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Laptop Buyer’s Guide: September R15,000 to R21,000

Aaaaand we’re back with the last installment for this month’s Laptop Buyer’s guide, boys and girls. I hope you brought your wallets or copious amounts of drool with you because this is where the high-end is, where laptops and Ultrabooks compete for the same money while gamers get less and less choice in hardware, with diminishing returns the further you go up the ladder. I stand by what I said in the previous episode of the guide – Lenovo’s Y580 covers all the bases and is the best all-rounder for your money, guaranteed. So let’s see if the higher price points will bring up anything better.

R15,000 Gaming Laptops, Ultrabooks and Portable Workstations:

Acer Aspire AS8950G 18.4″ @ R15,194 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1035)

ASUS N75SL 17.3″ @ R14,227 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1035)

Dell Latitude E6430 14″ @ R15,062 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 120GB @ R1084)

HP Elitebook 2170p 11.6″ @ R15,315 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 120GB @ R1084)

Lenovo Thinkpad T520 15.6″ 1080p @ R14,211 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1035)

Samsung Series 9 NP900X 13.3″ @ R15,278

Sony Vaio SVS 15.5″ @ R15,556

Apple Macbook Air 13″ 256GB @ R14,999

Here things are a bit muddled, I’ll admit. The R15,000 price point belongs almost exclusively to Ultrabooks and mobile workstations, leaving little to no place for gaming laptops here. Acer does an admirable job with mimicking a full desktop in laptop form, sporting a massive 18.4″ LED-backlit screen driven by AMD’s HD6850M graphics card. The dual hard drive bays also help a lot  for flexibility, especially when you replace the one with a SSD. ASUS tries to deliver for gamers with the N75SL but falls short due to the weaker GT555M’s performance in games. That said, the Blu-Ray drive might give it a win over the Aspire along with the free goodies and the focus on media consumption due to the better integrated speakers. The lower price might also be a deciding factor. Sony’s Vaio SVS turns in a good performance with a better screen, light weight and backlit, full-size keyboard. As a portable gaming powerhouse, it has its merits.

The only Ultrabooks here are Samsung’s impossibly thin Series 9 and Apple’s Macbook Air, both actively competing against each other. Both eschew LAN ports, multiple USB 3.0 ports and employ either HDMI or Displayport/Thunderbolt for external display connectivity. Which one is the better fit depends on your requirements, but you’ll need wireless LAN for internet for both. I know its nitpicking, but Ultrabooks down to this size really limit your options for external connectivity and expansion. Apple’s Macbook will work better for you if you have an Airport Express or even a Time Capsule for wireless backups, file and printer sharing. With the Samsung you’ll need NAS storage and a networked printer, which at the outset means that setting up things with the Macbook will be easier because you can use any Mac-compatible printer.

Finally, there’s a bunch of nice business-orientated laptops at this price point. Again, Sony’s Vaio could fit in here but is quickly kicked out by Lenovo’s Thinkpad T520, sporting a 15.6″ full HD screen, a quad-core Sandy Bridge processor and Nvidia’s Quadro 4200M and a lower price tag to boot. If you need to do some 3D rendering/CAD design while traveling or some finely-detailed Photoshopping, it comes highly recommended. I’d urge buyers to also check out Dell’s Latitude family, specifically the E6430. With Ivy Bridge, a Quadro 4200M GPU, a smaller footprint and a backlit keyboard, its a better fit for the mobile businessman who needs to type things up while travelling or working late into the night. While 3G isn’t built-in, it is a R700 option for those of you who need it. You might also like HP’s minute Elitebook 2170p – sure, its a bit bulky but the aluminium chassis adds protection in addition to the notebook’s heft. There’s a backlit keyboard as well.

R18,000 Gaming Laptops, Ultrabooks and Mobile Workstations:

 ASUS UX31A Zenbook 13.3″ 1080p @ R16,161

HP Elitebook 8760W 17.3″ @ R17,611 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1035)

Lenovo Thinkpad T530 15.6″ @ R15,798 (RAM Upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2245)

Lenovo Thinkpad X230 12.5″ @ R15,798 (RAM Upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 240GB @ R2034)

Proline P150E 15.6″ 1080p @ R16,325 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 3 240GB @ R1814)

Samsung NP700 17.3″ 3D 1080p @ R17,248 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1035)

Toshiba P850-F31W 15.6″ 3D 1080p @ R16,100 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 240GB @ R2034)

And we have another mish-mash of systems here and there with some compromises both obvious and a little hidden. First thing though, look at that ASUS Zenbook. If you have sixteen grand for an Ultrabook, that is your go-to solution, the absolute last stop you can make. It is the best Ultrabook bar none and for the forseeable future, it’ll be the one uncontested in its price point. Spending more is an absolute waste of your money, don’t do it.

