Notebook Shopping Guide: Our recommendations for Christmas

Sebastian Jentsch, 12/12/2010

Shopping Tips. We present recommendable multimedia books, super quiet office devices, light subnotebooks and mobile netbooks for spontaneous notebook buyers and "Santa Clauses". But even fans of powerful gaming laptops (DTR) won't come too short.

Categorie: Netbook

Asus Eee PC 1015P

Dual core netbooks are advancing with more performance, but they all can't dislodge the 1015P from the Throne of 10 Inchers. No wonder, since the 1015P hangs on to the 1st place with its 7:30 hour battery life, the bright and matt display and the solid workmanship. The used chiclet keyboard provides good ergonomics, although the shift keys have been kept disagreeably small. The generous touchpad with multi-touch support is a novelty. The application performance can't impress us, but is on a typical netbook level.

What we liked
The case's design with its matt surfaces and subtle textures with excellent haptics.

What we missed
UMTS, for giving the netbook the finishing touch of mobility.

What surprised us
A matt display with a good brightness and very good contrast - and it is possible!

The competitition
Various netbooks with a 10.1 inch display and Intel Atom N450 processor. Amongst other the Asus Eee PC R101, the Sony VAIO M netbook, Samsung NP-N150 Eom, the MSI Wind U160 and many more.

Asus Eee PC 1015PN

Smooth HD rendering, a certain amount of gaming capabilities and a good, matt 10 inch display are the 10.1 incher's advantages. The combination of Intel's Atom N550 and the dedicated Nvidia ION 2 graphics solution, as well as the option of switching to the internal processor graphics is impressive. In spite of the increased performance, the battery life of 6:30 hours (WLAN test) is still very good. If you want maximum performance for little money, you won't get around the 1015PN.

What we liked
The considerable performance increase for an acceptable surcharge and the long-awaited HDMI port.

What we missed
Nvidia Optimus graphics switching as a standard, a HD ready display that has a resolution of 1366x768 pixels and a USB 3.0.

What surprised us
The good display rates, which supply a throughout smooth HD reproduction and the good battery life due to the (manual) graphics switching.

The competition
Only few netbooks with a larger 12 inch screen and Nvidia ION 2 graphics. The new Samsung NF310 with a 10 inch display is comparable. Other devices would be: the new Asus Lamborghini VX6 netbook or the Asus Eee PC 1201N with Intel Atom D525. Also, even stronger devices, such as the Acer Aspire One 521 netbook or the Dell Inspiron M101z subnotebook.

Samsung NF310 A01

The AR coated HD Ready TFT hasn't only got a manageable resolution (1366x768), but also a very good brightness of up to 246 cd/m2. It's ready for next summer. The performance gain (57% CPU benchmark, 31% total performance) provided by the Atom dual core N550 (2x1.5 GHz) is impressive in comparison with the N450/N455. It makes work smoother. The perfect ergonomics is typical for Samsung and the inputs can be used very effortlessly. If you're looking for a high resolution, but aren't interested in 1080p videos, the NF310 would be perfect.

What we liked
Bright, matt, and with a high resolution – that's what a 10.1 inch panel should be like.

What we missed
And now a little Nvidia ION 2 graphics, that would have been the perfect netbook machine.

What surprised us
Good battery life, as with the single core Atom.

The competition
Dual Core alternatives: Asus Eee PC 1015PEM: matt display; Asus Lamborghini VX6: Nvidia Ion 2 & Atom D525; Asus Eee PC 1015PN: affordable Ion 2; Acer Aspire One D255: strong battery life. AMD single core: Asus Eee PC 1015T: less battery life but more HD support; Aspire One 521: K125 with more performance.

Category: Office

HP ProBook 6550b WD703EA

You should get to know the ProBook 6550b when looking for a not too expensive business notebook with extensive security features. Made for small to medium sized business (SME), the 6550b supplies a very good display (matt (1600x900), professional inputs and a vast connectivity. Beyond that, it offers a solid construction and workmanship that will hopefully bestow the notebook a long life.

What we liked
The notebook's vast connectivity and the numerous safety features. It also has a few very practical detail solutions, such as the capacitive keys that we quite liked.

What we missed
An illuminated keyboard would have been a rational enrichment for the ProBook 6550b, in our opinion.

