Most people looking to buy a new computer focus on the midrange sector. The reasoning is simple and sound: below a certain price point, it is difficult if not impossible to get all of the features and performance you want; meanwhile, go the other direction and once you reach a certain price the law of diminishing returns kicks in. What's left is a large category of computer equipment that can cover the needs of virtually all computer users. Today we're looking at three laptops that fall into this market segment, and as you might expect there are many similarities along with a few noteworthy differences.

While it would be great to test every current laptop from every manufacturer, time constraints and manufacturer participation doesn't make that possible. However, as we discussed in our mobile buyers guide, the real differences between many laptops are often insignificant. If you have the same base parts, you end up with the same level of performance and/or features. So we end up with a bunch of laptops where the only differences other than brand name come in the areas of price, support, and/or warranty.

Something else that we've discovered is that the shelf life of many notebooks has become increasingly small, with some models seemingly only on the market for a few months before being replaced by an updated version. Some of the updates may be significant, while others merely represent a slight upgrade in certain areas. The Centrino 2 platform has the potential to be either important or relatively meaningless, depending on your needs and the specific implementation. Actual performance doesn't change a whole lot, but the latest Intel mobile processors (i.e. the P-series of mobile Core 2 Duo processors) do consume less power than the older parts, and if you get one of the new laptops that supports DDR3 memory the result can significantly improve battery life. We should have a couple new Centrino 2 offerings in our labs for testing shortly, but unfortunately all of the models we are looking at today use slightly older parts.

For this mini roundup, we have laptops from Acer, AVADirect, and Gateway with prices ranging from as low as $1100 all the way up to $1750. Performance in many areas ends up being virtually identical, as we will shortly see, but before you decide that the cheapest option is therefore the best, you will want to consider some of the features and upgrades the extra money gets you. Form factor is another item to consider, with the general rule being that if performance stays the same and you shrink the form factor, prices will go up - sometimes substantially. The reverse is also true, which is why we will include the $1450 Gateway P-7811 gaming laptop as a point of reference in our benchmarks.

Acer 6920G – Overview
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 18, 2008 - link

    Not that it really matters since they're all pretty slow, but the HD 3470 is about half the performance of the HD 2600 and 8600M GS. Like I said in the review, though, if you really care about graphics performance you'll want a lot more than even the 8600M/HD 2600 (or 9600M/HD 3600).

    Personally, the minimum configuration I'd go with on the T400 ends up at around $1350 - because the 80GB default HDD is way too small for me. I personally think the Thinkpad laptops work well but look pretty dull, but build quality has always been good on the systems I've seen/used. I'd love to get one for testing (and in particular I'd like to test the LCD - I've heard some models even have S-IPS panels, but maybe that was only on some of their previous laptops when they were still IBM), but so far no luck there.
  • Voldenuit - Thursday, September 18, 2008 - link

    The T60p had an S-IPS panel, as did several other earlier models. The current crop of T400/500/W500 use TN-Film. Notebookreview compared the screen on the T400 favourably against the S-IPS on the T60:">

    Bottom line, you shouldn't be doing colour-calibration sensitive work on a laptop in the field anyway, and if you're doing it indoors, you'd probably want an external display for the added resolution if nothing else.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, September 19, 2008 - link

    That review clearly shows that the TN screens still have along way to go to match the S-IPS in anything other than brightness.

    And if you had a decent display on a laptop, why not use it for color-sensitive work? Lenovo is guessing people will with the new W700.
  • Voldenuit - Saturday, September 20, 2008 - link

    Because a typical laptop in the field will be subjected to various (changing) lighting conditions, so any colour calibration on the lcd will be moot. That and most laptop displays don't even give you the option to mess with the ICC profiles.

    The W700 is not exactly "portable", so it is likely to stay anchored in an office.

    The sad practical reality though is that practically no one is making S-IPS screens for laptops anymore (see the lenovo blogs on this issue), so we're stuck with TN-film until the market responds with a demand for higher quality panels.
  • Loknar - Thursday, September 18, 2008 - link

    Acer will have to do a lot to win me over. My company bought hundreds and now they are piling up in the corner, defect just after warranty expired. The Acers I'm talking about are centrinos and recent core duos. The construction is terrible. Those currently in use by my staff crashes (from overheating) when programmers are compiling applications. When you shake them it feels like old plastic of 1980's Toyotas, and often there are loose bolts inside.

