With Windows 8 on track and gaining popularity since its release, this segment in the guide is bound to have changed quite a bit. Last month we saw the cheap Ultrabooks from ASUS encroaching on the territory normally reserved for the cheap laptop segment. With a generally thinner profile and lighter weight, they’re becoming the de facto choice for bargain buyers that have realised the DVD drive is becoming redundant, even here in sunny South Africa with our rather slow internet compared to the rest of the world. Remember kids, every recommendation made here today also qualifies for the R125 upgrade to Windows 8 if Windows 7 is pre-installed. So, lets get on with it!
R10,000 Gaming or Business Laptops and Ultrabooks:
Part of the reason why this segment is so hugely populated is because more and more South Africans are gaining an incredible amount of buying power, so much so that R10,000 seems to be the default entry point into the high-end laptop and Ultrabook market. Something to bear in mind before we move on: Dell has no less than six laptops available here and two of them share the same model number with a laptop that looks, on the surface, completely identical. The 14z available from Laptopdirect is more business-orientated and sports a lower price tag, while the one available in local retailers like Incredible Connection eschews the business features and matte screen for an mSATA SSD and a discrete graphics card powerful enough for some casual gaming. The 5520 likewise has two versions, one of which sports a full HD screen and a Core i7 processor.
Lets get the business end sorted out first. Your choices are the Aspire M5, the Inspiron 14z, Latitude E5430, Folio 13, the Thinkpad S430 and Samsung’s NP600. All of these bring something of their own to the mobile professional and arguably the Latitude E5430 is the best choice out of the lot, sporting built-in 3G, a backlit keyboard, low weight and better security measures. But turn your eye instead on the Thinkpad S430 – it sports a much better screen, a lower weight, Thunderbolt and mini-HDMI and a full-fat Core i5 processor, not the low-voltage ones business notebooks seem to be stuck with these days. The NP600 also shines because its the only laptop in this segment left with Quadro graphics, perfect for those of you doing come CAD on the move. The Macbook Air trails in at the end for those of you who don’t mind OS X and do a lot of photo and movie editing. Apple offers a solid business package and for the man who likes to make a statement, the Apple logo is all you need, really.
Gamers rejoice! There’s a good deal of options here beginning at the low-end with the MSI GE60 and the Satellite L850, topping out with the venerable Ideapad Y580 and the impressive Inspiron 5520 with the HD screen. If you want performance there’s only one way to go – the Ideapad Y580, sporting a Core i7 quad-core processor and Nvidia’s Kepler-based GTX660M. The Inspiron 5520 comes in second place thanks to the high-definition screen but would lose in any benchmarks pitted against the Y580, even at the same settings and resolution. MSI comes in third place, offering a great-looking package with a dual-core Core i5 chip and Nvidia’s GT650M.
Ultrabooks here are actually mixed into both categories of laptop for both gaming and business use but if I had to pick one, it would be the Inspiron 13z. Ultrabooks are primarily geared for content consumption and the glossy screen of the 13z certainly will help colours to show more clearly and with more depth. There are no tablets here yet and I don’t feel the first generation has any merits for purchase yet, seeing as most RT tablets currently available are still hovering around the R7000 mark.
R13,000 Gaming or Work Laptops and Ultrabooks:
Gigabyte U2442 Gaming Ultrabook 14″ HD @ R12,945 (Add in the Office 2010 H&S Retail pack)
Again, we sit with a huge amount of options to choose from and I’ve filtered them down as much as possible. Lets get through the two tablets first: the Eee B121 and the XE700 Slate are two competing high-end units and the ones you’re likely to see in the coming months are going to be based on the same hardware get-up, so there’s no use waiting for these units to get their Windows 8 certification. Both will be a blast with FreshPaint, both come with digitizers and both are a reasonably high resolution to begin with. I’ve used the XE700 before and while the wireless keyboard has good feel, its not necessary to lug it around if you update both to Windows 8 (you would have to be mad not to).
There’s also the curious case of the Lenovo Yoga. Its an ultrabook that flips over itself to turn into a tablet. It still has a capacitive screen that can be used while in normal laptop mode, but flipping it into tablet orientation automatically turns off the keyboard and trackpad. Its a great idea and I toyed around with it at rAge, but didn’t get to see how good the build quality was or of the hinge will stand up to years of being flipped on itself. The screen is certainly responsive and if you see one of these in your local Incredible Connection, I urge you to try one. There’s also the Thinkpad X220T, but that’s a little more traditional and a lot bulkier.
Onto the Ultrabooks and already I can tell you that its a lost battle. No, its not the Zenbook that walks away with my first choice, but Gigabyte’s U2442. Boasting a regular Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia’s GT640M mated to a high-definition 14″ screen, the use of both a hard drive and the mSATA standard and weighing in after all that is crammed in at a mere 1.7kg, its possibly the best all-round Ultrabook out there. Sure some are impossibly thin like the HP Spectre Pro XT, or offer great visuals thanks to the impressive IPS panel on the Zenbook, but the U2442 is better than both in a lot of things. Its not an either/or situation here, which is why its my favourite. And it will rock games on high settings at the native resolution – count me in!
Getting into the business side of things again, the Thinkpad Edge S430 dukes it out with the Latitude E6430 and both seem evenly matched at first. The E6430 fights back with a backlit keyboard, better security features and 3G connectivity and takes it in the end. Apple’s Macbook Pro 13″ also puts in a good argument here but lacks a DVD drive, can’t compete with the better screen and doesn’t have a fingerprint reader. The only measure where it does win is in battery life and a Thunderbolt port. Gigabyte’s U2442 butts into the contest once again, a good consideration because it has discrete graphics and the benefit of a SSD by default.
And finally, lets address the gamers because I think they have the most strenuous requirements of all. Your options are the Vostro V3560, the Inspiron 5520, the Gigabyte U2442 and Mecer’s W370ET. The Vostro has support for a mSATA SSD and being R1000 under budget gives us some room to shove in a larger 64GB model to hold the Windows install and up to two games. Its good value, but pairing the Inspiron 5520 with a 240GB SSD from Corsair gives it the edge in performance. But the honour of my thumbs-up goes to Mecer for the fourth time this year. Specced correctly, its faster than any other solution and costs less as well. It has space for two hard drives, meaning that shoving in a 128GB SSD is the first thing I’d recommend.
It can pack up to 24GB RAM, has a 17.3″ full HD screen, has three USB 3.0 ports and manages to shove in a GTX660M from Nvidia, powered off the wall by an eight-cell battery. Its a beast and certainly my first and only stop if I have twelve grand burning a hole in my pocket and I want a desktop replacement notebook that performs like a desktop would. Can you imagine two 128GB Neutron GTX drives in there? Holy moly.
That’s all for this week folks. We’ll be making our last stop in the buyer’s guide next week, toppping out at the R18,000 price point. Next month its back to the desktop and I have a feeling we’ll have better chance of finding stock of the new Piledriver-based processors from AMD. Until next time!
Discuss this in the forums: Linky