For gamers, three solutions here are worth your consideration. Proline wins the awesome award for being the best bang for buck and showing the boot to higher-ups like Dell’s Alienware and MSI’s GT lineup, costing nearly R10,000 less than other competing solutions. For R16,000, its the best gaming laptop at that price point and with a SSD upgrade it becomes almost perfect. Toshiba’s P850 isn’t in the same performance league, but does one-up things with a better screen that also does 3D. Unfortunately, being powered by a GT640M doesn’t do the screen justice and you’d have to game at 720p with medium settings to be able to even turn the feature on without cursing yourself every five seconds. The NP700 from Samsung, then, is the best solution if you’d like a laptop that does 3D comfortably and in normal mode should equal the Proline P150E in most games.

If you’re looking for a workstation replacement, I’d honestly only consider the Elitebook 8760W if you don’t need stuff like a backlit keyboard. The FirePro graphics card will be a killer in any app you can accelerate with it, but the thing is bloody heavy. If you want to lug it around, I suppose you can. If you’re on the move, the Thinkpad T530 is going to be your best buddy – upgrade the RAM, put in a SSD and you’re able to do just about anything a regular desktop can do, with the difference that you won’t be in one place while doing it. Nvidia’s Quadro 5400M is also Fermi-based but offers up better performance and lower power consumption. If you want something really small, the Thinkpad X230 is something to look at. Should you want to mix business and pleasure, get the Proline P150E – nothing else comes close.

R21,000 Gaming Laptops and Workstations that kick ass:

ASUS G55VW 15.6″ 1080p @ R21,236

Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 15.6″ @ R10,239 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Vertex 4 512GB @ R5512) (Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate) (add in a crapload of games)

Dell Precision M4600 15.6″ 1080p @ R20,026 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2245)

Proline P150E 15.6″ 1080p @ R16,325 (Windows 7 Pro Upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 512GB @ R3877)

Samsung NP700 17.3″ 3D 1080p @ R17,248 (Windows 7 Pro Upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 512GB @ R3877)

Apple Macbook Pro 15″ 2.3GHz @ R19,999

Its very, very lonely at the top, isn’t it. The only gaming laptop that starts at this price point is ASUS’ G55VW, which is a stunning example of how things should be done. However, there are cheaper laptops that will perform better. Case in point: you can choose Lenovo’s Y580, which has the same internals as the G55VW, shove in a 512GB SSD and buy yourself a Windows 7 Ultimate license and still have cash left over to buy a crapload of games. This same sentiment is echoed by the cheaper Proline P150E and the Samsung NP700 – both are the absolute limit where your money still buys you the kind of performance you’d expect. Beyond them, there’s nothing much else to choose from.

Rounding up the lineup is the only good workstation at this price point – Dell’s Precision M4600. Seriously, look no further than that because either HP puts too little RAM in their competing models or Lenovo figures that putting in a slower GPU is the best idea. Protip guys: you’re doing it wrong. If you’ve got more money set aside and need to do some very RAM-intensive tasks, then HP’s Elitebook 8560W should be your pick, supporting up to 32GB of RAM. Ending today’s feature, Apple’s Macbook Pro finishes up in last place on the list, but is another indication of how out-of-sync their prices are with the rest of the industry. Apple doesn’t use Quadro or FirePro graphics in their laptops, yet the GT650M found inside their new Pro lineup should be enough for any content creation apps you need to run. Need something more than that? Then be prepared to stump up the extra R4000 needed for the Retina display model, also incidentally the only Macbook Pro that sports a SSD by default.

That’s all for this month folks, join me next month starting on the 9th for a return to the desktop market, where Ivy Bridge has infiltrated every corner of the CPU market, finally. I’ll be busy with all things rAge as well, so be sure to follow us for coverage on that as well.

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