Modern laptops have a hard life. We treat them like disposable commodities, throwing them in our bags like discarded gum wrappers, using them as coasters, and shoving them into the hands of toddlers looking for a Netflix fix. It's inevitable that with all the punishment they endure, at some point they'll reach the point of no return. But as badly as us regular folks treat our personal computing devices, it's nothing compared to the punishment dished out to laptops used by the military, police, and field researchers. While we expect our MacBook Air to shrug off the occasional Starbucks spill, ruggedized laptops are designed to withstand pouring rain, six-foot drops, intense vibration, and extreme temperatures.
Buying a laptop is trickier than it seems, especially if you want to get a great one and you're on a tight budget. If you're trying to keep it under $500, we think most people should get the 2017 Acer Aspire E 15, which has been our go-to budget pick for the past year. It's not very sexy, but it comes with a good screen, very good build quality, and creature comforts like a backlit keyboard that most sub-$500 laptops skip. While this model doesn't have an SSD or that much RAM, it's also fully upgradeable and costs well under $500 on its own. That means you can easily pick up another 4GB of RAM and this excellent 250GB SSD while still staying around $500 total.
Every laptop is a compromise between portability and power, and they all vary on where they draw that line. A faster and more capable machine needs bigger components and more room to keep them cool--which means it will end up larger, heavier, and more battery-draining than a less powerful computer. As portable computing power has improved over the last few years, this compromise has become less of an issue. Decent processors and graphics chips now slip into very svelte laptop frames. However, it's still true that if you want a laptop capable of the most demanding tasks--gaming and video editing, for example--then it's going to be relatively chunky.
If you're shopping for a new laptop for the back-to-school season, get ready to be spoiled for choice. At its event in Taiwan today, ASUS showed off a slew of new laptops and convertibles, leading with the ZenBook Flip S, which the company says is the "world's thinnest 2-in-1 convertible laptop". At 10.9mm thin and weighing 1.1kg, the 13-inch Flip S certainly has a smaller footprint than other 13-inch convertibles from Apple, HP, Acer and Lenovo. That thin profile, along with new minimal display bezels that ASUS is callng "NanoEdge," are clear highlights for the company's laptop refresh. To achieve that slick size, ASUS says it had to invent a new "liquid-crystal-polymer fan" that's just 0.3mm thin to keep the system cool.