Most of all, though, think about its usage.

Will it be carried for extended periods? Thin and light laptops are around two pounds, but will cost extra. Lugging a five-pound computer can be heavy, but if it's in a wheeled backpack, it's just like another book.

Expecting it to be tossed around? Get an SSD storage drive, which has no moving parts, making it less prone to breakage (plus it speeds up the computer).

Need versatility? Several laptops now offer touchscreen to emulate iPads and tablets. Many brands offer convertible laptops where the keyboard flips under the screen or detaches, and so it is a tablet. Of course, those will cost you too, but prices have come way down. A touchscreen Acer laptop at Staples is on sale this week for $400.

If you need a longer battery life, keep an eye out for a computer with Intel's new fourth-generation chip. The processor offered "the greatest battery life increase in Intel history," according to the company. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air, which has the new Intel chip, can play iTunes movies for 10 hours on one charge.

And look for newer features, like sleep and charge ports, which charge batteries of connected mobile phones or small gadgets even if laptop is powered off.

Baker said that sales of tablets like the iPad aren't a huge draw during August. They're viewed more as entertainment computers or something for the family. Not schoolwork.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Tamara Chuang is an outside contributor to TheStreet. Her opinions are her own.

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