Affordable laptops meet modern school kids' needs

It was so much cheaper and easier when readin', writin' and 'rithmetic were done in composition notebooks using No. 2 pencils. It used to be that the highest tech we got was a mechanical pencil, and we only used that because it was cool.

But no more. These days "back to school" means cleaning all those chat messages and vacation photos off the laptop hard drive for serious school use. But sometimes the ol' processor just won't get in gear, and it's time to invest in a new student laptop.

We took a look at a few that are suitable for students from K to college, along with an assortment of accessories to keep them operating. These machines are either bundled with programs that will get your straight-A student through the year or easily accommodate additional software for processing words, numbers and images.

Toshiba mini NB255 and NB305

Some laptops are deemed for doom. Particularly when they are schlepped in hallways, tossed onto cafeteria tables and parked under trees during recess soccer games. So you don't want to invest a whole terribly lot in them because, well, they may meet a fate worse than a data crash. That's not to say this Toshiba mini isn't rugged enough to withstand the worst, but at its price, and with its Toshiba Media Controller for streaming content like music, videos, photos and study notes, you won't feel so bad sending it off onto the school bus. Starting at $288.99 for the black 255 and $349.99 for the 305 (it comes in different colors) at Walmart, Best Buy and Office Depot, as well at online retailers.

HP's 'Preppy Pink' Mini 210

Sometimes it's all about style. And how can you deny a laptop that has a tiny cupcake imprint at the bottom? And is preloaded with whimsical wallpapers? And is embossed in a 3-D texture that makes the surface seem as if it's floating? Oh yes, and it does computer-y things, too, like connect to the Internet, download e-mail, look up homework research, process words and print out pages, all with an 8-hour battery. And it's plaid. Also comes in "white crystal." Starting at $354.99 at Best Buy and

KidComputers' Kids Classmate

You know how you're always spinning your laptop around to show your children something on the screen? Or you're always standing behind them looking over their shoulder as they try to find the right key to push? This beginner's tablet netbook solves that by putting the screen on a swivel, so when your diligent student asks "Is this right?" you just turn the 10.1-inch bidirectional LCD touch screen toward you. Yes, a touch screen. Children can scrawl and draw as they would with pen and paper, or they can type on the traditional keyboard; the Classmate goes online easily and has a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera on the top. $679 at

ViewSonic's VOT125 PC Mini

Wow, is that dorm room small! There's no room for a monitor, or even a keyboard. No problem: With this multi-power compact PC -- measuring 4.5 by 1.5 by 5.1 inches and weighing 4 pounds -- you connect keyboards and monitors and any other peripherals you come across on campus; the VESA mount lets you plug it into any display. Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium OS, up to 2 gigs of memory and 160 gigs of hard drive, four USB 2.0 ports, DVI-I and HDMI outputs, and a 3-in-1 card reader. $549 at