop group, but it proved to be well worth the wait.
Of the nine retail laptops in the $800-$999 price range we've reviewed this summer, the Dell Studio 1535 was the last to hit CNET Labs. While it enjoyed the advantage of time--using a few extra weeks to get itself assembled with the latest components--the fact remains that it's the best mainstream laptop you'll find on big-box store shelves right now.
If you're heading off to college in a week or two and have budgeted $1,000 for a laptop that needs to get you from orientation to graduation, it's hard to argue against this member of Dell's new Studio line.
The Studio line sits between Dell's high-end XPS and mainstream Inspiron lines. It features the same tapered shape, rounded hinge, and slot-loading optical drive found on XPS laptops, but adds a bit more bulk and sells for prices that more closely resemble Dell's Inspiron models. This 15-inch model also features appreciated extras including an HDMI port and touch-sensitive media controls.
While every other Intel-based laptop in our mainstream group uses the 65nm Core 2 Duo T5750, the $979 Dell Studio S1535-125B boasts the 45nm Core 2 Duo T8100 processor, which is clocked slightly faster at 2.1GHz (vs. 2.0GHz), operates on a faster frontside bus (800MHz to 667MHz), and features more L2 cache (3MB vs. 2MB)--all of which helps performance. To wit, the Dell Studio made a clean sweep of CNET Labs' application benchmarks, while delivering a respectable, though not chart-topping, 3 hours of battery life.
Runner-up: HP Pavilion dv6985s for its cool copper accents and huge battery.
See more laptops in CNET's back-to-school gift guide.