Laptop For All Budgets (Part 2) - Notebooks, Ultrabooks

9/10/2012 6:59:14 PM

Mid-Price Device: Notebooks

Notebooks are, in many ways, the forgotten middle-child of the laptop form. If they suffer from anything, it's being too familiar. They were edged out at the bottom by netbooks and tablets, and now they're facing competition at the top from Ultrabooks. Even if they're not the trendiest

PCs on the block, they are still the ones to go for, offering a value-focused balance between price and performance that's hard to beat.

Samsung Series 3 300E-5A - $638.4

Description: Samsung Series 3 300E-5A

Budget laptops are generally better than they're given credit for, especially when you compare them to netbooks. This 1 5.6-inch Samsung contains an Intel Core i3-2330 CPU, and that alone makes it more than capable of running Windows at a decent pelt. 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive are plenty adequate for working. Admittedly it's not going to be much use for gaming, but on the other hand, hi-definition video runs fine, so it's not completely useless as an entertainment machine. It's still far from perfect, though.

The keyboard is basic and not exactly pleasing to type on, but at least it's full-size and has a numeric keypad. The screen (1366 x 768) could be better, but the matte finish reduces glare and although it doesn't exactly pop when playing video, neither is it particularly bad. You should be able to squeeze four hours of use out of it away from any mains sockets, which is a fair time for a notebook even if it doesn't break records.

Ultimately, the Series 3 proves itself an acceptable performer for the money you pay. If you stack it up against the equally expensive Dell Latitude 2120, it's a far superior experience and a good all-rounder. If you can spare the $320, we'd recommend it to budget buyers over a netbook any day.

Acer Aspire V3 - $880

Description: Acer Aspire V3 - $880

The Acer Aspire line of laptops excels itself in the middle of the field, and no more so than with the Acer Aspire V3 models, which combine performance and quality with a good screen and fantastic value for money.

Another 1 5.6-inch notebook with a 1366 x 768 resolution screen, the V3 runs faster than most at its price point, the Intel Core i5-2450 2.5GHz CPU giving it excellent performance in the face of Core i3-based rivals. When multi-tasking or performing CPU-heavy tasks like photo editing or watching HD video, it's lightning fast.

It's a shame, then, to see such a poor graphics chip running alongside it (Intel HD integrated graphics only), because if paired with a decent dedicated graphics chipset, we could have had an outright winner on our hands. As it is, it's easy to see which corner was cut to keep the price low, and despite the presence of a Core i5 you won't be doing much gaming on this laptop.

The presence of 6GB of RAM is a nod towards being better than average, but if you can afford to make it up to 8GB we'd recommend it. As usual, the 500GB hard drive should suffice for all except the most media-heavy data hoarder.

The battery life is a reasonable four hours. Between an overly-reflective screen and noisy keyboard, it's not perfect, but it is undeniably good for the money.

Toshiba Satellite P850-138 - $958

Description: Toshiba Satellite P850

At first glance, the Toshiba Satellite looks overpriced - at $958 you might expect a Core i5 instead of a Core i3 (an i3-2350M, to be precise) but there's more going on here than just a low-powered CPU.

8GB of RAM means it punches well above its weight in the memory department, a 640GB hard drive is substantial (if not the best) and the inclusion of a GeForce GT630M graphics chipset means - shock of shocks - you might actually get some decent gaming performance out of it.

The battery life is a bit of a sticking point. It clocks in at just under three hours at normal use, probably because of the graphics card, and keyboard feels very weak, bending noticeable under pressure. There are four USB 3.0 ports which have 'sleep and charge' technology, meaning you can plug devices in to charge even when the PC is powered down (as long as it's plugged into the mains, obviously). You also get VGA and HDMI-out ports, which make sense - this is a laptop with the graphical clout to make full use of a larger external for gaming and video.

While it's starting to creep out of true budget territory, there's a lot to like in the Satellite P850-138. Features which make it actually worth paying a little extra for, even though it doesn't actually excel in any area. It's fairly priced, reasonably capable, and only the battery life lets it down in any real sense. Definitely worth considering, then.


High-End Device: Ultrabooks

Although 'Ultrabooks' refers specifically to a selection of high-end Intel devices which meet specific criteria, it can also be used generically to describe a class of high-performance laptops (as long as Intel's brand-enforcement team doesn't catch up with you). They're expensive, powerful, and advanced - but are they worth the money?

Sony Vaio T13 - $1368

Description: Sony Vaio T13

Sony's belated arrival to the Ultrabook market hasn't dented their reputation for top-quality laptops, and the Sony Vaio T13 may be one of the most exciting Ultrabooks on shelves at the moment. As usual, the design and build-quality are high - it's thin, light, and its appearance truly stands out.

But who's buying a PC for how it looks? The specs are what really sell this. A 13.3-inch 1366 x 768 screen coupled with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage are largely as good as or better than the MacBook Air, although it's a Sandy Bridge i5 with Intel HD Graphics 3000, as opposed to the Befruited One's Ivy Bridge/Intel HD 4000 combo. Even so, you can get an Ivy Bridge version by paying a little extra, so it's a decision you can make. Either way, you won't be doing any high-performance gaming anyway, so don't worry too much.

The main benefits of the Vaio T13 include the battery life - a whopping seven hours - and a fantastic 1.3MP webcam. Connectivity is strong, with both USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 4.0. HD video is, of course, fine, and in general use you shouldn't notice any performance issues.

