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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  • FATCamaro - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    For most comparable system it is around 5-20% which isn't steep.
  • Cuhulainn - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    I'm 5'9" and weigh 168 lbs. This is in the normal weight range for body mass index.

    If I gained 20% more weight, I'd weigh 200 lbs and would be considered obese.

    Just sayin'.
  • th3pwn3r - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    What in the world does BMI have to do with anything? Not to mention BMI is a failed investment that they won't let die. If you're judged as being obese just because you're a certain weight/height ratio it's stupid. Most body builders and fitness athletes are classified as obese through BMI.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    Well, here's steep for the MacBook Pro 15:

    - 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 (i5-520M or i5-450M?)
    - 4GB (2x2GB) RAM
    - 320GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
    - SuperDrive
    - NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M 256MB Graphics
    - 15.4" Glossy 1440x900
    - Secure Digital (SD) Card Slot
    - iSight Webcam, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
    - 802.11n AirPort Extreme
    - Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, 5.6 lb
    Total price: $1707 online, $1800 from Apple.

    I get more than that in every area with an XPS L501x, with a price of just $1000. Heck, we can toss out the Dell Precision M4500 as another comparison, which is really quite expensive since it's a mobile workstation:

    Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
    Core i5-520M (2.40GHz)
    3 Year Basic Limited Warranty and 3 Year Next Business Day On-Site Service
    NVIDIA Quadro FX 880M 1GB
    2x2GB DDR3-1333MHz
    15.6" HD+ (1600 x 900) Anti-Glare LED Display with Premium Panel Guarantee
    320GB 7200rpm Hard Drive
    8X DVD+/-RW
    6-cell (60Wh) Lithium Ion Battery
    Dell Wireless 1501 802.11b/g/n Half Mini Card
    Dell Wireless 375 Bluetooth Module
    Integrated webcam with microphone
    Internal English Backlit Keyboard
    Total price: $1750 (though granted that's with the current sale Dell is doing--which they do all the time)

    There's no question NVIDIA charges more for Quadro 880M vs. GT 330M, though they're basically the same chip. Many of the other areas are a wash as well, but the upgraded LCD should be good (hopefully as good as the MacBook, but without testing I don't know). And of course, we're comparing 3-year warranty with on-site service to the standard 1-year Apple store warranty. This is about as close as the comparison gets.

    For consumer oriented offerings, the Dell XPS and HP Envy 14 cost about half of the MacBook Pro 15 while delivering similar features. Yes, you can complain about the XPS aesthetics, but they do manage to deliver a lot for the price. So you're looking at Dell on the one hand making the XPS 15 with all the features that Apple MBP 15 has but worse aesthetics and a price of $1000. On the other, you can't actually find anything else with a decent LCD and build quality unless you move into business laptops (which not surprisingly carry a price premium), and even then Apple is priced higher for what you get.

    I suppose the real question is to define "steep". 5% markup on Apple relative to Windows laptops if you include a student discount perhaps, but for average buyers the markup is at least 20%, and I'd qualify that as pretty steep considering the cutthroat nature of the computer industry.
  • FATCamaro - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Point taken. The XPS L501x is a winner vs the 15" MBP for value.
  • MeesterNid - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Right, but if we really are talking mobile here then you have to consider the battery power and the weight of the machines. I'm not sure about the Dell, but the MBP is a fairly portable (not too heavy) device that gives you a fair amount of battery-powered computing time.
  • awaken688 - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    You are comparing the chips inside which is very important. But what about weight and battery.

    I'm still waiting to see a true side by side with the price comparison.

    I still think the Apple 15 is overpriced, but some people value certain things much higher than others such a true portability (weight and battery).

    Separate topic:

    Long term battery test. I have 3 friends that just bought Apple laptops last year (2 MBP 15", 1 vanilla MacBook). Both are their batteries killed my PC laptop at the start. Now all 3 of their batteries can't even make it through a 1 hour meeting/class unplugged while using it.
  • bah12 - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    Well certainly the 20% buys you some weight/battery life (hell 20% better get you something), but then subtract from those gains the hassle of OSX or Bootcamp, and the small gain is not worth it IMO. Its strictly a matter of personal opinion of course.

    Also all batteries degrade over time, as your experience shows Apple is not immune to this either. So replacement part cost should be a concern, and I'm sure you will see that Apple tax sneak it's way back in there too.
  • awaken688 - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    I can't comment on OSX. Most people that use Macs enjoy OS-X. I know Anand and company does. I still don't understand why someone besides the Sony Vaio Z can't produce a similar quality (speed, battery, weight, screen, usability) to a MacBook Pro. Yes I know it will be just as expensive, but we really don't even have a choice.

    Maybe Jared knows of one.

    - 15"
    - 1680x1050 Quality Matte Screen (no I don't want 1920x1080 or 1920x1200. I have a 1920x1200 Dell Precision Mobile Workstation now and that resolution is just too intense for that screen IMO)
    - Core i5/i7
    - 4GB+ Ram
    - Decent GPU (I don't care about games. That is what consoles and desktops are for)
    - Under 6 lbs.
    - Less than 1" thick (although 1.1" is alright)
    - Battery life under light surfing over 5 hours

    I know this is a MacBook Pro basically, but is there anything out there that is like this other than Apple's offering?
  • 8steve8 - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    Anandtech is not entirely different, but the whole geeky media is over-obsessed with gpu performance on laptops. Very few people rely on a portable laptop for demanding 3d games, and the core i5/i3/i7 gpu is fine for non-cutting edge games like warcraft 3, and playing any sort of compressed video.

    Stressing gpu performance in the media forces the mfgrs to create laptops with discrete graphics, which means wasted volume, weight and energy.

    case in point, even the new lenovo U260 seems to have allocated space for a gpu, in its 0.7" thick frame, and partially because of this, it can only fit a 29Whr battery.
    ^ ^ you will see discrete graphics is an option... amazingly stupid trade-off on an ultra-portable.

    apple stubbornly sticking to nvidia for GPU, at the cost of several years of cpu progress is not even worth a second of debate, especially on an 11" machine.

    I'm not hating on anandtech, just the whole industry, reviews shape future designs, and as we are seeing now, even with good-enough-for-non-gamers igp performance, laptops of all sizes are being outfitted with discrete options. Stupid.

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