Laptop Buyer’s Guide: April R20,000 to R30,000


Hello and welcome to this final episode of the Laptop Buyer’s guide for April 2015, where we’re spending so much money on notebooks that you could buy a return trip to Las Vegas with the same money (complete with a dinner and serenade by a crappy, fat Elvis impersonator). I don’t usually include notes in subsequent editions of my guides during the month, but I though that this particular one needed some discussion. As you scroll down the lists here today, you’ll notice a trend that we’ve been unable to break for the last two years – we don’t have mobile processors with more than four cores, hyper-threaded (HT) or not. Okay, maybe that’s not so much of a deal breaker, right? Well, maybe not. I could be wrong in calling this out as a potential issue.

The high-end needs to evolve more

But lets assume for a moment that you, dear reader, are a consumnate mobile professional. You aren’t always tied to your desk and you aren’t always able to access server infrastructure for heavy workloads. Instead, you have a mobile power house that regularly sees some heavy workloads, but the annoying thing is that your software doesn’t scale very well with HT cores, if at all. No matter where you look or how much you spend, you’re ultimately limited to just having four physical processors and that’s a problem.

See, there’s a general trend that’s not always obvious in the consumer market, but its definitely happening in the business world – more and more people are taking their work home with them to work remotely from home. To achieve this, they make use of a laptop that has enough power to see them through their working day and is well suited for their workload, at least on-site. But if they want to work offline, at home, they may not have the regular resources available to them. If they aren’t able to use remotely hosted hardware through something like an Amazon instance, they aren’t able to do things as quickly as they would on-site.

For these kinds of people (and trust me, there’s a lot of those people out there), the CPU limitations in notebooks that only go up to four cores with HT is a pain in the neck. There’s no way they can upgrade the CPU at the expense of heat generation. This drive to create thinner and lighter notebooks has also reduced our ability to scale up performance quickly. There are a lot of people who make use of a Macbook Pro in a dock for their work machine but when it comes to rendering that movie edited in Final Cut Pro, they literally can’t make it go fast enough.

And its not for lack of trying either. Those of you working with multi-gigabyte videos are kind of stuck to doing the rendering locally, because we’re decades away from having ubiquitous fiber connections with 1Gb/s upload speeds. Instead, you have to invest in hardware at home or the office that is more expensive and more powerful than your current machine. On the most recent WAN Show for Linus Tech Tips, Linus and Luke discuss the move they’re making in terms of server infrastructure, using two 18-core Intel Xeon-2699 V3 chips for their batch video editing instead of having those videos bogging down their personal machines.

And these people already have quad, hexa, and octa-core Core i7 chips at their disposal. They have heaps of CPU power in their rigs, but when it comes to 4K video editing, they just can’t cram enough horsepower into a single desktop ATX chassis. I made the point two months ago in the February guide that MSI’s decision to offer laptops with 4K displays was idiotic because not only can you not play most games at that native resolution, editing 4K video on those notebooks would also be a tragic experience, and this is why.

Intel, we need more cores in the high-end notebook market. Do it with Skylake, please. I know you love your huge profits from the server space, but the professionals and prosumers also need some multi-threaded love over here.

High-end Laptops and Ultrabooks – 11″ to 14″

Laptop Model Display CPU GPU RAM Storage Price
Apple Macbook Pro 13 2015 13.3″ IPS 2560 x 1600 Core i5-5257U Intel Iris 6100 8GB 256GB SSD R22,499
Acer Aspire S7-393 13.3″ IPS 2560 x 1440 Core i7-5500U Intel HD5500 8GB 256GB SSD R25,492
Apple Macbook Pro 13 2015 13.3″ IPS 2560 x 1600 Core i5-5287U Intel Iris 6100 8GB 512GB SSD R26,999
Gigabyte AORUS X3 13.9″ IGZO 3200 x 1800 Core i7-4860HQ Geforce GTX 870M 16GB 512GB SSD R28,499

Its a bit depressing to see the state of things as they are right now, but this much-shortened list pretty much spells things out for notebooks in these form factors at the high-end – either you’re using Intel integrated graphics to keep down the heat and power usage, or you’re making use of some discrete GPU option that bulks out the chassis and adds in two fans. Meh. Not very welcome.

