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Laptop Buyers Guide: November Netbooks to R8000

Welcome to the month of Movember, boys and girls! We’re back with another edition of the Laptop Buyers guide and this month is a little special because of one thing: Windows 8. With the local release behind us and new models creeping out from hiding sporting the new OS there’s a ton more choice for consumers. Add to that the fact that Windows 8 runs faster and lighter than its predecessor and its a perfect fit for inclusion on Netbooks and tablets. So, lets see what you can get for your money today.

One thing that everyone has to keep in mind is the seriously low cost of Windows 8. Currently you can buy it for R800 at most stores and that’s the full version, not merely the upgrade you can purchase off Microsoft’s site. Those of you buying a new laptop or desktop still have the R125 upgrade option which really cements the value of the new OS. Its officially now as cheap for Mac owners as it is for PC users to simply upgrade to the new version without breaking the bank. Lets hope Microsoft takes some valuable lessons from this and adjusts pricing in future to make the OS cheaper.

The R125 upgrade is particularly enticing for Netbook users because it means they’re no longer saddled with Windows 7 Starter, which I always hated. Where possible and wherever your pocket permits, I’d highly recommend you take the upgrade at the cheaper price.

R4500 Netbooks, Ultrabooks, Notebooks and Tablets:

Acer Aspire One D270 10.1″ @ R3158 (SSD Upgrade: TEAM Xtreem S2 128GB @ R999)

ASUS X101CH 10.1″ @ R3299 (SSD Upgrade: TEAM Xtreem S2 128GB @ R999)

ASUS X201E Ultrabook 11.6″ @ R3641 (Holy balls, a cheap Ultrabook!)

Packard Bell Easynote TS11-HR 15.6″ @ R4732 (Holy balls, a cheap gaming laptop!)

Acer Iconia 32GB 10″ @ R3299

ASUS Google Nexus 7″ 16GB @ R3299

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″ @ R4769

Apple iPad 3 16GB @ R4599

Call it what you want, but this is definitely a good time to pick up some bargains on the Netbook and cheap laptop front. Lets kick this off with the cheapest Ultrabook we’ve seen so far. ASUS’ X201E is a 11.6″ Ultrabook with a low-power dual-core Intel Celeron, a super-thin chassis that packs in a 6-cell battery and its powered by Windows 8. It may not have touch capability, but its definitely a step in the right direction. And look at how its priced – easily matching the prices of popular tablets on sale right now and providing better functionality for those that need come computing power on the move. Its not going to blow your socks off, but its definitely going to eat into the Netbook market.

Speaking of Netbooks, Acer’s Aspire One makes another appearance in the guide and remains the best choice for two reasons; 1) its easy to access the rear panel to upgrade the hard drive and, 2) it comes with a 6-cell battery backup, providing double the life of its counterparts that have to make do with three cells. Pair this little critter with Windows 8 and you’ll probably squeeze about seven hours out of it. ASUS’ X101CH also is great value for money but has a smaller battery. You’d have to choose between battery life and the better keyboard that the ASUS ships with.

Kudos go to Packard Bell for providing the cheapest Notebooks I’ve ever seen with some serious discrete graphics. Easily undercutting everyone else by at least R1000, the Easynote I’ve linked here will play any game at 720p resolution with no AA and medium to high settings thanks to Nvidia’s GT630M. The tablets take up the last of the space in the budget here, with the iPad 3 taking the prize for the better hardware and arguably better tablet experience. For those not enamoured with the idea of using an Apple product and the Apple Store, the Google Nexus 7 should be your weapon of choice. Sporting a Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset, its a good choice for some lightweight gaming on the go and there’s a good deal of games in the Google Play store already. Plus, you can be productive on a tablet.

R6000 Gaming and business Notebooks, Ultrabooks and Tablets:

ASUS K53Z 15.6″ @ R5335 (4GB RAM Upgrade) (R125 Windows 8 upgrade)

ASUS VivoBook X202E Touch Ultrabook 11.6″ @ R5499

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge 520 3G 15.6″ @ R5647 (4GB RAM Upgrade)

Packard Bell Easynote TS11-HR 15.6″ @ R4732 (2GB RAM Upgrade) (R125 Windows 8 upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: TEAM Xtreem S2 128GB @ R999)

Sony Vaio SVE11115E 11.6″ @ R4892 (2GB RAM Upgrade) (SSD Upgrade: TEAM Xtreem S2 128GB @ R999)

Toshiba Satellite L850-F31R 15.6″ @ R6355

ASUS Transformer Prime 16GB TF301 10″ @ R5262

Apple iPad 3 32GB @ R5899

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 32GB P5100 10″ @ R5999

Toshiba AT100-102 16GB 3G 10″ @ R5797

At R6000 there’s a barrage of options for both business users and gamers, with a little slice of Ultrabook in between them. The Vivobook is unique in that it features Windows 8 and a touch screen, but seems to be a bit skimpy on the hardware side, especially with just 2GB of RAM. If opening the rear panel is easy, I’d recommend anyone stick at least another 2GB of RAM in there. 2GB in this day and age may be enough, but its a positively paltry amount for any discerning power user.

