Welcome to the Holiday Season!

Each year, technology gadgets and toys top the charts as some of the hottest items for the Christmas [Insert your personal holiday preference] shopping season. We like to think we know a thing or two about technology, with expert coverage of the latest CPUs, GPUs, SSDs, Laptops, Smartphones, and other items, so we usually try to put together some recommendations for the technophiles out there (or their significant others). The biggest shopping day of the year generally falls on Black Friday, which is coming up next week, but we wanted to stay ahead of the game by giving our readers some advanced shopping advice.

This week and next, we'll be putting out buyers' guides covering many aspects of the technology spectrum, starting today with notebooks. We'll have smartphones, media streamers, and complete systems coming, with suggestions from a variety of editors. And naturally, you can always join the conversation with your own thoughts in the comments section below. We hope you enjoy the guides, and from all of us at AnandTech we wish you happy holidays!

Holiday 2010 Notebook Guide

It's only been a little under six short months since our previous netbook and notebook buyers' guides when we suggested what notebooks you might want to bring along for the back to school season, but the second push for purchases is already upon us: the Christmas season. It's a time of opening your heart (and wallet), giving unto others (the contents of your wallet), and embracing new technology (and an empty wallet). All kidding aside, we know lots of people would love a new netbook, ultraportable, laptop, or notebook; these run the gamut from moderately expensive gifts up through high-end options that cost as much as a used car or a house down payment. We'll be covering all the mobile computer options in today's guide.

The intervening period between our last guide and this one has seen a surprising amount of upheaval. While Intel's "Core 2010" (Core i3/i5/i7) processor platform has remained a stalwart and AMD's mobile Phenom IIs have proven largely stillborn, AMD's Nile ultraportable platform has successfully gained some traction. The healthy evolution of what Congo should've been, Nile brings together low-voltage AMD processors with ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics, producing a balanced, HD-ready platform that makes a very convincing case for doing away with sluggish Atom-based netbooks without having to spend up for ultra low voltage Intel-based machines.

And what about those netbooks? Intel has finally seen fit to give them at least a marginal shot in the arm by bringing dual-core mobile Atom processors to the market, though the anemic GMA 3150 integrated graphics still grafted to them remains a major drawback. Two solutions on the market today—NVIDIA's NG-ION and Broadcom's HD decoder chip—bring considerable baggage with each, not the least of which is the potential for increased power consumption and higher prices that eat into the Intel Atom's saving grace.

Speaking of graphics, while AMD continues to rest comfortably on its Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series, NVIDIA has been bringing Optimus-powered graphics to the market in force. Their venerable (and frankly more than a little dated) 300M line is finally giving way to brand new architecture with the GeForce 400M series, finally getting DirectX 11 chocolate into the Optimus peanut butter and producing a strong alternative to AMD's solutions. The only drawback is that the mobile top-end remains largely confined to underwhelming parts from both manufacturers: the GeForce GTX 480M is just a lower clocked desktop GeForce GTX 465 (not exactly a big winner to begin with) while the Mobility Radeon HD 5870 is actually a desktop Radeon HD 5770 with its clocks cut, offering a marginal improvement over last generation's largely missing-in-action Mobility Radeon HD 4870.

There's also one major launch looming over this holiday season: the unfortunately-timed introduction of Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture. These chips are set to appear just after the new year, and if Anand's preview is any indication they may be worth waiting for. As it stands, current Intel Core 2010 processors are still plenty fast, but their days are numbered. This isn't a bad time to buy and we all know waiting for the latest and greatest almost always means waiting forever, but Sandy Bridge is just a month or two away.

For this guide we've condensed the nonsense and broken things down into five categories: Netbooks, Ultraportables, Mainstream, Gaming Machines, and Workstations. We've also tried to offer at least one solid alternative in each category, and then we'll discuss what Apple brings to the table before wrapping things up. Our guide will start with the least expensive and smallest offerings, and then proceed up through desktop replacements, so hit the next page link and join us as we discuss the netbook market.

Netbooks: ASUS 1015PN
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  • Cuhulainn - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    Though I agree with your subject, I'd disagree with the rest. If what you say were true, you'd see high quality LCD options on every laptop, and no glossy plastic enclosures. Manufacturers will continue to make what they believe meets the needs of the market, regardless of what review sites say. Sure, they have some influence, but it's not as though their hands are tied because of these review sites.

    I like to have the option, especially with Optimus and the like negating power concerns. If volume and weight are concerns, there are still plenty of options without discrete GPUs.

    Relax.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    this.

    And most casual gamers play on console anyway and not pc.