In the February edition of this guide, the two options that had discrete graphics were the Alienware M14X, the HP Z Book 14 (AMD FirePro 4100), and the AORUS X3. Today, only the AORUS X3 remains and it also sees a small price drop to just duck under our budget limit here. This is one of the better ultrabooks for gaming at the moment, though the Razer Blade would be able to put in a serious effort for a similar amount of money. Unfortunately, the Blade isn’t available locally, so Gigabyte will remain unchallenged for some time. Not even Proline has resurrected their 11.6-inch mini powerhouse, which is surprising. Then again, I guess the market for ultra-portable gaming notebooks isn’t as big as the marketing departments want us to think it is.

We see two updates to the list here in the form of refreshed Macbook Pros from Apple. These are equipped with Broadwell Core i5 processors with Intel Iris graphics. Its not a big change performance-wise for the CPU side of things and only a minor bump in terms of GPU horsepower. Battery life, then, is the bigger benefit to using these new chips and there should be about 10 to 11 hours of run time in these beauties.

High-end Laptops and Ultrabooks – 15.6″

Laptop Model Display CPU GPU RAM Storage Price
MSI Apache GE62-2QE 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4720HQ Geforce GTX 965M 8GB 1TB R19,999
MSI Ghost Pro GS60-2QE 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4720HQ Geforce GTX 970M 16GB 1TB R22,499
Gigabyte P35W2 V2 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710HQ Geforce GTX 870M 8GB 1TB R22,528
Lenovo Thinkpad W540 15.6″ IPS 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710MQ Quadro K1100M 8GB 1TB R22,960
MSI Apache GE62-2QE 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4720HQ Geforce GTX 965M 8GB 256GB+1TB R22,999
MSI Workstation WT60-2OJ 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4810MQ Quadro K2100M 8GB 1TB R25,699
Gigabyte P35W V3 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4820HQ Geforce GTX 970M 8GB 128GB+1TB R27,499
Apple Macbook Pro 15 15.4″ IPS 2880 x 1800 Core i7-4770HQ Iris Pro 5200 16GB 256GB SSD R28,499
MSI Apache GE62-2QF 15.6″ IPS 3840 x 2160 Core i7-4720HQ Geforce GTX 970M 16GB 256GB+1TB R29,499
MSI Dominator Pro GT60-2PE 15.6″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710MQ Geforce GTX 880M 16GB 128GB+1TB R31,199

For the mid-sized options, things get really tricky this month. There are several sales going on for the month-end period that throw a spanner in the works for some vendors. Namely, that Apache GE62 all the way at the top of the table is absurd value for money. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck and there’s not much to fault MSI on here considering the low price. There’s also an open mSATA slot under the covers, so adding in a SSD later is a trivial affair. We need more deals like that locally.

Moving down the charts, there are a couple of changes in placement because of price hikes and drops, which change the value of a lot of notebooks that were here previously. I chopped out the AORUS options at this display size because some of them easily fetched more than R33,000, a stretch too far for the budget I’m working with. MSI’s Ghost Pro GS60 is in a really nice place now, offering a lot of bang for your buck thanks to the mobile GTX 970M inside. Adding on 8GB of RAM doesn’t hurt either and this only costs you R2500 over the GE62, so you’re getting your money’s worth here.

For those of you who like to game in between working on your CAD or rendering projects. the Lenovo W540 and the MSI WT60 workstations are both excellent choices. The WT60 seems like the better choice overall because of the on-board port selection, but it is not available with any sort of docking station, something Lenovo offers in spades to its buyers. There’s also visual style differences between the two that will affect your personal opinion of which you might end up with, although the green lining on the WT60 does look sweet. As always, these Quadro GPUs won’t offer you the best gaming performance because their drivers aren’t tweaked for it, but it’ll be more than serviceable for 1080p.

Becuase of the domination of the high-end market by Nvidia and Intel, there are no surprises this month. Notebook vendors basically go into several rounds of the Hunger Games every year as they try to out-do everyone with aspects like design, cooling ability, or component selection, or the amount of frilly software bundled in to the OS. Out of all the options here the Ghost Pro GS60 is clearly this month’s winner in terms of price vs performance but if you’re looking for a useable chassis with some storage flexibility, Gigabyte’s P35W2 V2 offers up to two 2.5-inch hard drive bays and two mSATA slots for SSD upgrades.

