Good afternoon boys and girls. So today we’re back to the Laptop Buyer’s guide again in the R18,000 to R25,000 range, and I’ve gotta say this month there are a good deal of gaming laptops available at these price points. That’s not to say that there weren’t any in my previous episodes of the guide this month but they weren’t capable of the kind of settings and resolution that could make your desktop reconsider slimming itself down in order to not feel overweight.

While there are ways to get a similar kind of portability from a desktop system based on a ITX chassis, its still not the same as having the entire PC shoved into something barely five centimeters thick and capable of fitting neatly into a shoulder bag. Are you an avid gamer or a mobile professional with some money burning in your pockets? Look no further than today’s guide as I trudge through the dearth of online websites to figure out what best fits your budget here. 

Its important to note that thanks to the huge performance boosts from the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge architectures over their previous generation counterparts, the mobile and desktop processors are actually pretty close to each other in terms of performance and in benchmarks. Obviously the higher TDP allowed by the desktop chips will see them shoot forward in most synthetic and real-world tests, but once clock speeds are equalled you’ll see that the laptops aren’t that far off. So for mobile professionals who do things like rendering and possibly a lot of work in a virtual machine, there’s no performance deficit running it on a decent notebook these days. You still get all eight threads in the highest-SKU Core i7 chips and you’re still able to run things like a  RAID 0 array and possibly even up to 32GB of RAM if the notebook allows it.

Its no longer a bad idea to go mobile – often, businesses will support you bringing in your own machine for work so long as supporting it isn’t a schlep, so if you invest in one wisely you can use it for more than just work or gaming. So lets see what options are out there for gamers and business users today. Remember – rAge is only three months away now, so if you’re considering a laptop to replace that giant monster that breaks your back when you lug it to the NAG LAN, now would be the time to mull on it.

R18000 Gaming Notebooks and Ultrabooks

ASUS Zenbook UX31A 13.3″ @ R19,061

Dell Latitude E6430 14″ @ R16,548 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2265)

Dell Precision M4600 15.6″ @ R18,900

HP Elitebook 8560w 15.6″ @ R17369 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

Samsung NP700G7A 17.3″ @ R17248 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

Dell Alienware M17x R3 17.3″ @ R18560 as configured (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

Apple Macbook Pro 13″ 2.9Ghz @ R16,599 (SSD option: Transcend SSD720 256GB @ R2344)

At the R18,000 price point things get very quiet, with only one Ultrabook in contention for your money – ASUS’ excellent Zenbook 13.3″. Once the new Transformer series with Windows 8 and a touch screen hits the scene later this year, there’ll be no need for a Zenbook recommendation anymore. At this price point its also a little bit nonsensical, since most buyers here are either getting a work or gaming laptop. The other option is Apple’s Macbook Pro 13″, but this specific model still uses a hard drive so swapping it out for a SSD is pretty easy. If you’re queasy about opening a Macbook, get the ZA Store guys to fit in the SSD for you under warranty. If you’re buying from Incredible Connection you can also ask them to do that for you, although they’ll probably hit you with some kind of fee.

For mobile professionals, only Dell and HP are answering your calls this month, with Lenovo dropping out of the picture as they refresh their lineup in preparation for a new line of Ultrabooks for business use with Windows 8. Both notebooks come with discrete graphics and both are powerful enough for your Adobe CS5 and Maya rendering projects while you’re travelling on the plane or train to wherever you’re going. My personal preference goes to the Elitebook, boasting the better screen and better looks as well. The Precision should be your first choice should you use a program that runs better with a Quadro card or is CUDA-capable.

Gamers can gawk at the Samsung NP700 and a customised Dell Alienware M17x R3, both being great value for money. The only reason why you’d pick the Samsung is because its pre-configured and doesn’t have a waiting list or a shipping fee from America. The Alienware is the overall winner in terms of looks, performance and the huge degree to which you can customise your Alienware experience (man, I sound like a sales guy there). I’d recommend bumping things up to a Core i7-3610M, Windows 7 Ultimate, 16GB of RAM, a 750GB hard drive, the gorgeous 1080p 17.3″ screen and the Killer NIC wireless card. That adds up to $2244, which works out roughly to R18,560. Chuck in a SSD and you’re good to do (it can take up to two drives).