    My company gave me are core2duo and I use it at home, removed the bottom casing and installed a cooling pad. It still crashes sometimes when my girlfriend plays tetris.

    The battery life and LCD display may seem ok in this lineup. But it is still unacceptable for me, give me a lower spec MacBook anytime. I had to get as far away as Acer as possible and got a MacBookPro, but a simple MacBook would have satisfied my office needs.
  • Foxy1 - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    Did anyone happen to catch the score of the OU/Washington game?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    No, but I did go see the BYU/Washington game in person. It was awesome watching the Cougars pull off the win at the end. Despite all the complaints from WA fans, it's worth noting that they had something like three penalties the whole game, they didn't get called for the blatant holds on 4th and 10 during the final drive, and the refs also didn't call the illegal forward pass with one minute remaining where the QB was a yard over the line of scrimmage. After such a demoralizing loss, it's hardly a surprise that they rolled over and played dead for OU.

    Go Cougars!
  • Donkey2008 - Friday, September 19, 2008 - link

    There was no excuse for the unsportsmanlike penalty. BYU fans can point a finger at other calls (which apparantly only they saw) leading up to the touchdown, but the referee influenced the outcome of the game. End of story. UW should have been kicking an EP, not a 35-yard FG.

    The more BYU fans try to deflect that fact, the worse it makes the call look. Just say "hey, it was a bad call. We got lucky" and the whole incident will be over.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 19, 2008 - link

    Okay, TOTALLY 100% OFF TOPIC:

    If you throw a ball 25 feet into the air after a TD, that's a penalty. The only people who think it was a "bad call" are WA fans or people that don't like BYU. If you think it's a "bad rule" that should be changed, fine, but that's a different debate.

    I just loved Lou Holtz' commentary on ESPN: "He didn't throw the ball; he just raised his hands and the ball happened to be in them." LOL... That's as insightful as his repeated analysis of how great the Notre Dame team is always going to be.

    Think I'm making this stuff up? How about a little physics to back things up?">hang time = 2.36 s - nope, he didn't just "toss it over his shoulder" (unless it mysteriously disappeared for 2.36 seconds)

    The ball is stopped at the apex, which is half the time, so:

    velocity final = vf = 0 m/s
    time = t = 1.18 s
    acceleration = a = -9.8 m/s2

    Solve for distance (height) = d = ??

    First use: vf = vi + a*t
    vi = velocity initial

    0 m/s = vi + (-9.8 m/s2)*(1.18 s)
    0 m/s = vi - 11.564 m/s
    vi = 11.564 m/s

    Now use: vf^2 = vi^2 + 2*a*d

    (0 m/s)^2 = (11.564 m/s)^2 + 2*(-9.8 m/s^2)*(d)
    0 m^2/s^2 = (133.726096 m^2/s^2) + (-19.6 m/s^2)*d
    -133.726096 m^2/s^2 = (-19.6 m/s^2)*d
    (-133.726096 m^2/s^2)/(-19.6 m/s^2) = d
    d = 6.82276 m

    Don't know about you guys, but lofting a football 22.3843 feet into the air seems pretty "high" to me. That's the equivalent of throwing a football (at a 30 degree angle) around 25 yards - perhaps not the hardest he could throw it, but certainly not an "accident" or "toss".

    Is the rule bad? Perhaps. If so, it's up to the schools to make the change, not the refs. If you want to blame someone other than Locker, don't blame the officials; blame PAC-10 and the other conferences that told the officials to clamp down on post-TD celebrations.

    To reiterate: I was *at* the game. How many penalties went against WA? Three, two of which came on the final drive. (Okay, four if you count the offsides call on the final kickoff after their blocked PAT.) How many against BYU? Seven. This wasn't a dirty game, but WA didn't have a single false start or offsides called against them (there are always a couple), not a single hold (again, there are always a few of those), and yet they're going to blame the refs!?

    Here's another completely blown call for you: one minute remaining, ball is on BYU's 41 yard line. Locker completes a pass to the 29 yard line for a first down... except he threw the ball from the 39 yard line (two *YARDS* over the line of scrimmage)!

    Okay, that's the last I'm saying about this in the comments of a laptop review. Who in the heck brought up a football discussion anyway? Someone needs to get their priorities straight....

  • bob4432 - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    how did you bench company of heroes? fraps? the built in test? some custom test?

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