Otherwise known as the “Oh my God, you paid how much?!!” segment, this is where gaming laptops really take off and rich kiddies come to play. I mean there’s really not much hope for the average person to own any one of these lappies unless they stage a casino heist, inherit a million bucks, get paid out by the insurance, blackmail a president, sue John Travolta for touching you in your special place, write a seven-part epic novel (which ends up with more publicity than Harry Potter)…

Get approval for loans and sue the companies who loaned you, become a loan shark, start taking horse racing bets, betting on horseracing (and actually winning this time), winning at Blackjack, winning the lottery, winning one of these laptops, saving up your pocket money (for years), washing cars or getting an education with entrance to a university with a bursary that asks you to buy a laptop for this much cash (and that takes twelve or so years from scratch, better start young!). Or get a job, that’s always easier.

So here’s the interesting bit. You won’t find laptops here that skimp on anything. Be it the screen, the build quality, the performance or the looks it won’t be a disappointment either way. All this stuff is high-end and designed to show off the highest levels of design a company can muster (good or bad) and whether or not their cooling designs are up to the job of getting rid of heat effectively. There are no wanna-be’s over here.

R18,000 Budget

Lenovo Thinkpad X220 @ R18499

ASUS UX31A Zenbook Ultra @ R17127

Dell Precision M4600 @ R18853

Alienware M14X @ POA (Buy it from Dell direct)

Alienware M17X R3 @ R18215

MSI GT683R @ R16397 (SSD Option: Plextor PX-128M3S @ R2335)

Samsung NP700G7A-S01ZA/3OS @ R17248 (SSD Option: Transcend SSD720 128GB @ R1432)

Toshiba Qosimo X770-11C @ R17006 (SSD Option: Transcend SSD720 128GB @ R1432)

Obviously the long list here shows that I really could go on and on with options at this price point. There are tons of manufacturers clamouring for your money and they’re all competing on roughly the same playing field. So here’s what you should be looking at for the various work loads:

Road warriors, pay attention! Your options here are the venerable Lenovo Thinkpad X220 because its the businessman’s friend, comes more tricked out than most Ultrabooks and has a slot-on dock that gives it another 6 cells of battery power, bringing the total to 15. Its going to take a while to drain that puppy. Likewise, for Ultrabooks the ASUS Zenbook is all you need – thin and light, a gorgeous 13.3″ glossy screen that defies the power of the sun’s glare with obscene brightness levels and the highest PPI screen ever seen on something this big (or small, take your pick).

Things get a little more constrained for the mobile professional on the move. Dell’s Precision series is extremely good and robust, but will only get better once the Ivy Bridge refresh kicks in. While it’s normally the staple choice for businesses (Yes, HP, I can hear you moaning in the background), the Precision adds kick-backs in the form of their excellent On-site warranty, a huge range of docks and add-ons and if you hunt around for stock, you could fit an extra 12-cell extended battery. How’s that for mobile kick? Some may cry foul at the low-resolution screen but I say you can eat my hat – slot the Precision onto a dock with a wireless keyboard and mouse in the USB port and a Dell 30″ LED IPS screen in front of you and you’d never be any wiser that its actually a laptop you’re working on.

For gamers, you’re a lucky bunch of buggers. You get spoilt for choice every which way you look, but whether or not what you’re buying has value is a subjective thing in itself. The best value-for money is a joint win between Samsung’s NP700 and the Qosimo X770. The Samsung takes it thanks to the more powerful AMD Radeon HD6970 while the Qosimo sports a 3D-capable screen and better speakers. Sadly, neither has a backlit keyboard, hence Alienware’s inevitable inclusion, especially for late-night gaming.

Surprisingly, ordering the M14X direct from Dell reveals some nice extras if you chose the $1699 option – you have Ivy Bridge processors available already, a 64GB SSD and a 500GB drive for fast booting and more storage respectively and Nvidia’s GT650M, which is currently the performance-equivalent replacement of the GT560M. There’s also a $25 buy-back option from Dell. If you choose to sell your Alienware notebook to get a new one, Dell will buy it back at up to 50% the cost that you paid for it and give you that money on a gift card.

