A recent American Bar Association survey of law technology reveals that solo and small law firm lawyers spend $500 or less each year on work-related technology. Lawyers shopping for a new laptop in 2012 might be pleased to learn that there are some decent options available for under $500. Let's take a look at what some of the major laptop (or "notebook") manufacturers are offering in that price range, how much you're getting, and what, if anything, you're giving up. As you peruse this list, keep in mind your current and potential computing requirements, such as portability, video capability, peripherals, security, memory size, speed, tech support and network connectivity.
- Acer: Acer sells numerous laptops for under $500 under its Aspire brand. To take one example, the Aspire AS5750-6667 lists for $499. It's got a 15.6" display, 640GB hard drive, Intel Core i3-2330M processor, and 4GB of memory with an extra slot to add 4GB more. There are three USB ports. The installed OS is Windows 7 Home Premium. The Microsoft Office version is just the starter, without the full versions of Word and Excel, and no Outlook or Powerpoint. There's no Bluetooth. The six-cell battery life is 4.5 hours.
- ASUS: Looking for a 17" display under $500? The ASUS K73E-BBR7 has it, along with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of memory. The processor, the Core i3-2350M, is a tiny bit faster than the i3-2330M you'll find in many laptops at this price point. It comes with four USB ports, built-in high-speed wireless LAN, and a fast Ethernet LAN. This laptop weighs in at 7 pounds.
- Dell: There are several sub-$500 models sold under the Vostro name, but you can also step up to the Latitude business class for $499. The Latitude E5420 (14" display) and E5520 (15.6" display) both can be found at that price, and both have specs similar to the Acer Aspire described above, but with a smaller hard drive (250GB) and less memory (2GB). Note that to enable video-conferencing, you'll need to spend $30 more for a webcam and microphone. Also, a mobile broadband card will run you another $125.
- Hewlett Packard: You can get a 14" laptop from the HP Pavilion g4t series for under $500 with a 500 GB hard drive and 4GB of memory. The webcam is included in the price, and it has built-in wi-fi. This laptop includes a free 15 months of Norton Internet Security antivirus software. It weighs 4.68 pounds.
- Lenovo: There are some ThinkPads under $500, and also some IdeaPads, like the 15.6" Z575. The processor is the AMD A4-3300M. At 2.50GHz, it's faster than the Intels in the other laptops discussed here. You'll also get 6GB of memory.
- Sony: A no-frills 14" E Series can be had for $500. The processor is an Intel Pentium B960, which runs at the same 2.20GHz as the Core i3-2330M. The hard drive is 320GB. The standard lithium ion battery (5300mAh) will hold a charge longer than the one in the Acer, for example.
- Toshiba: Toshiba offers around a dozen laptop models under $500 in its Satellite class. The Satellite L740-BT4N22 is a 14" with a 320GB hard drive and 4GB of memory. The processor is the Intel Core i3-2350M. Like the others, it comes with a one-year standard limited warranty.
- Apple: Ha, nice try.
Technology changes quickly. For a more up to date discussion on this topic, please visit the Legal Hardware section at FindLaw’s Technologist blog.