I feel that my opinion of laptops and portable devices has changed significantly over the past few months. Now that I’m actually selling them to customers, I have to see where the allure is for a particular notebook, and for what workloads it would be suitable for. Business laptops are always elegant, yet thick and sturdy, entertainment notebooks are mostly thin and light these days, and for students the netbook is always going to be a winner. But for gamers, our choice was always a limited to a few choice brands and sizes. Things have picked up since my last gaming laptop column, so let’s have a look around…
Up to R5000
Always a staple in this list, HP keeps the budget gaming crown with the 625 series. The AMD Athlon dual-core still works well, the integrated ATI HD3200 GPU lets you play older titles like Starcraft, Counter-Strike, and several newer games at great speeds, and is still lighter and more efficient than a desktop built for the same purpose. Windows 7 Home Basic might be an eyesore for some, but this is what budget buying gets you – severe cost-cutting.
Up to R6000
This is specifically for a strange type of gamer – they want something to play most older LAN games, but also be small enough to not weigh them down. For this purpose, the ASUS 1201N works wonders. An Atom dual-core, 2GB of RAM, the same Nvidia M9400G found in Macbooks, and a tiny 12″ LCD screen gives you a powerful little thing that’s not to be underestimated. Considering playing some newer strategy games with all the settings dialed down at rAge? This is for you.
Up to R7000
This is where it all starts, though. R7000 is usually the baseline for gaming laptops, and the three contenders here are worthy enough. The ASUS K50ID-SX103V is a solid beginner’s choice. The Pentium dual-core is good enough for most things, the build quality is great, and the Nvidia graphics suits the price range quite well, if a little underpowered. If you’re big on brand names and image, go for this one. The other two, however, set the bar quite high for other laptops in the higher price ranges. The Core 2 Duo-packing Toshiba A300-1QE floors the K50ID with superior sound quality and a strong ATI HD3650, not to mention a more comfortable keyboard. It comes with Vista, but you get the optional Windows 7 upgrade as well. A slightly smaller profile also helps when choosing a carry-bag for the 2.7KG lummox.
The Mecer W765CU is the one to look at, though. Not only does it match the Toshiba, it also offers a degree of customisation above its standard specs. There’s even an option for a SSD as an add-on! The choice of anything up to a Core i7, up to 8GB of RAM, and whichever version of Windows you need is also something that might help it seal the deal for you.
Above these select models, there isn’t anything really enticing, or remotely affordable, until you have a look at MSI’s range. Their baseline is the GE660: a Core i3 powerhouse along with an HD5730, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, amazing build quality, and the ability to tease those running equivalent desktop rigs. For under R10k, this brings the gaming laptop far closer to the us than we imagined. But wait! There’s also something for R4k more! The GX740 needs no introduction, being a member of the now-legendary GX family. Its a god amongst laptops.