A while back someone asked me through a private message on the forum which notebooks are likely to have G-Sync displays in them. Out of the possibilities here I’d like to say the P35W V3, but its too early to tell because Nvidia is keeping that particular development under wraps until its ready. I hope they don’t change things around too much, because it would mean I have to add in yet another column in my tables to denote whether a notebook is VRR capable or not.

High-end Laptops and Ultrabooks – 17″

Laptop Model Display CPU GPU RAM Storage Price
MSI Stealth Pro GS70-2PE 17.3″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710HQ Geforce GTX 870M 8GB 1TB R19,099
MSI Stealth GS70-2PC 17.3″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4700MQ Geforce GTX 860M 16GB 128GB+1TB R20,250
ASUS ROG G751JL 17.3″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4720HQ Geforce GTX 965M 16GB 1TB R20,452
Gigabyte P27G 17.3″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4810MQ Geforce GTX 860M 16GB 128GB+1TB R21,342
MSI Apache Pro GE72-2QF 17.3″ TN 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4720MQ Geforce GTX 970M 8GB 1TB R22,999
ASUS ROG G751JT 17.3″ IPS 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710HQ Geforce GTX 970M 16GB 128GB+1TB R24,999
HP Z Book 17 G2 17.3″ VA 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710MQ Quadro K3100M 8GB 256GB SSD R30,984
ASUS ROG G750JZ 17.3″ IPS 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4710MQ Geforce GTX 880M 16GB 256GB+1TB R31,266
Gigabyte AORUS X7 17.3″ IPS 1920 x 1080 Core i7-4860HQ Geforce GTX 860M SLI 16GB 384GB+1TB R31,999

Rounding off things for this week, we stop at the 17-inch options. Like I said a few paragraphs up, this is all much of a muchness. Nothing surprising here, folks, at least in terms of new hardware. But there are several price drops that make things very interesting. Like the Stealth Pro GS70 (man, what is it with MSI and their Stealth models creeping up on their competition?), which is actually below budget. If the GS60 was the value-winner in the 15.6-inch segment, this takes the cake for this month in terms of overall value. Do you need any more horsepower than this? No, not really. Does this make the more expensive GS70 with the GTX 860M the poorer choice? Yes. In fact its almost irrelevant now, or it will be in two month’s time as stock of these older models gets cleared from the channel. That’s all good for you, though. Cheaper notebooks, yay!

Going down the list, ASUS’ G751JT looks like a good deal, doesn’t it? IPS, a GTX 970M and a 128GB SSD isn’t the perfect setup, but it is a lot better than some of the other options here. The IPS display alone makes this super-attractive, but the inflexibility of the storage options might sway you to the Apache Pro GE72. MSI has two mSATA ports open in that baby, so that’s nice. I do like the look and build quality of the ROG chassis lately, so I’ll leave this decision up to you, dear reader. Keep in mind, though, that the G751JT is very, very closely related to the ASUS G751 which does come with a G-Sync panel, so this one could potentially offer the same capability.

Ending things off today is the bonkers-mad AORUS X7. Never mind the GTX 860M SLI pair, it has three freakin’ mSATA SSDs in RAID 0. That write performance is somewhere in the range of 1GB/s, with reads peaking at almost 1.5GB/s (limited, of course, by the HM87 chipset’s bandwidth. While it is a pity that these are mSATA drives and not M.2 NVME-capable, I don’t think anyone would be complaining with this purchase. I love with Gigabyte is doing for their high-end ranges and I hope they earn loyal customers for being daring enough to try something different. It is a pity that this isn’t like the IGZO panel in the X3, but I suppose we’re not looking to completely choke the SLI pair by almost running things at UHD4K, are we?

That’s all for this month folks! Next month we’re back to normalcy and the System Builders Guide. I might have a different spin on things for that edition, or I might not. It all hinges on a couple of things I’ll be experimenting with throughout this week and I hope that I’ll get some decent material out of it (hint: it is Linux-related). Until next time, ciao!