This year, my son has needed a computer more frequently for his homework assignments. And while I’m happy to have him use my laptop, it always happens at a time when I’m right in the middle of something work-related and urgent. I’m thinking for next year, it’s time to invest in a good quality budget laptop and I think I’ve found a great option.

Asus X501U affordable laptop at Cool Mom Tech

The Asus X501U is technically considered a “budget” laptop, which it certainly is price-wise, but the specs and performance beg to differ. The $299 cost would make you think that it is nothing more than a screen and a keyboard and little more, but..oh it is. A lot more.

Asus X501U laptop for $299 at Cool Mom Tech

First, I was amazed that something this affordable comes with a 320GB hard drive, which will store plenty of videos, photos, documents and files. The sizeable laptop has a 15″ screen and comes in a slim design, so it’s not bulky at all–just over 4 pounds. Unlike many tablets, it offers the ports you would hope for on any laptop so you can charge your USB devices and plug in your headphones.

As for battery life, they suggest that at full charge you get about six hours of power though I found it to be closer to 5.5.

Software-wise, the Asus comes with basics like Skype (though be aware the webcam isn’t the best quality), a McAfee Antivirus 30-day trial, Adobe Reader, Internet browsers and something called Office 2010 Starter, which is a bare-bones version of the full-fledged Microsoft Office package.

You’ll get reduced functionality with Word and Excel, but if your kids are the primary users, they’re really going to be fine with it.

Asus X501U laptop with Windows 8 at Cool Mom Tech

The Asus also comes with Windows 8, featuring the new live tiles interface, giving you access to all those fun Windows apps like FreshPaint and Vevo.

So, that’s what it has. What doesn’t it have, then?

Well, the price limits all those welcome extras you’d find on more expensive laptops and might take for granted–don’t expect a backlit keyboard, touchscreen functionality, incredible graphics and audio, a DVD player or a super fast processor. And while it’s slim in design, I would hardly say is sleek compared to some of the more expensive silver models out there.

That said, if this is really meant as a starter machine for kids just getting into computers and the Internet, then it does the job very nicely. They don’t need all those extras anyway; my own laptop doesn’t even have them.

Overall, the Asus X501U is a really terrific machine that offers everything a kid (and many things you) would need to compute, surf, work, do homework and more. And for the low price of $299, there’s really not much more that you could or should expect from a laptop. In fact, this one gives you a lot more. Jeana

The Asus X501U is available from Staples for $299. Thanks to Staples for providing one for review.

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