Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need a Durable, Lightweight Notebook For Under $600

Computers and cars have a lot in common. We go out the store and put down lots of cash for the best looking one we can find--sometimes, if we're lucky, we can get years of good service out of them. But eventually, they break down and have to get put into retirement, which starts us on the search for a replacement. Unfortunately, reader Katherine has a similar type of problem.

Katherine writes:

Hey! I'm a complete luddite, finally ready to breakdown and replace my computer. I am a woman of simplistic needs. I need something Very durable that can tough out rough handling being bicycled/bussed around.

I need something that will hold a great deal of documents and music. I would like the future ability to photo shop and create images. And I would like a light and small machine easy to cart around that loads up quickly and holds charge. I can live without games or movies or high resolution. Did I mention it that it needs to be durable? And I want it to cost no more than $600. Does it exist?

If the $600 price ceiling wasn't an issue, we'd be tempted to suggest the Panasonic Toughbook C1--it's definitely tough enough to withstand almost any kind of abuse, but since the configuration we tested cost $2,829, we'll leave it off the table. Unfortunately, at your sub-$600 price point few systems are specifically designed with ruggedness in mind, but we will name a few that, in our experience, are well-made and lightweight.

The Toshiba Satellite T235 ($598) is a well-made 13-inch notebook that gets a hefty 6 hours and 11 minutes of battery life. It also comes with a 320GB hard drive, 4GB RAM and a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400, so you'll have ample room for storage and it'll definitely load up lots of things quickly. The chrome-colored deck, touchpad and keyboard is also one of the best and most comfortable palm rests we've seen in a while.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e ($604) is an ultraportable that's built for business, which means that it's extremely well constructed. In particular, we are fans of the X100e's  keyboard and great sounding speaker. With a small 11.6-inch screen, it's definitely portable enough to fit in your backpack and weighs only 3.2 pounds. With an AMD Turion Neo X2 dual-core 1.6-GHz processor and a 250GB hard drive, there's also ample speed and storage.

Finally, if this isn't going to be  your main computer, you could opt for the Samsung NB30 ($379). It's a 10.1-inch notebook and only clocks in at 2.8 pounds, so it'd be light and extremely easy to carry around. While the NB30's battery life of 6 hours and 22 minutes was only slightly above the average battery life in its category, it earned high marks for build quality. The top of the NB30 is scratch-resistant and textured, so if you're on a bike ride, you can toss it into your backpack without worrying about damage. Plus, with a spill-resistant keyboard and hard drive shock protection, it's ready to take on most rough conditions. Unfortunately, as a netbook with an Atom processor it won't be as good at editing images and video.