Disadvantages include Sony's trademark over-glossed screen (it's irritatingly reflective) and parade of proprietary software, including a bizarre gesture-control system that has you waving at your PC to perform simple tasks. Futuristic, yes, but for it to work properly you have to be within reach of the keyboard anyway...

A strong entry from Sony, then, and one you could be pleased to own - assuming you have the budget to buy an UltraBook at all.

MacBook Air - $1486.4

Description: MacBook Air - $1486.4

The popularity of the MacBook Air is, more or less, the reason the Ultrabook class of laptop exists at all. The ultra-thin chassis remains the same as when it was initially unveiled, but the interior has been refreshed with modern components for Summer 2012. Case in point: faster 1600MHz RAM, USB 3.0 support, 720p webcam, a rapid-start feature and instant-on wake are all present on this latest model.

The upgrades are iterative rather than revolutionary, which is always a disappointment from a company as willing to try new things as Apple is, but when the hardware is already excellent it's tough to complain. The difference between the MacBook Air's debut and now is that there are a lot of people competing for the same slice of the pie, and many of them are doing just as well as Apple is.

The actual specs are competitive, but as you'd expect from Apple they aren't fantastic - you pay as much for 'privilege' of Apple engineering and software as for the raw specs. An 11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 screen, Ivy Bridge Intel Core i5-331 7U, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of SSD storage means you get a device that's

quiet, fast, very light and reasonably powerful, but it's hard not to look at the likes of the Acer Aspire V3 and ask whether it's worth paying $640 more. Graphics are Intel HD 4000, courtesy of Ivy Bridge - twice as good as the earlier version of the Air, but still not up to any serious gaming.

The lack of storage is the only major flaw, and while you can add more, it's a costly upgrade to go through with. Battery life is around five hours, thanks to its low-power components. In many ways, it's actually perfect for academic use - it's just a shame that it isn't priced to match that.

  •  Windows Tips & Tricks (August 2012) – Part 2 - Manage Your Google Docs Offline with gExplore
  •  Windows Tips & Tricks (August 2012) – Part 1 - Wake Your PC with a Smartphone or Tablet
  •  Windows 8's Unexpected Features (Part 3)
  •  Windows 8's Unexpected Features (Part 2)
  •  Windows 8's Unexpected Features (Part 1)
  •  Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 : Deploying DirectAccess (part 3) - Installing and configuring DirectAccess and network location server
  •  Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 : Deploying DirectAccess (part 2) - Creating a certificate revocation list (CRL) distribution point on the DirectAccess server
  •  Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 : Deploying DirectAccess (part 1) - Creating a certificate template for computer autoenrollment
  •  Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 : Planning to Deploy Directaccess
  •  Iwork Pro : Export Strength
  •  Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search? (Part 4) - Power tools,Search for files over Wi-Fi, Search your PC from your mobile phone
  •  Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search? (Part 3) - Search across the LAN
  •  Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search? (Part 2) - Search within files
  •  Is It Time To Ditch Windows Search? (Part 1) - Simple filename searches
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 4) - Thermaltake Level 10 GTS
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 3) - Corsair Obsidian 550D, NZXT Phantom 410 Gunmetal Edition
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 2) - Corsair Vengeance C70, MSI Ravager
  •  In Search Of The Perfect Mid-Tower (Part 1) - Antec Eleven Hundred, Silverstone Temjin Tj04-E
  •  Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 3)
  •  Rebuilding The Dream (Machine) (Part 2)
    Top 10
    Letter Of The Month – November 2012 (Part 2)
    Letter Of The Month – November 2012 (Part 1)
    Mac App Store Sandboxing Nightmare
    iStopMotion 3
    That’s Online Entertainment (Part 3)
    That’s Online Entertainment (Part 2)
    That’s Online Entertainment (Part 1)
    How to Buy…A TV TUNER (Part 2)
    How to Buy…A TV TUNER (Part 1)
    Philips E-Line 273E3LH LED Monitor - Big-Screen-Entertainment
    Most View
    How did Webs put the world on maps? (Part 3)
    ActiveX Installer Service in Windows Vista
    Windows Server 2008 : Manage Hyper-V Remotely
    iPhone 3D Programming : Blending and Augmented Reality - Stencil Alternatives for Older iPhones
    Need To Know A Snapshot Of What Is Exciting Us (Part 2) - Olympus OM- D brings a new style to CSCs
    Brother DCP - J140W - Cheapest Wireless All-In-One Printer
    Advanced ASP.NET : Data-Access Components (part 1) - A Simple Data-Access Component
    Managing Exchange Server 2010 : The Exchange Management Shell (part 1) - Bulk user creation in the Exchange Management Shell
    Make Raspberry PI Projects
    Programming .NET Components : Building a Distributed Application (part 1) - Programmatic Channel Registration
    Huge Screen Supertest (Part 1) - Twisted Nematic
    Sharepoint 2007: Approve or Reject a File or List Item
    Ditch your printer today : Step-by-step print your files to PDF (part 1)
    Freeware: Ubuntu, Serif WebPlus, Sony Vegas Movies
    ASUS Rampage IV GENE - For the Compact Enthusiasts
    Reliving the Commodore 64 Glory Days (Part 2)
    Nokia 808 Pureview - Best For Convergists
    Windows 7 : Programming Drivers for the User Mode Driver Framework - Required Driver Functionality, UMDF Sample Drivers
    SharePoint 2007 : See What Files or List Items Are Checked Out to You
    Etymotic Research mc2