What surprised us
The very good display that has been installed into the ProBook 6550b. They are usually reserved for premium models.

The competition
Asus' P42JC that we have recently reviewed is a serious competitor for the ProBook 6550b, just like Lenovo's ThinkPad T410 is one of the ProBook's rivals.

Lenovo IBM ThinkPad T510

Optimus Technology has been implemented in Lenovo's Thinkpad 510. It allows a considerably longer battery life to be achieved in low load than the T510 – 4349-4JG model. Another bonus point is the bright Full-HD screen with a large color spectrum (RGB LED), as it's used in the Thinkpad W510. The business apt, matt display also scores with good brightness, homogeneous illumination and an excellent contrast.

What we liked
The matt Full-HD display with very good brightness, homogeneous illumination, excellent contrast and large color spectrum.

What we missed
An updated Optimus driver.

What surprised us
A device in this price category without reasonable supplies, such as recovery and driver DVDs, etc.

The competition
15 inch devices with updated hardware, business equipment and Full-HD displays with a large color spectrum are scarce. They could possibly be found at Dell: Latitude E6510 or HP: Elitebook 8540p or even in this work station counterpart: Elitebook, or even from the same manufacturer in the stronger Thinkpad W510 workstation.

Samsung R530 Nolan

Samsung designs a 15.6 inch device, equipped for office tasks, at an attractive price called R530 Nolan in time for Christmas. The Pentium-T4500 processor (2x2.3 GHz) provides good performance above the low-end single core configurations. The non-slip and resistant case convinces with grainy surfaces. The ergonomics are great and the input devices (keyboard) are suitable for prolific typists. Beside an extremely quiet system noise, due to silent mode, the case always stays cool. The display isn't AR coated and presents low contrasts.

What we liked
Few frills, but still a lot of notebook. There is an excellent keyboard, a durable case and adequate computing power at an attractive price.

What we missed
An anti-glare display would have turned the R530 Nolan into a perfect office mate.

What surprised us
The enthusiasm with which the developer experiments with the surfaces. This notebook does fine without paint.

The competition
Simple office laptops without bells and whistles. Fujitsu LifeBook A530: Core i3; Lenovo IdeaPad G560: as well as i3-CPU; HP 625: anti-glare; HP 620: Dual-Core; HP Compaq Presario CQ62: Dual-Core; MSI CR630: Single-Core AMD; Lenovo G550: T4500-configuration.

Category: Multimedia

Sony Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ

Outside, a plain plastic cover, inside, premium consumer technology. Not everything shines golden on the Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ, but the plain notebook, with its resistant surfaces, has a few remarkable benefits. In terms of performance, entertainment fans and gamers are adequately provided for with Intel's Core i5 460M and ATI's HD 5650 (450 MHz). A lot of interfaces (eSATA, ExpressCard34, HDMI, two cardreaders) and a good, clearly arranged keyboard make work easy. A real bonus point is the Full-HD screen with 1920x1080 pixels. The Vaio VPC-EB3Z1E/BQ is perfect for demanding consumers, with its good contrast (551:1), the almost complete coverage oft he sRGB color spectrum and the stable horizontal viewing angles.

 

What we liked
Finally, a recommendable screen in a consumer laptop. We don't often see such stable viewing angles and good contrasts.

What we missed
Every low-budget notebook bids touchpads with a better feedback and scroll bars these days. Why not this Vaio?

What surprised us
The pleasantly calm fan management lets you almost forget the speed fluctuations (load).

The competition
Full HD options: Vaio VPC-F12Z and newest version F13; Lenovo Thinkpad W510 4319-29G: FullHD on 15.6 inches; HP EliteBook 8540w: professional display, but very expensive; Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch 2010-04; Fujitsu Celsius Mobile H700: Quadro FX 880M; Dell Latitude E6510; ASUS N53JQ-SZ137V: GeForce GT425M; MSI GT660R-i7488BLW7P: bulky gamer; Sony Vaio VPC-Z12C7E/B: power mite; ASUS G73JH: stealth bomber looks; Acer Aspire 8943G: quad muscle man; Toshiba Qosmio X500-125: 18.4 incher.

