There are many people getting ready to start college during the winter semester and with the Christmas 2010 holiday shopping season is upon us, most of them will be shopping for a laptop. Fortunately, many great PCs are on sale at rock bottom prices.

Start by taking a look at netbooks. These laptops have screens smaller than 11 inches but are feature-packed. The two primary reasons to recommend netbooks are their light weight and small footprint. The simple truth is that desks and work spaces at college campuses are not as spacious as the typical office desk. Often, the student only has a few feet of space to work in, and there needs to be room for the computer, paperwork, and textbooks.

The second reason netbooks fit the need is that they are awfully lightweight compared to larger laptops. Imagine that a 15-inch laptop might weigh about five pounds. Add two hardbound textbooks to that and you're easily carrying a 15-pound backpack across half-mile distances on campus. To own a netbook is to love a keyboard small enough to type on but a computer that weighs less than its larger cousins. Right now, eMachines sells a fantastic netbook for under $250, and Acer sells its own model for under $270. You will not find many differences among netbooks in terms of display size, hard drive, processor, RAM memory, or keyboard.

The two main comparison factors are the operating system and the battery life. The eMachines Black 10.1-inch Netbook PC with Intel Atom N450 Processor and Windows XP Home has a 3-cell battery with a stated life of up to four hours, but three hours is probably more realistic. The Windows XP Home operating system is the main reason this unit sells for $20 less than rivals. Do you need Windows 7? The basic answer is no, unless you have software that cannot run on Windows XP. The only major difference between the Acer Aspire One 10.1-inch Netbook PC with Windows 7 Starter and 3-hour battery and the eMachines is the Windows operating system. Windows XP is approaching 10 years of service life, and it is not clear for how long or to what degree Microsoft will support it. If you plan to keep the PC for a few years and want a more modern version of Windows, then you will want the Acer. Netbook PCs, especially ones from Acer and eMachines will usually be the least expensive models on the market.

We consider them the best laptop computer for college students because of their small size and weight. Both sell for under $270, so the only real factor is Windows XP versus Windows 7. Buy the Acer if you require Windows 7's features or fear XP becoming obsolete.