questionscan you help me pick out a laptop?

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price range and preferred OS are very important considerations (along with screen size, condition - New, Used, Refurbished, etc.). With a bit more to go on, there are many helpful people here that can link suggestions. Right now there are no real parameters besides Hard Drive size and Web Cam.

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I purchased this machine from staples where it has some great reviews:

http://www.staples.com/Lenovo-Ideapad-S405-59351953-14-inch-Laptop/product_984632

it is currently out of stock there but found it in stock and cheaper at newegg where it has some good reviews, just not as good as staples:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834312242

I really enjoy it. It is thin, 4 GB memory 500GB HHD. I use it mainly for surfiung the web and MS Office suite. It has a good webcam and did I mention light? The description says 3.7 lbs but it sure feels lighter than that. It has a 14" screen that looks huge.

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@morriea: The only other things I can add are that the OS needs to be Windows and it has to be new. Really, everything else (I think) is up in the air. They aren't very computer savvy and other than what I've outlined I can't think of anything else they care about.
Of course....once someone else chimes in with other things, that could change.
Thanks

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@conanthelibrarian: Thanks. I'll definitely take a look at it.

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Personally I would look for Windows 7, you may pay a bit more.
You could look at a ChromeBook and get 2 internet books for the price of a laptop.
Someone will be by to post the differences Chromebook vs Laptop.
It is worth looking into as Amazons's # sellers.

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@caffeine_dude: Never heard of Chrome books. That shows how out of the loop I am. Thanks.

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http://blog.laptopmag.com/top-8-laptops-that-cost-less-than-500

Here is a quick list of laptops that will fit the bill. Top 6 for under $500.00.

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If a refurb is OK, Check out the Sellout.Woot. Heck of a machine for the money.

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@morriea: You're right. It was. Unfortunately, it's sold out now. Even though they said they wanted new, I think I could have persuaded them to take a look at it.
Should have checked this thread sooner.
Thanks anyway!

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I appreciate all the help from everyone. I've sent the information to my brother-in-law and it's up to him now.

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"I'd prefer they get something fairly powerful since I'm sure as the kids get older the laptop will get more and more use. Right now they're 12 and 7."

That's the wrong approach - you're better off spending $400 now for a laptop that you'll replace in 2 years, than $800 for a machine that you want to stretch out 4 years. Particularly when you're trying to predict what what young teens and pre-teens might be interested in in two years.

The features to think about are screen size and portability. If this is to be a family laptop, a larger screen is probably a good idea, as there will probably be some looking over the shoulder. It probably won't need to be brought to Starbucks on a regular basis, so it weight and battery life may not be that big a deal.