13.3 inch Apple MacBook Pro

The Apple MacBook Pro MC375D strengths are mobility, an outstanding case, quiet system noise and excellent input devices. The 13.3 inch has gained significantly in graphics performance due to the Geforce 320M. The processor performance, supplied by the old Core 2 Duo P8800, still is behind the latest Core i5s. The battery life of 4:30 hours could be increased due to the somewhat larger battery and more economical GeForce 320M. The drawbacks are still the poor connectivity, omitted UMTS/WiMax and lack of matt display option.

What we liked
Its mobility due to the low weight / size and long battery life

What we missed
An AR coated display

What surprised us
That there are still no real competitors

The competition
Actually, principally from the same manufacturer, but then majorly the less expensive entry alternative with 2.4 GHz, as well as the white MacBook is worth looking at. Soonest, the stronger and more expensive Sony Vaio Z11 with Core i processors and dedicated GT 330M graphics in the Windows World.

Acer Aspire TimelineX 5820TG

Acer provides a swift 15.6 incher with the Aspire TimelineX 5820TG-5464G75Mnks. It has a lot of power inside. Once again, the fast midrange ATI HD 5650 supplies good frame rates in the gaming field. The base unit's, lid's and input devices' workmanship is very good, or at least adequate. The latter applies to the feedback poor mouse pad keys and the keyboard's somewhat imprecise typing feel. The battery life struggles to achieve 3:33 hours with the HD 5650 that can be deactivated (WLAN surfing). A good result, even if Acer's forecasted eight hours remain unreachable in practical use.

What we liked
Matt surfaces, stable construction and good battery runtimes due to the low power consumption.

What we missed
At least one eSATA port for fast hard disks. How else are gamers supposed to boot their Steam backup quickly?

What surprised us
We hardly ever encounter such a solid aluminum lid. This should become industrial standard.

The competition
If you are aiming at the ATI HD 5650, you should look at Acer's Aspire 4820TG Timeline X, Dell's Studio 1749, Acer's Aspire 8942G, TravelMate 5740G-524G50MN, TravelMate 7740G, Toshiba's Satellite L670D-120, L650D-10H and Sony's Vaio VPC-EB1S1E/BJ.

Category: Subnotebook

Apple MacBook Air 11.6-Zoll (MC506*/A)

Case, input devices and graphics performance are still looking for their equals in the 11.6 inch category. The obsolete Core 2 Duo SU9400 is considerably slower in comparison to cutting edge Core i5 ULV processors. Nevertheless, you won't find notebooks with faster processors at the moment. Even the almost inaudible system noise without high load is definitely a bonus point. The insufficient upgrade possibilities and omitted UMTS modem have to be noted on the con side. It's also a pity that Apple doesn't use AR coated displays.

What we liked
As usual for Apple unibody notebooks - design, build quality, and material quality.

What we missed
A non reflective display, and a longer battery life

What surprised us
The enormous stability of the aluminum case, despite the thin build.

The competition
There isn't really any. The closest one would be the Sony Vaio X13, which has a much worse performance though.

Sony Vaio VPC-Z12M9E/B

There is strong, standard equipment in the device: a strong Core i5-520M (2x2.4 GHz, Turbo Boost, Hyperthreading) and the Geforce GT 330M (but downclocked). But first and foremost, the Raid 0 configuration of two 64GB Toshiba SSDs makes it to a performance master. The Z12M9E/B placed itself in the top range of the system benchmark, PCMark Vantage and PCMark05. The docking port, high-end input devices, the installed 4G module, the excellent matt display and high-end manufacturing backs the business category. The battery life of three hours (WLAN surfing) is adequate, but not especially good.

What we liked
Ingenious display with a fine resolution and great viewing angle tolerance.

What we missed
A longer battery life would be cool, but it's actually enough.

What surprised us
The RAID 0 SSDs absolutely destroy our idea of a good system performance. Flash pockets the rotating colleagues.

The competition
Acer Travelmate 8472TG: 14 inches with a GT 330M; Asus PL30JT-RO030X: i5-520UM alternative with a 6 hour battery life; Lenovo Thinkpad X201: 12.1 inches with i5-540M; HP EliteBook 2540p: solid build and with ultimate connectivity; Acer Travelmate 8172T-33U4G32N: 11.6 inches with i3-330UM

ASUS PL30JT

If you want a strong battery life without sacrificing viable performance, you should look at the Asus PL30JT-RO080X. All positive features of the new Core i5 generation is available with its ultra low voltage processor (Intel HD incorporated, Turbo Boost (only i5-520UM), Hyperthreading). While the Asus PL20JT bids good subnotebook performance on the one hand, it can be very mobile with well 6 hours of battery life on the other (WLAN test). The stable case, the matt display, the feasible input devices make it to a good office companion. Unfortunately, the LED display from AUO is too dark. The second significant drawback is the high waste heat under load. The slim case heats up selectively up to 50 degrees during gaming or in the stress test.