R21,000 Gaming Notebooks and Ultrabooks

HP Elitebook 8560w @ R20,632 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

Dell Inspiron 17R SE 17.3″ @ R20,000 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

ASUS G55VW 15.6″ @ R21236

Toshiba Qosimio X870 17.3″ @ R20269 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2265)

Apple Macbook Pro 15″ 2.3Ghz @ R19,999 (SSD option: Transcend SSD720 256GB @ R2344)

Alienware M18x R2 18.4″ @ R21,290

Bye-bye Ultrabooks! As we head into the really high-priced segment we’re only looking at mobile workstations and gaming laptops. Apple (not surprisingly) makes another appearance here again, with the venerable GT650M-toting Macbook Pro 15″ offering good performance and productivity to the mobile professional looking for some reasonable muscle on the go. HP’s Elitebook 8560w butts in again with a Core i7 quad-core and the Quadro 1000M 2GB graphics chip, offering a good deal for those who like to take their work home with them. Find yourself a docking station, a 30-inch screen and a wireless mouse and keyboard and you’re all set.

Gamers can bounce on their feet here with no less then four options to choose from. I’d like to state  that right off the bat Toshiba’s Qosimio wins the competition for your attention. It can fit in up to two hard drives, ships with faster hardware than both the ASUS G55VW and the Alienware M18x R2 and is cheaper than both. Go for the Alienware if you’d like to be different and attract lots of attention. The large chassis allows for installation of up to three hard drives, so one could easily RAID two SSDs in a mirrored array for redundancy while shoving in a 1TB hard drive for the rest of your media and less-frequently played games. I’d only choose the ASUS if you’re getting it on a bargain price or if you’re a fan of the brand – right now its being overtaken by the more value-orientated models from Samsung and Toshiba.

R25,000 Gaming Notebooks and Ultrabooks

Dell Precision M6600 17.3″ @ R24,830 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1117)

HP Elitebook 8760w @ R23,653 (SSD option: OCZ Agility 4 256GB @ R2265)

ASUS C75VW 17.3″ @ R27,278

Toshiba Qosimio X870 17.3″ @ R20269 (SSD option: Corsair Force3 480GB @ R5271)

MSI GT70 17.3″ @ R26,669

Macbook Pro 15″ With Retina Display @ R23,999

Alienware M18x R2 18.4″ @ R26,500 as configured

Finally finishing off with the R25,000 price point, Dell and HP stick their neck out for the last time for business users with the M6600 and the monstrously heavy Elitebook 8760w. Both are probably the most powerful notebooks I’d ever consider for business use, costing more than a semi-decent BMW E46 sedan or a holiday in the Maldives. Or a weekend in Las Vegas.  Both will also get the job done and I’d recommend a SSD be added in for the most productivity possible. If you were again wondering, the Elitebook gets my vote.

Of special mention is the Macbook Pro 15″ with the “Retina” display. Its a great step up for consumers as they’re being treated to what’s possibly the best-looking screen on the planet next to the 13.3″ 1080p IPS panel in ASUS’ Zenbook family. The RAM and SSD is soldered in and cannot be upgraded, but Apple has ways around the limited storage and RAM issues with OS X Mountain Lion focusing more on cloud computing and online storage using iCloud. It only packs a GT650M but if you’re a OS X user you’ll know that things are more optimised than the Windows platform. If you’re serious about video and photo editing, with things like programming, website design and other stuff that benefits from a screen that renders finer detail, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better.

For gamers its a straight shoot-out between the Toshiba Qosimio and the GTX680-packing Alienware M18x R3. The Qosimio will be the faster option in terms of the Windows experience and loading times with the lightning-fast 480GB SSD in the picture, but the M18x has better upgrade flexibility and also packs in a stronger GPU. If you’re gaming at high with 100p native resolutions on a laptop, a GTX670M is the most affordable option and a chip that I would consider to be the default option for gamers from all corners of the globe. Either way, you’re going to have a great time gaming on your new toys.

See you guys and girls on Thursday for the last of my AMD System Builder’s Guide articles!

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