Welcome Holiday Shoppers! We Have a Laptop Special on Aisle Six!

I’ll be frank: I don’t like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. We’re all going to spend way more money than we probably should during the holiday season, and I don’t like to support the crowds and general craziness any more than I have to. So, now that the two biggest shopping days are behind us, we can settle in for more reasonable prices and recommendations. There will definitely be more sales, but what we’re going to look at are the products that we’d recommend even at the regular prices; if you can find these on sale, then by all means consider the recommendations even stronger.

Today’s buyer’s guide will focus on the mobile sector, but let’s not get carried away. Specifically, I’m going to be looking at netbooks, laptops, notebooks, ultrabooks, Chromebooks, etc. What I won’t be covering are other mobile devices like tablets, smartphones, and eReaders; I’ll save those for another guide by someone that knows those markets better than I do. So with that out of the way, let’s talk categories and specific recommendations.

As with our other guides, we like to stick with what we know where possible. That means we’re more likely to recommend something we’ve actually reviewed rather than a laptop we’ve only read about. However, there are products that we’ve had a chance to personally handle even if we can’t give a full review, so we’ll look at anything and everything related to laptops. We’ll break things up into a variety of categories, starting with netbooks and inexpensive ultraportables (i.e. anything less than 13.3” and under $600); we’ll also cover the emerging ultrabook market, but understandably even the cheapest ultrabooks tend to cost quite a bit more than the Atom and Brazos netbooks/ultraportables. Then we’ll start to break into broader categories focused on pricing, with budget, midrange, and high-end laptops and notebooks. We’ll discuss gaming potential, battery life, and other features that you’ll want to look for when shopping for a laptop.

Throughout the guide we’ll have specific recommendations, some alternative offerings, as well as general guidelines for what sort of components and features you should expect at various price points. One area that we tend to focus on far more than manufacturers is display quality; an otherwise good laptop with a mediocre display can feel like a letdown, and conversely an average laptop with a great display might be enough to garner our recommendation. Keyboard and build quality are two more elements that are important, though keyboard quality is often highly subjective. I know there are keyboards I’ve used and despised that others are fine typing on, so consider your own input in this area above what we might say. And with that out of the way, let’s start with the netbooks and other inexpensive offerings.

Going Cheap: Netbooks and Chromebooks
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  • Vxheous - Saturday, December 3, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I think the gimped ASUS G74 is the BBK7 model, the 560M has a lower bus, and it's also not 1920x1080. The model I got (XC-1) has the regular 560M with 3GB of vram, and has the 1920x1080. There's a G74SX-RH71 floating around now at $1400 Cdn, that has the i7 2670QM instead of the 2630QM that was in the original release G74's
  • Wineohe - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    I've had the X220 for about 6 months now. IPS Display is great, i7 is very fast, and upgrades in the form of 8GB of ram and a 240GB SSD have made it even better. However I would challenge any mention of high build quality. The bezel on both the keyboard and around the LCD Panel have definite issues. The corners are separating even though I have added the extra protection of a Neoprene case, something I didn't do with my Dell M1210, it was nearly indestructible.
  • snuuggles - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    Jarred, did you attempt to actually *use* the ux31? The keyboard is completely useless (action too short and resistant causing missed keystrokes. This has been reported quite consistently from reviewers, though they still give it high marks, god knows why). This is a very serious issue that I'm pretty surprised you didn't even mention it.

    Recommending it to readers here is not a service--I expect better from this site.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 3, 2011 - link

    I've used it some and don't really mind the keyboard. It's not the best keyboard ever, sure, but it's better than some of the keyboards I've used over the years and a 13" keyboard is worlds better than the 11.6" and 10.1" netbook keyboards. To each his own; I'll have the full review in the next week or so.
  • snuuggles - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Well, it's true I haven't used a *ton* of notebooks, so I guess the UX31 keyboard could be "relatively good." But the keyboard is the single biggest differentiator of this class of notebook with a tablet computer. It's simply unacceptible to have the primary input mechanism be so unreliable. My user experience was that the key action cause me to miss letters in *multiple words per sentence.* Also, the bottom left of the return key would depress and "click" but not register a keypress. This was repeatible--pressing that part of the key did nothing--ever!

    This is a mechanically flawed device, something that is unfixible in drivers or with anything else besides a complete re-think of the design.

    Seriously Jarred, touch-type a couple of paragraphs *without* going back to correct missed keys and examine what you've written.

    I'm *very* interested in your review, it's possible I got a "bum" keyboard, but given the other reviews I've seen, I suspect not.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I haven't had issues with missed keys, though I'll agree the key travel is lacking. The power button location is far more irritating to me (already disabled it, thanks). It's possible you just had a flaky unit, but I'll try typing a couple pages of the review on the UX31E just to verify there's nothing particularly damning.
  • g39 - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    Good guide, saved me a lot of work. I'm a former PC user, now Mac user, looking to buy a gaming PC laptop after being out of the scene for a few years. One thing that would be handy in this article is a comparison table listing the prices/specs of the all laptops mentioned in this article. Any way nice article, looks like the Asus G53SX-XR1 fits my needs.
  • ashwinn - Friday, December 2, 2011 - link

    Thanks so much for such a neat classification and budgeting of the wide array of available choices. This is the best laptop guide I have seen this year. Thanks for taking the time to pick nice photos of the laptops, non-Apple gadgets are typically shown with bad photos, though they do not look that bad at all :-)
  • Bolas - Saturday, December 3, 2011 - link

    Well this is sweet... I just bought the laptop that anandtech recommended for high end gaming about a month ago and at half price (go go outlet center + coupon).

    refurbished Alienware m17x r3, 120Hz Nvidia 3D Vision, Nvidia GTX 580m gpu, Intel core i7 2820QM cpu, 16GB 1333MHz DDR3, Blu-Ray, Killer 1103 Wireless N, all for only $1661. And then installed an Intel 160GB X25-M G2 SSD for the boot drive (had one from a desktop build) and a 750GB HDD for the data drive.

    Lots of fun!
  • Supermuncher - Saturday, December 3, 2011 - link

    I think it's awesome you happend to mention the 4430s since I literally just bought one. The price/performance ratio is amazing. Right now you can actually get the updated 2330 with 500gb for $500. The matte screen is also a plus with usb3.0 and esata. The only annoying this is all the crapware preinstalled and also the fan which is audible all the time! It's not super noisy but it is always on. Even turning it off in bios does nothing to quinch the ever present noise of it.

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