    I would easly pic a i3 IGP + mate 16:10 screen over a discrete one with useless a glossy 16:9 screen.
    But for that you need to pay the 500$ "business fee", meaning less power for a 150% price tag.
    Reply
  • BrooksT - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    Could you guys *be* less professional?

    How about "if you're willing to pay a premium for design and build quality, and accept somewhat lower performance", etc.

    Calling it an "Apple tax" is as silly as talking about the "Intel tax" if you opt for a super-premium CPU. Governments impose taxes; companies offer competing value propositions.

    And then you get the whole implication that you don't get anything for a tax, which takes us into the political realm.

    Please, guys, grow up a bit and take Anandtech in the direction of actual journalism. It's a premium, a tradeoff, a sign of different priorities, a trap for the unwary even, but it is most certainly not a "tax" by any remotely sane definition of the word.
    Reply
  • max347 - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    This comment is ridiculous.

    Obviously someone is getting too old for technology. "actual journalism" is found in newspapers....which my 50 year old dad doesn't even read anymore.

    "Apple tax" is a common, well-known piece of jargon. Perfectly acceptable considering the audience and medium.

    If you want PC language with oldtyme verbiage and stiffly written articles, read a newspaper. I think the way these articles are presented is just fine.

    Aslo though, you could start up your own tech review site, and see how that turns out. I am betting if you take the "actual journalism" route you outline, you will have every stickler and wise guy tearing apart every little mistake in an article. Presented the way they are here, readers can more comfortably approach the writers, and have more of a discussion-style look at the product in question. This is why companies send them things to review- they get feedback. With a stringent fact-article approach, I don't think you would see this level of interaction.
    Reply
  • JonBird - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I totally agree. It was an uncharacteristically low brow comment from a site that I think of as being in the top tier of tech journalism. Aanand must not have edited this article because he would never discredit his site by using this type of non-descriptive fanboy meme. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    I'll just say this: I specifically asked Anand to look over the MacBook page and make any comments/edits he saw necessary. What you didn't offend him, and he uses a MacBook Pro 15 all the time. Even he will admit that you pay a significant price premium for what amounts to build quality and aesthetics, and that is the "Apple tax" so often referred to. It's such a well-known term that you can even Google definitions, and get stuff like this:
    http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia_term/0,2542,t=Ap...
    Reply
  • Osamede - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Whatever you want to cal it - "Apple tax" is really a polite way of putting it. If someone wanted to be more provocative they could even call it an "Apple cult fee". And Even the marketing term for this: "brand premium" is itself a euphemism for commanding a price over and beyond the intrinsic value of the product when separated from the brand loyalty.

    A good example of this is the new Macbook Air products. Basically you have in the 11" version what is little more than an Acer 1810 encased in a shiny aluminum package with a few ounces shaven off and the price doubled. The main real value in there is the better screen and that alone cannont explain Apple's blatant price gouging on 2-3 year old CULV products.

    So I would say, let them call it what they will. Apple is definitely charging more than what the products are intrinsically worth.
    Reply
  • Spazweasel - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    "Intrinsic worth" is subjective.

    If you add up the cost of components, you don't get to call that "intrinsic worth", because assembly isn't free. Neither is design and engineering. Many people assign no value to this, and that's just plain wrong. Apple spends more on engineering and design than most other companies, and you pay your share of it. Apple's not the "R&D and manufacturing welfare company", nor is Dell or HP or Lenovo or Asus or any other laptop maker.

    You also get OS/X with your MacBook, and that's not free either (and please, no BS about "it's FreeBSD/Mach", that's a tiny part of the operating system as a whole). If you choose to throw away the OS and run something else on it, fine, but you're going to pay your amortized part of OS/X's development anyway.

    Look, if you don't value where the "extra" money is going, fine, DON'T BUY IT. You're saying "if I, and only I, don't value it, it has no value to anyone and should therefore be free".
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Respectfully, Apple's reported profit margins border on the offensive.

    You would LIKE to justify the increased cost based on all the things you listed, but judging by Apple's current liquidity I'm gonna go ahead and say these things have already been paid for. The rest is just gouging the consumer.
    Reply
  • misaki - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    I believe you guys have the model number wrong for the 2nd asus netbook, 1015pn-mu17 doesn't exist. Your link goes to 1015ped-mu17 which has the n455.

    1015pem is the n550 counterpart with integrated intel gpu that has 2 versions. MU17 is cheaper by leaving out bluetooth 3.0 and has a smaller battery than PU17.

    (I happened to be looking at netbooks recently)
    Reply

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