Buying Tips: Laptop Bargains (Part 2)

11/30/2012 10:41:21 AM


For a long time our advice when shopping for a netbook was to ensure you went for a model with an NVidia ION graphics chipset to back up the anemia Intel Atom CPU - this allows the little machines to play video smoothly and deliver better all-around multimedia performance. Now we think the best netbooks on the market actually use the AMD Brazos architecture. These chips offer better application performance than Intel's direct competitors, but the integrated visuals of all of these systems is superior, enabling even full HD content to be played back with no dropped frames. The Lenovo IdeaPad S205 is one such equipped netbook. It has an 11.1" screen with a 1356 x 758 resolution. This is high by netbook standards granting it far more usability than most competing models that offer only 1024 x 600 screens. It also has a 500GB hard disk, 2GB of RAM and a 6 hour battery life. It costs $420.84 from Amazon - only a little less than the Medion Akoya, but this machine at less than 1.6 kg is far more portable. The keyboard and trackpad are also a cut above most netbooks, making this an ideal little mobile traveler at a price that's right.

Description: Lenovo IdeaPad S205

Lenovo IdeaPad S205

Desktop Replacements

Desktop replacements often get bundled in with gaming laptops because of their similar screen size, but in truth you can get much more powerful machines for less money if you forgo any gaming intentions. The Sony Vaio E17 is just one such machine. Powering this system is a Core i7 3512QM processor, a quad core chip with eight threads and a maximum turbo frequency of 3.1GHz. The machine matches this with a huge 750GB hard drive and 8GB of RAM, and you get a Blu-ray drive to take best advantage of the large 17.3" full HD screen. Its AMD Radeon HD 7550M is a respectable 3D performer as well, so although this isn't classified as a gaming laptop it will do the job for older games. This price for this machine? A tempting $1,359.6.

Description: Make sure you read the spec in detail

Make sure you read the spec in detail

The Lenovo G780 is a perfect demonstration of why you need to read the small print when buying a laptop. On paper it matches the Sony's spec for almost $323.72 less - the machine has the same chip, RAM and Blu-ray drive, and even tops the Sony's storage with a 1TB unit. But burrow down into the screen and you'll find a resolution of just 1365 x 768. On a 15.6" screen this is acceptable but on a 17.3" panel it's not really in the same league when it comes to multimedia. Don't get us wrong, this is a huge spec for the money, but it's not the catch-all desktop replacement it at first appears to be!


One of the most desirable classes of notebook is the new ultrabook - a subtype defined by Intel that's only applicable to machines reaching certain criteria. Ultrabooks must measure no more than 2.1 cm thick if they have a 14"+ screen or 1.8 cm thick if shipping with a screen under 14". They need to wake up from hibernation mode in less than seven seconds and have a minimum battery life of five hours while operating, and many days of standby time. They also need to use Intel's low-power consumption line of processors. In other words, they are designed to take on Apple's seminal Macbook Air for Windows users.

Description: Ultrabooks come with certain criteria to meet

Ultrabooks come with certain criteria to meet

One of the best value for money ultrabooks is undoubtedly the Samsung 530U4B. Considering its specs it has a stunning price tag of $1,037.53 including VAT. First up is the processor - it's a first generation i5 rather than an Ivy bridge, but the i5 2367M is still a good performer and is well matched to the kind of tasks an ultrabook owner is likely to want. It has a healthy 6GB memory allocation and a 500GB HDD. This is augmented by a 16GB solid-state cache drive which will greatly speed up performance for regularly used applications and files.

The 14.0" screen is yet again 1366 x 768 but this looks better than you might expect on a smaller display, and its anti-reflective finish makes the machine good for use on the move. Its weight of 1.78 kg makes it heavier than most ultabooks, but its battery life is acceptable, if not excellent, at over five hours.

The nicest ultrabooks are just around the corner however, with Ivy Bridge-based models just starting to hit the shelves. So far we have only had the pleasure of playing with the Asus Zenbook Prime series. The original Zenbook was a very solid attempt, but a few niggles with the touchpad and screen held it back from true greatness.

The latter of these has been well and truly put to bed, with some models in the range featuring a glorious 1920 x 1080 display both in 11.6" and 13.3" models. Both panels are also IPS, meaning users can enjoy great viewing angles and image performance. As you'd expect, premium devices command premium prices, but as the competition release designs of their own, we can expect the usual price competitiveness to drive prices in the right direction. Right now our advice is to hang fire on your ultrabook purchase - 3000 series chips denote second generation models and they should be available by the time you read this.

Gaming Laptops

Gaming laptops and 'bargain' are usually two mutually exclusive terms, but we think we have found a real stonker in the shape of Acer's Aspire 5755G, providing you don't need to play games at the very highest settings. Available for less just $995.45, this has an extremely high specification for an excellent price. Powering the system is the powerful i7 2760QM - a 2.2GHz quad-core chip with Hyper-Threading enabled, and Intel's Turbo technology for speeds of up to 3.1GHz. It has 8GB of RAM and a large 750GB hard disk. The 15.6" screen's 1366 x 768 resolutions means the machine's GT540 video card doesn't have to work too hard to keep the action running smoothly, and we were able to play a very satisfactory game of Dirt 3 and Skyrim at high levels of detail, albeit with the FSAA turned off.

Description: It is possible to get a lot for your money

It is possible to get a lot for your money

If you have a little bit more money to spend, the MSI GE620FX is tough to beat. Firstly, the display gets a major upgrade, with the 15.6" packing in a 1920 x 1080 resolution. The same 2760QM chip powers this $1,392.01 machine, but it's been linked to a much punchier graphics card in the shape of a GT 555M. There's also a 750GB hard disk and 8GB of system RAM to keep you busy. Three hours of battery life is also respectable for a machine in this category.

Hopefully you now have a better idea of what you are after in a laptop. We've scoured the web for the best deals in each category, and have found some superb deals. If you don't mind going second hand even better deals can be had. EBay and our own classifieds sections are very handy - we managed to find an MSI GX740 gaming laptop - complete with Radeon 5870 video card - for just $793.12 for example. Just be sure the seller isn't selling it because the laptop has problems, and be sure to pay by PayPal or another trusted method that gives you some power should the worst happen! As always, intelligent shopping around can get you a lot more for your money than you might at first be expecting.

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