When buying a new laptop it’s too easy to be seduced by wanting to upgrade to better parts. Let’s add some more RAM. Or maybe a bigger hard drive. What about a bigger battery? It’s easy to get sucked in and start spending a lot more than you originally anticipated. This is why I think it’s important to set a specific budget and stick to it. Say every two or three years you’d like to buy a laptop under $1,000. This ensures that you have a pretty solid laptop at any time that isn’t going to frustrate you or waste your time. Remember: time is money. If you use your computer often you don’t want to be too cheap when it comes to your laptop.

Before I get into the actual laptops, I think it’s important to start with a basic understanding of what I’m looking at. For those of you who aren’t excited about technology, you may not be familiar with what the different components of your computer are and what they do. Check out this quick guide I put together on basic computer components. Now, on to my top 5 picks for the best laptop under $1,000.

Dell XPS 15z Laptop

Dell XPS 15z ($999) Order from Dell

  • 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i5-2410M 2.30 GHz Processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M 1GB graphics card with Optimus
  • 6GB of Memory (RAM)
  • 500GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • Backlit Keyboard
  • 15.6″ WLED Display (1366×768 resolution)

I think that the Dell XPS 15z is a huge step in the right direction for Dell’s consumer line of laptops. This laptop is a beauty, and it has the brawn to back it up. It gives you all of the power you need for normal tasks like surfing the internet, watching videos and editing photos. If the display was matte instead of glossy it would be a huge plus. If I were buying this laptop I would opt to pay $100 extra to get the 1080p display, which will provide a much crisper image. I wouldn’t have put this laptop on my list if the 1080p display upgrade wasn’t so affordable because I think the base resolution is simply too low.

HP Elitebook 8460p Laptop

HP Elitebook 8460p ($899) Order from Amazon

  • 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i5-2410M 2.5 GHz Processor
  • 320GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • 4GB of Memory
  • 14″ WLED Display (1366×768 resolution)

If you’re looking to order an HP laptop, make sure you don’t just buy direct from HP. Online retailers like TigerDirect and Amazon often offer substantial discounts from HP’s direct price. The HP Elitebook 8460p XU057UT model is $100 less from Amazon than it is from HP. I’m a big fan of HP’s Elitebook line, and I currently use an HP Elitebook myself. HP’s consumer line, such as its dv6 line, is known for its sub-par quality. However, HP, like Dell, completely separates its consumer and business departments. In general, business laptops like the HP Elitebooks are going to be built with better quality parts and your laptop is likely to last longer. Since the screen on this laptop is 14″ instead of 15″, this lower resolution is a little more acceptable than on the Dell XPS 15z. This laptop doesn’t come with a separate video card, but because you’re getting a Sandy Bridge processor with the newer Intel HD Graphics 3000, you’re going to be just fine for normal uses. I think the new HP Elitebook P series looks very nice I’m considering one as my next upgrade.

Lenovo Ideapad Y570

Lenovo IdeaPad Y560 ($850) Order from Lenovo

  • 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3 GHz Processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 555M 1GB Video Card
  • 4GB of Memory
  • 15.6″ Display (1366×768 resolution)

Lenovo has long been known for its plain black Thinkpad business laptops, which feature superior build quality. However, these Thinkpads come with a hefty price tag. In the past few years, Lenovo has specifically targeted consumers with its IdeaPad series of laptops. The premise of the IdeaPad laptops is to provide a laptop packed with the hardware consumers want to watch movies and play video games.  Obviously to pack a laptop like this at a lower price point, something has to give. In this case, you’re going to get cheaper externals. You won’t see the aluminum shell like you do on the HP Elitebook or Dell XPS 15z. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As with most purchases, it’s a trade-off. You have to look at your needs and uses of the computer. If you’re prone to dropping your computer or tend to toss it around, the Elitebook is going to hold up much better than the IdeaPad. However, if you mostly use your computer at home or you’re pretty careful with its handling, the IdeaPad may fit your needs better.

Asus N35SV

Asus N53 Series N53SV-VX1 ($999) Order from Newegg

  • 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i7-2630QM 2.0 GHz Processor (Quad Core, not Dual Core like the others)
  • 4GB of Memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M Video Card with 1GB Memory
  • 500GB 7200RPM Hard Drive
  • 1920×1080 Full HD 1080p Display

This laptop is an absolute beast. Asus continues to deliver modern-looking laptops with great specs at affordable prices, and this Asus N53 is no different. A new Sandy Bridge processor, a dedicated video card, a 7200 RPM hard drive and a full HD 1080p display. That’s a rare package among laptops under $1k.

Dell Latitude E6520

Dell Latitude E6520 – Refurbished ($999) Order from Dell

  • 2nd Generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel Core i5-2520M 2.5 GHz Processor
  • 4GB of Memory
  • NVIDIA NVS 4200M  Video Card with 512MB Memory
  • 128GB Solid State Drive
  • 1920×1080 Premier Panel Full HD 1080p Display

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The Dell Outlet can be a gold mine for great deals on high-quality laptops. The laptop listed above is an example of this. Most of these laptops are in the outlet as refurbished because they were ordered and then returned, which means they can’t be sold as new. This results in a nice discount for you, on a laptop with little or no use. I’ve purchased a Latitude E6500 from the Outlet before and it didn’t have a single scratch anywhere on it. This laptop even has a solid state drive, which is probably the best upgrade you can give to any laptop these days. You can often find Outlet coupons available to make the purchase even more affordable. Right now there’s a 15% coupon, which makes this laptop $850. I guarantee you won’t find a better laptop for that price.

In general, Dell is the best at allowing you to customize your laptops. HP is decent at allowing you to customize some laptops, but it becomes very expensive to customize any of its business notebooks. Lenovo has limited customizing options. Asus and Acer aren’t really into customizing. I’m a big fan of customizing a laptop to fit your needs and budget, but a lot of people will be able to find one on the rack fits their needs. If you’re buying your laptop directly from the manufacturer, it’s generally worth waiting around for a discount coupon. Every couple of weeks Dell, HP and Lenovo will have a 15-30% off coupon. With the high price of laptops, it’s worth waiting for one of these. It either allows you to save money, or to get more laptop for your money.

Hopefully this list will serve as a good starting point. As with anything on HackingTheBank, don’t take my word for it. Check out reviews of the laptops and see if you can locate them in stores to play around with them.