R21,000 Budget

Alienware M17X R3 @ R20,000 (SSD Option: Transcend SSD720 128GB @ R1432)

Alienware M18x @ POA (Buy it from Dell direct)

ASUS Automobili Lamborghini VX7 @ R20,367 (SSD Option: Transcend SSD720 128GB @ R1432)

ASUS G55VW @ R20027 (SSD Option: Transcend SSD720 128GB @ R1432)

HP Elitebook 8560W @ R21719

Here’s where the land of Ultrabooks ends and you’ll have to get used to lugging around something that you could use for mild benchpressing when you’re bored. These machines are either huge or weigh a tonne and are really the kinds of laptops you’d be looking at for replacing an entire desktop without sacrificing much performance. For gamers your choice narrows down to ASUS and Alienware. I’ve listed the M17X R3 again because the one from Incredible Connection comes stock with the 120Hz 3D-capable screen. There’s also the M18X available now with its dual GTX675M SLI setup, although God knows how expensive that’ll be.

The standout models here are both from ASUS. The Automobili Lamborghini version is styled by the Lamborghini design team and looks very much like a Murcielago from the rear. While it won’t win the performance crown here, its a very striking design and is sure to make you stand out at LANs. Also listed is ASUS’ G55VW. Unlike a modified Beetle with a supercharger, this affordable and rather sensible laptop ships with Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor and a single Geforce GT660M. If you’re looking for the best performance at the best price with the best screen, this is it. Its also the cheapest option, easily enabling you to shove in Transcend’s SSD720 for fast boot speeds.

Finally for the mobile professional, you’ve got the HP Elitebook 8560W. Its got a range of docks and extended batteries available and is more compact than Dell’s Precision at the same price point as well. The matte 15.6″ 1080p LED screen is also a beauty in real life (I’ve only ever handled one of these laptops) and the fit and finish is befitting the image a busy businessman needs to keep. My only problem with all these expensive mobile workstations is that none of them come standard with Blu-Ray writers. That would have been the cherry on top.

R25,000 Budget

Jaguar XJ6 Red @ R25000

Datsun SSS @ R25,000

Datsun GX Coupe w/ Mazda 13B motor @ R25,000

Yes, I know those aren’t laptops. If you’ve got twenty-five grand sitting idle in your pocket waiting to be burned, you may as well burn it the right way – on some sexy rubber! Go for the Jag if you want to cruise with your homies,  perfecting the same snide remarks Clarkson makes about people who don’t drive them while attracting envious glances from your peeps who rock up in their Golfs and Tazzes. Go for the SSS for a true slice of automobile history when it was the smart rally driver’s choice in the 1970’s. Or you could go with the GX Coupe and pretend that BMW M3s don’t exist (sorry for those who already do, they’re still out there and its still got a good chance of beating you).

Alienware M18x @ POA (Buy it from Dell direct)

ASUS G75VW @ R25,828

HP Elitebook 8760W @ R25,160

Dell Precision M6600 @ R24830

Ultimately, at R25,000 the choice remains the same. ASUS or Alienware, you’re still getting a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor, 8GB or more of RAM and a Nvidia GT670M graphics card with 2GB of DDR5 RAM. There’s nothing better out there that’s more in line with what sane people use. Can you imagine the insurance costs to keep these things covered?

Likewise for businesses you’re now limited to the high-end options from Dell and HP. They’re both very similar, but the Elitebook is the better choice for designers. It ships with an IPS panel, runs off Nvidia’s Quadro FX3000M and features DisplayPort Outputs. Dell’s Precision wins it out in the long run with a faster processor, up to 32GB of RAM, AMD’s venerable FirePro M8900, a backlit keyboard and it weighs just a little bit less.

Join me next month when I return to the desktop world! Ivy Bridge and Nvidia have begun to turn things around for consumers

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