Welcome to the last episode of this week’s Laptop Buyer’s guide. We’re into the part where most people would consider this price category to be ludicrously insane. You can buy a decent, mid 1990’s second-hand car for this kind of money and that would arguably enable you to do more than just play games. You can drift with a rear-wheel drive Ford Escort, you can’t do the same on a laptop. But still, a lot of people do buy laptops in this price range and for the most part, they’re worth the extra expense because the build quality is generally better than average and the hardware lasts you a lot longer. Most of the time it’ll take a bit more punishment as well. So without further ado, commence the drooling!
High-end Gaming Laptops and Ultrabooks – 11″ to 14″
I think the biggest issue I have with the mobile market is that as you go up the rungs, there’s less and less to choose from. There are few high-end ultraportables available with the kind of gaming capability you’d expect with such a high budget. Gigabyte’s Aorus X3 should be here, but it isn’t available locally yet. MSI should have a better GE40 variant here, but they don’t. Alienware’s the only player here and it’s not great at all. The Alienware design hasn’t changed for years and just two years ago the R14 would have been competing in the R18,000 price range. Well, it’s really Dell’s funeral if they decide to continue to oversell their product’s looks.
Elsewhere, Apple kicks it in with the same Macbook Pro 13 Retina that was in last week’s guide, only this time with more soldered-in RAM and larger SSDs. Although Intel’s Iris Pro graphics are about equivalent to the Geforce GTX650M, the chassis still has to deal with the extra heat and power consumption and as a result the possible performance is dropped quite a bit. If you haven’t guessed by now, the Macbook Pro would only be a workable gaming machine if you had Windows 8/8.1 installed on it using Bootcamp. OS X is a capable platform on its own, but it’s really dependent on what games are available on Valve’s Steam store and Good Old Games.
EA Origin, though it has a OS X-compatible client, doesn’t have a lot of AAA titles to offer, unless The Sims and SimCity is your kind of thing (don’t mention Dragon Age 2, like, at all).
I’m not entirely sure when ASUS decided not to compete in the 15.6-inch market but their absense is very weird. I’m used to seeing the brand name at every price point and now it’s just odd. Maybe they, like Sony, figured to leave the high-end markets to Apple, which is the only company in the world that can command the kind of product mark-ups that they do and compete in other areas where Apple isn’t so strong. As it is, the Zenbook line ends with the UX302 and the G56 line ends abruptly with the G56JK as well.
One of the bigger changes to note here and something that’s well worth looking into further is how OEMs are handling the mSATA SSD switch. Gigabyte’s P25W and MSI’s GT60 both come with two mSATA SSD slots and they are the only laptops in this table to do so. MSI’s GS60 line only comes with one, the Macbook Pro 15 uses Apple’s own proprietary PCI-E connector and the Toshiba Tecra only has space for a single 2.5-inch drive. There’s not a lot of flexibility in the more expensive options and that makes recommending them a little bit more difficult.
I don’t think anyone can argue with the possibility of hooking up two 512GB mSATA SSDs for nearly 1GB/s read and write speeds. At that point, these laptops are desktop replacements and easily capable of the kind of torture that Macbook Pros are regularly subjected to. As an all-rounder, Gigabyte’s already won here with the extra RAM, dual 64GB SSDs and the Blu-Ray writer.
One surprise is the Toshiba Tecra. Yes, it costs just over twenty-seven grand, but where else are you going to get the same kind of hardware for the same money? Not from Dell or HP, that’s for sure. If it’s a powerhouse you need for work, along with a bit of gaming when you’re not doing anything work-related, the Tecra W50A might just be the machine for you. Yes, a Quadro card can still play games, it’s the same kind of deal as the Geforce GTX Titan or Titan Black, with different drivers.
I’d like to take this moment to point out some interesting things that have changed in the last year. For one, it appears that Dell’s Alienware brand is rapidly losing all common sense once attributed to them. Sure, you’re buying an Alienware laptop for the name brand and, occasionally, the better build quality, but have a look again at the Alienware 14. That same hardware combination, down to the 1600 x 900 display, is found in the MSI GE40 which costs almost half the price. Do you really want to pay ten grand for a chassis and keyboard switch? That’s entirely up to you if you do.
By that same token, the cheaper Alienware 17 comes with Intel’s Core i7-4700MQ, which was the original launch chip, along with the Geforce GTX765M which isn’t as fast as the Maxwell-based GTX860M. Considering the asking price and the hardware configuration, isn’t the MSI GS70 a better deal? Hell, look at Toshiba’s Qosmio X70. 32GB of RAM? Gees. It also helps that the MSI is almost 2kg lighter.
As we run up the ladder the hardware configurations do get better, but there’s clearly a point where we encounter diminishing returns and that’s more than likely the price point of the ASUS G750JX as well. Jumping to the Maxwell-based replacement, the GTX870M, requires almost R1500. Not only that, but there’s no appreciable changes in hardware otherwise, nor do we see a switch to IPS.
All in all, I don’t think a lot of the action or attention is on the 17-incher market. Sure, the larger chassis and extra room for better cooling solutions helps, but most of the competition happens in the 15.6-inch space when you’re spending between R15,000 and R20,000. If you need a reason why I say this, look at the ASUS G56JK.
There is one saving grace in the high-end market, though. Gigabyte’s new subsidiary brand, Aorus, is making a few waves with the X7 and X3 (assuming the latter will ever be available locally). I can’t deny that pairing two GTX765M cards in SLI isn’t a great setup for extra speed. If Gigabyte can ever squeeze in a panel that can do variable refresh rates it may just be the most perfect mobile gaming station out there.
Sadly, I don’t think anyone will market a laptop with G-Sync capability. It would be workable – have a Displayport output on the notebook for hooking up to a GSync monitor or have the laptop’s panel itself have the ability. By Intel’s own admission they’ve been able to do this since 2011 with their integrated graphics and eDP displays, so… what’s the holdup, guys?
That’s all for this week and this month. Next month we’re back into the System Builder’s guide! Until then…