I know a lot of you may be in the same boat as HipMom, who recently enlisted my help in her search for a laptop that not only satisfies her work needs, but that is comfortable to carry, and that falls within a strict budget. She writes:

I need help finding a laptop. This wouldn't be my main computer, (I have a desktop PC I use all the time), but I have started writing and I'd like to be able to just jot stuff down whenever I feel like it, so it seems like a laptop would be a good idea. I might also decide to keep my web design stuff on it, but I'm not sure yet. I need something basic, but I'd like it to be fast, have a comfortable keyboard, and I want to be able to put some graphics work on it, too. Oh, and it needs to be under 500 dollars, and I don't like the new tiny ones.

What a mission! Check out my recommendations when you


I have some good news, and some bad news HipMom! Good news first: It's possible to find a great and portable laptop that gets you plenty of space for work and play, is easy to tote around (for those quickfire writing sessions), and that will allow you to work easily with a full-sized keyboard. The bad news is, you might have to throw down slightly more money than you want to, to get exactly what you want. But really, purchasing a laptop is an investment that shouldn't be taken lightly (unless you're Daddy Warbucks, of course). For these kinds of situations, I'd have to go with Dell — they provide reliable machines at low prices.

To get you started, I'll recommend the Dell Inspiron 1420. At $599, you won't be going over your budget by too much, but you'll still get all the specs you need. For example, the 5.5-pound PC holds a 120GB hard drive and comes with 2GB of RAM (which you can upgrade to 4GB for better performance), and a nice 14-inch widescreen display with 1280-x-800 resolution, so you can work on your graphics comfortably. The 6-cell battery will give you about five hours (give or take) of life before you need to juice up.

But if you seriously want to stick to your budget, you may want to check out the Dell Inspiron 1525 — a less powerful machine, but it would be perfect for your writing sessions, and you'll still be able to store your design work. The downers about this model are the watered-down processor, graphics card, and less on-board RAM (although you can still upgrade to more). The 1525 is still portable at six pounds, but more affordable at $479.

Anyone else have any recommendations for HipMom? Tell us what's up in the comments below!