What we liked
Turbo power when we want it. Battery life when it matters. The Geforce G 310M is adequate for a bit of gaming.

What we missed
A docking solution would have been the icing on the cake. Mandatory for such a mobile subnotebook is a 3G module (UMTS).

What surprised us
The performance of a ULV system on par with a standard system (Core i3).

The competition
Asus U30JC: Core i5-430M power at a similarly long runtime; Acer Aspire 4820TG: Gamers are better advised with a Radeon HD 5650 in 14 inchers; Asus UL30VT: if less performance suffices (starting at 660 euro); Sony Vaio VPC-Y11S1ES: A day of mobility; Acer Aspire 3820T: i3-330M and slightly superior graphics

Category: Gaming / Desktop-Replacement (DTR)

Schenker XMG P500 PRO

Not only the fast dual core processor, a Core i7 640M, the high-end graphics card, a GeForce GTX 460M, and a lavish RAM of eight gigabytes provide abundant performance. The hybrid hard disk also contributes a significant part. The XMG P500 Pro's display doesn't only score with its matt display, but also with its brightness, the fairly even illumination and excellent contrast.

What we liked
A matt screen in a gaming notebook for consumers!

What we missed
Optimus technology for a longer battery life under low load.

What surprised us
That this laptop doesn't need to simulate more vivid colors by using a reflective screen, in opposition to many competitor products.

The competition
Gaming notebooks with a matt display are still rare. Notebooks with the same graphics card can be found in Asus' G73JW (17 inch) or Toshiba's Qosmio X500 notebook. Comparable graphics performance is provided in notebooks with ATI's HD 5850 graphics card, for example: Acer's Aspire 5943G-728G64Wnss or Deviltech's Devil 9700 DTX with a somewhat stronger HD5870.

ASUS G73JW-TZ181V

Asus has succeeded in making an excellent gaming notebook with the G73JW. With an excellent performance (GeForce GTX 460M), the very good display, the good input devices, the impressive sound and the relatively low temperature, respectively noise development, the G73 can be called a full-fledged desktop replacement. The user can be sure of many envious glances attracted by its unique looks and plain lighting elements.

If you should take the alternative with the Radeon HD 5870 or with the GeForce GTX 460M is unexceptionally dependent on personal preferences. Users who want the highest possible (gaming) performance, are currently a bit faster with the G73JH (HD 5870). In return, users who find the supported features (e.g. PhysX) more important are likely better off with the G73JW (GTX 460M).

What we liked
The matt case exterior is delightfully dirt-resistant.

What we missed
Very little. The option of a matt display would be nice, but it's probably wishful thinking for a gaming notebook.

What surprised us
The surprisingly low case temperature and noise production.

The competition
Powerful gaming notebooks like the Deviltech Devil 9700 DTX, the Deviltech Fragbook DTX, the mySN XMG7.c, the MSI GX640, the MSI GX740, the MSI GT660 and the Medion Akoya X7811.

MSI GX660R

The MSI GX660R proves to be a strong gaming computer that can easily render even the latest tracks. The positive overall picture is dimmed by the clattery keyboard. The extremely loud cooling system also ruins the notebooks shine a bit. And not least, the turbo mode seems to be superfluous in this regard. In return, the MSI GX660R can score with its good performance, good sound system and the pleasant design. With the GX660R, you are equipped for upcoming games for the moment and should also attract attention at every LAN party.

What we liked
The notebook's good performance and the successful design. USB 3.0 also makes the notebook future proof.

What missed
A quieter cooling system.

What surprised us
That MSI hasn't yet fired its keyboard chief technician, respectively its supplier…

The competition
Asus' G53JW also provides impressive performance in current games, and also has the possibility to render 3D content. MSI's GT660R is also a good, but more expensive alternative.

> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Notebook Shopping Guide: Our recommendations for Christmas
Author: Sebastian Jentsch, 2010-12-12 (Update: 2012-07-18)