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A Laptop for Students

Q:

I am a college student in the market for a non-clunky laptop. I have a pretty limited budget, $500 or less. I will be using it primarily for research and writing Word documents for school. I’m not into editing videos or pictures or downloading games and such but I do want one that can play DVDs, and don’t want something with too small or too large of a screen.

A:

Your price range eliminates Macs and the least “clunky” Windows laptops, but there are plenty of choices among Windows PCs around the $500 range. With a budget-driven purchase like this, it’s best to go to a store and actually eyeball the machines, to see which ones have screens and keyboards you favor. I’d also try to stick with name brands, like Acer or Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard or Lenovo. But bear in mind that to get the most out of the new Windows 8 operating system that comes on nearly all laptops now, you will want a touchscreen.

Q:

We would like to purchase a laptop for our 16-year-old to do school work, surf the Internet and play games. I also want to trade in my five-year-old desktop for a Windows laptop for my home business that will run Microsoft Office and surf the Internet. I’m concerned about switching over to Windows 8 as the reviews have been very mixed and I don’t have time or patience to learn a whole new way of performing basic tasks. We welcome any advice.

A:

You can still buy a Windows 7 laptop, which will be much more familiar to operate, from places like Amazon.com or Best Buy’s Web site.

Q:

I was hoping Microsoft’s new Surface tablet would include my two must-haves: a place for a flash drive and the ability to run Adobe Acrobat. It has the USB port for flash drives, so I can carry work files, but can the Adobe software be downloaded to a flash drive and used with the Surface tablet?

A:

Whether it resides in the Surface’s internal storage or on a flash drive, Adobe Acrobat won’t run on the current Surface, formally called Surface RT, unless and until Adobe creates a so-called new-style Windows 8, tablet-like version of the program. However, in January, Microsoft is expected to introduced a Surface Pro tablet which will be able to run traditional Windows programs like Acrobat. The downside: It will be heavier and possibly costlier.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.


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