Welcome back to the Laptop Buyer’s Guide, the show where all your money gets spent and you can only overclock the GPU. I don’t have any witty things to add onto that, but today we’re into the high performance segment, so the hardware should be enough to keep you happy as a pig in mud. Today we’re shopping from the R10, 000 to R13, 000 price range and we’ll be trudging through Ultrabooks, discrete graphics cards and SSDs.

Follow me after the jump.

R10, 000 Laptops, Ultrabooks and Tablets:

ASUS U36SG Ultrabook 13.3″ @ R10,723

Dell Inspiron 15R 5520 15.6″ 1080p @ R10,041

Dell Vostro V3360 13.3″ @ R9600 (SSD Upgrade: Transcend SSD720 64GB @ R816)

Gigabyte Q1542N 15.6″ @ R8548 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 4 128GB @ R1169) (RAM Upgrade: R187)

Lenovo Ideapad Y580 15.6″ @ R9824 (the Godfather returns!)

Lenovo Thinkpad X220 12.5″ @ R10,180

Lenovo Thinkpad Edge E420s 14.1″ @ R8709 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Neutron 120GB @ R1435)

Samsung NP600 15.6″ @ R10,119

Sony Vaio SVT 11.6″ @ R9635 (SSD Upgrade: Transcend SSD720 64GB @ R816)

Toshiba Satellite L850 15.6″ @ R9756

Apple Macbook Air 11″ 128GB @ R9999

The R10, 000 price point is a mish-mash of compromises and strange ideas. First up though is the only business-orientated laptop in this segment, the Samsung NP600. It doesn’t look like one at first, but the Nvidia NVS4200 graphics card gives it away – that’s a middle-range Quadro unit, perfect for those of you who do some designing on the go or need the double-precision capabilities of the card for CAD applications and other utilities like Photoshop and Lightroom. In the same vein, Apple’s Macbook Air is suitable for content creation, as long as you accept the hardware limitations brought in by the Intel HD graphics chip. It also works well as a consumer-orientated laptop and is definitely the granddaddy in the Ultrabook world. That 7.5-hour battery life is equally impressive.

For the rest of the lineup, you’ll notice the absence of any tablets – this is because there aren’t any in this segment. That may change with the release of Windows 8 and Microsoft’s Surface in late October, but for now the high-end market is left to Ultrabooks and laptops. Speaking of Ultrabooks, six out of the eleven notebooks here are of the Ultrabook variety, signalling how popular Intel’s designs are with consumers in the market. The most impressive of the lot is Dell’s Vostro V3360. With built-in 3G and a three-year warranty and an all-metal shell, its the one you’ll worry the least about when travelling. The Thinkpad E420s comes a close second especially with the SSD upgrade. Corsair’s Neutron is also proving popular with enthusiasts and may replace my recommendations for Transcend’s SSD720 family thanks to the higher performance and the slim 7.2mm height. Finally, ASUS’ U36SG has the biggest battery among any Ultrabook and isn’t restricted to a low-voltage Core i5 chip. The discrete GT610M chip is also CUDA-capable and may allow the laptop to pull in line with the Macbook Air for content creation on the go.

Finally, for gamers there are a few choice options, but note that the gaming notebooks from the R8000 segment I looked at last week aren’t that far behind. I included Gigabyte’s Q1542N to illustrate this point – with a SSD upgrade and extra RAM, its enough to power any game at 720p and high settings at comfortable framerates, while the speed of the SSD helps you forget that you’re working on what’s essentially a “cheap” laptop. The Lenovo Y580 is my choice once again, though, being the “Godfather” of cheap gaming laptops and providing the best bang for your buck here. If you’re satisfied with 1080p gaming at high settings and no AA, then the Dell Inspiron 15R, with its superior HD screen, is the best choice for you. Your average framerates should be in the 40 fps range, but that’s good enough for most people.

R13,000 Gaming Laptops and ultra-Ultrabooks:

ASUS Zenbook UX31A @ R13,019

Dell Inspiron 15R 5520 15.6″ 1080p @ R10,041 (SSD Upgrade: OCZ Agility 3 240GB @ R1917)

Lenovo Thinkpad T220t 12.5″ @ R10,857 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 240GB @ R2034)

Lenovo Ideapad Y580 15.6″ @ R9824 (Windows 7 Upgrade @ R443) (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Neutron 240GB @ R2513)

Mecer UT40II Ultrabook 14″ @ R10,846 (16GB RAM, Windows 7 Pro, Office 2010 Home and Business) (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 240GB @ R2034)

MSI GE70 17.3″ @ R10,960 (SSD Upgrade: Corsair Force3 240GB @ R2034)

Samsung NP700 15.6″ @ R12934

Samsung Series 7 Slate @ R13,744

Sony Vaio SVE14A16F 14″ @ R12,535 (RAM Upgrade: R187)

Apple Macbook Air 13″ 128GB @ R12,999

Apple Macbook Pro 13″ @ R12,999

In the R13,000 range we have Ultrabooks and gaming laptops once again, with one tablet able to break into the mould – Samsung’s rather high-end Series 7 Slate. The Core i5 dual-core chip and Intel HD graphics allows it to be plenty powerful for general use and with an upgrade to Windows 8, it’ll definitely be something to consider as an alternative to Microsoft’s Surface. The Wacom Digitiser is sure to come in handy but its about the same as another famous tablet – Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1“.

In the Ultrabook segment we have the ASUS Zenbook setting the trend with a 1080p screen and lots of other goodies that help differentiate it from the rest of the pack. Lenovo’s Thinkpad T220t makes another stop here, being the only Ultrabook available that is closer to Intel’s Letexo base design, packing in a swivel-screen with touch capability, protected by Gorilla glass. If you don’t want to wait for a similar experience to Microsoft’s Surface, get the T220t and wait for your Windows 8 upgrade to arrive. I also thought I’d mention Mecer’s UT40II here for a moment as well – its a pretty good bargain considering you’re getting in more RAM than most Ultrabooks, a larger SSD than anything else currently in the same price range and, to top it all off, you can squeeze in the cost of Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business. If you had R13, 000 to spend and needed a portable laptop for work or university but required all the software goodies, this would be my first choice. If the glossy screen puts you off, remember that there are anti-glare screen protectors readily available.

For gamers, the Lenovo Y580 is again the best value choice you can make. Simply upgrade the Windows OS to Home Premium and get what’s probably the world’s best SSD to date – the Corsair Neutron 240GB. As an alternative I also re-added in Dell’s Inspiron and both are more or less equally matched, with Dell hoping that the better screen will win buyers over. Samsung’s NP700 struts in the middle of these two but missed out on a SSD upgrade because of the higher retail price. Sony’s Vaio SVE14 also makes a surprise appearance here and gives buyers something different to look at with the silver chassis and backlit keyboard. It also is one of the lightest gaming laptops around, weighing in at 2.3kg.

Thanks for reading, boys and girls! Tune in for the last episode in the buyer’s guide for this month next week Tuesday.

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