A few laptops can be considered for gaming, the ASUS K53Z and the Packard Bell Easynote being  the cheaper optionsd once again. While the ASUS features a quad-core chip and dual graphics, the Easynote fights back with a low price tag and a stronger graphics core. Fitted with an extra 2GB RAM, an upgrade to Windows 8 and a SSD, it’ll be probably the best money anyone can spend here. Sony’s Vaio SVE could also play a few games at 720p and low to medium settings but I’d recommend only light gaming use. The Satellite L850 takes the cake here, offering the best hardware for our budget.

Business users should appreciate the low cost of Lenovo’s Edge 530. Its capable enough as an office-bound workhorse and with the improvements to mobile internet, the built-in 3G will be a great addition if you’re likely to need to be accessing your e-mail and the internet on the move. Windows 8 makes some substantial changes to the way 3G networks are handled, so its well worth the upgrade for better wireless connectivity.

There’s not much to say about the tablet range here since most of them are Android-based. The iPad recommendation doubles its storage capacity but the rest of the tablet range is held back with only Wi-Fi connectivity. Toshiba’s AT100 does well to stand out, then, with 3G HSDPA built-in using standard-size SIM cards. Definitely one to look at if you don’t have wireless hotspot functionality on your phone.

R8000 Gaming and Business Notebooks, Premium Ultrabooks and Tablets:

ASUS S400A Ultrabook 14″ @ R8398

Dell Inspiron 13Z 13.3″ @ R7339 (4GB RAM Upgrade)

Dell Inspiron 14Z 14″ @ R7339 (4GB RAM Upgrade)

Dell Latitute E5430 14″ @ R8064

HP Probook 5330M 13.3″ (LG717EA) @ R7702 (2GB RAM Upgrade)

Lenovo Thinkpad T420 3G 14″ @ R7501

Lenovo Ideapad U310 13.3″ @ R7581

Lenovo Thinkpad X220 12.5″ @ R7943

Samsung Series 5 13.3″ Ultrabook @ R8064

Toshiba Satellite L850-F33B 15.6″ @ R8548

ASUS Transformer Infinity TF700T + keyboard @ R7823

ASUS Transformer TF300T 3G 32GB @ R6999

Apple iPad 3 3G 64GB @ R7799

And at R8000 the lineup mostly flattens out to include more business notebooks than we can poke a stick at. Lets get the Ultrabooks out the way first: ASUS’ S400A at first looks the part but the three-cell battery kind of brings things down a bit. Dell’s Inspiron 13z was previously recommended in my guide but I always squeezed out the budget a bit by adding in a SSD. That’s now changed and I’d highly recommend Windows 8 instead, because the kind of speed-up the UI brings is substantial.

If you do want a SSD inside though, turn your attention to Samsung’s Series 5. Even without Windows 8 its got enough speed to make your friends wish they had one. The only drawback is the crappy glossy display which, while it looks good indoors, doesn’t work as well in bright sunlight with reflections.

The rest of the lineup consists of business-orientated notebooks and ultraportables. There’s not much to go into detail about them but the best ones are Dell’s Latitude and the Lenovo Thinkpad T420. The Latitude hits back with a backlit keyboard and a really light weight while the T420 has a great screen and is better geared towards productivity. Both have matte screens and both feature built-in 3G modems so its up to you to decide which way you want to swing. The gaming crown is picked up by Toshiba’s L850 once again, this time sporting a quad-core i7 processor and 6GB of RAM along with a Blu-Ray DVD writer. That’s some serious value and its cheaper than Lenovo’s Y580 which was previously the budget gaming laptop to go for. Give this one some serious thought people, its well worth the money.

As for the tablets, ASUS is the last competitor capable of taking the fight to Apple properly. The Transformer series looks and feels good and the Infinity feels like a really expensive piece of tech. Its a straight match-up of the iPad with 3G and the TF300T, also with 3G but the iPad loses my recommendation because the TF300T comes with the excellent keyboard dock. When Surface-based designs hit the market, there’ll be a lot of competition there and Android is at risk of becoming sidelined. Well see soon enough how it all plays out for Microsoft and its partners.

That’s all for this week guys! Tune in next week for the next episode in the guide if you’ve got more than R8000 to spend.

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