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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  • Toughbook - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - link

    This was a very informative article for keeping us up to date on what's out there now. Lord, we all know how fast they change these days. I strongly agree with your business suggestions. My son's Lenovo T410 is holding up pretty well considering a 14 year old hammers on it every day. My Panasonic Toughbook's CF-31 and CF-53 are still as solid as a brick. As you stated, if you change every 2 years go for whatever you like. If you hold onto one and pay dearly for the added quality and features then stick with business or rugged types!
  • rdamiani - Thursday, December 8, 2011 - link

    I can't get excited about any of the current notebooks at any price point because of the craptastic 16:9 displays they all have. All a 1080p display means is a downgrade from the 16:10 1920x1200 display in my current notebook. Until that changes, I won't upgrade until my M4400 is dead.
  • melblanc - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link

    In the low end category I would assume also the Samsung 305U 11.6inch laptop with E350 (E450 in some markets). Just got it for my motherinlaw and it won for me personally over the HP DM1. Also it has matte display and 1.3mpix camera.

    Battery life might be concern there as it gets just 4cell battery, but then the weight of 1.2kg is great there. I would recommend it. Got it for 399EUR with E350/4GB 1333 RAM / 500 GB HD config. Here it gets just in black, but some markets also more fancy colors are available.

    - decent build
    - matte display
    - price
    - good camera

    - not all configurations available in all markets, E450 is available in some EU contries only, language specific characters an issue there
    - battery standard 4 cell, 6 cell available as extra
    - availability
  • ReverendDC - Monday, December 12, 2011 - link


    I love your articles and almost all of the material on your site. For the most part, AnandTech is the most even-handed of the sites.

    However, I think you missed the mark on this one in the "inexpensive" category. I have a 17.3" HP, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB (5400 RPM...yuck) HD, 1600x900 res system that I got for $379.99 at Best Buy (of all places!). It runs the "not suggested" A4, and absolutely kicks it for general computing and mild gaming. Unless you want to run the newest games, this is more than enough for the general population, and it is extremely speedy. The keyboard is sufficient, and the system doesn't have too much play (the top behind the screen is hollow, so it pushes down quite a bit....). It boots in about 20-30 seconds from a cold start, and all functions of Win7 are peppy, with all Aero effects in gear. Even with a (really crappy) 47 wHr battery, I get 5-6 hours out of a charge.

    Your "low cost" solution is about $120 more than this system (one with an i3 is also available at $420 HP G7 Pavilion series, mine is G7-1237DX), and your netbook solution is $80 more. For the majority of readers that are looking for GP and light/mild gaming, this would be great, but things like this aren't mentioned.

    Of course, it isn't as great as some of the systems located above, but that $100 is a huge difference in many budgets these days...

    As for the A4, what it lacks in CPU power it more than makes up for in GPU power. The HD2000/3000 solutions aren't even close. In fact, your own Llano review notes that most of the benchmarks that are being run do not even run with Intel's current HD IGP solution. Again, pricing is way lower as well.

    I'm not saying one is better than the other, but the A4 matches well with an i3, especially considering the AMD discount.

    Of course, not everyone likes the added real estate of 17.3" over even 15.6", and I can see a major preference for 14" here, but I happen to like the larger screens. Wouldn't mind a 1920x1080 option at this price on a 17.3", nor a 1600x900 option for 15.6" systems, but you get what you can nowadays!
  • tential - Saturday, December 31, 2011 - link

    I'm just extremely disappointed when this review came to high end gaming. You recommended the Alienware M17x. Seriously? You would insult our intelligent to say that we can't do a simple check to compare Asus and Alienware and see which gives better performance? I tried to price an alienware and it gave me 8 GB ram, 2.2 quadcore, 500 GB HD, GTX 560 with 1.5 GB DDR5 Ram and 1080p screen for 2000 dollars. You had the nerve to say a 900p screen. WTF is a 900p screen? Is that something I'm supposed to WANT to purchase?

    A quick newegg search for Asus turned up a 12 GB ram, 2.2 quadcore, 1.5 TB HD, GTX 560 with 3 GB DDR5 Ram and 1080p screen for 1650 dollars. A TON more for a lot less. When I read the article I actually believed you at first. But knowing that this website has gotten more and more popular I decided to actually look, just to be safe. I bought my current gateway gaming laptop under a holiday roundup and it was hands down the best according to you guys. You were right. Price to performance nothing beat it. It's a joke for you to recommend the Aliewanre and I seriously doubt your integrity on this website now. I hope you have a legitimate reason why you would recommend me to pay more, for a LOT less.
  • raki - Sunday, January 8, 2012 - link

    I'm not sure if there's some reason this company wasn't looked at, but they advertise that you can request certain parts for your laptop, even if they don't carry them. Maybe they could do a 1920x1200 IPS display, if it's really important to you.

    The laptops can get pretty over the top.
  • abhicherath - Saturday, January 28, 2012 - link

    i know i'm kinda late here.But just as a head's up.I am pretty sure that Nvidia's GTX 560M and above cards use standard MXM slots.So they SHOULD be upgradeable.So you could slot in a 580M into the G74SX, would be way better than that tacky-ass alienware anyway.
  • Daniel Anthony - Friday, November 27, 2020 - link

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