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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  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    Fixed, thanks. Reply
  • StrangerGuy - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    For those who are lucky enough to purchase one, 3820TG with 5650m is the undisputed king of ultraportables...Zero contest when talking about the ~$800 price range. Reply
  • satyr451 - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    100% agree! I looked around at a pile of laptops and that system (Acer TimelineX 3820TG) is nothing short of amazing for the price. I just got it a few days ago and I'm all around impressed with it. It looks nice, has great battery life, feels solid and the specs on it are great. Also, I don't mind the keyboard at all. Reply
  • mschira - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    There is one model missing from the list: the Sony Vaio z-series.

    The light gaming powerhouse!
    Having a GT 330 and up to i7 CPUs, a high definition screen in a 1.4 kilo 13" package is simply amazing.
    And it not more expensive than similarly speced MacBook Pro 15".

    If you recommend the apples, you have to consider the Sony, too.
    Worse I hear Anand complaining that all the notebooks are alike that there is no model standing out.
    How does the z-series not stand out?
    Cheers
    M.
    Reply
  • Evil_Sheep - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Anandtech didn't overlook the Z, but they noticed it stood out mostly in the wrong way: price. At $1700-2000 it even makes Apples look like a bargain.

    It's a nice machine but an overpriced niche product. If Sony dropped some of the bleeding-edge specs and released it at $1000-1200 they might not just be a bit-player in the notebook market.
    Reply
  • mschira - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    But claiming that the Sony Z-series is overpriced it simply wrong.
    Yes they start at a whooping 1800, but then they come with a 128Gb SSD and with fast i5-460, 4 Gb of ram.

    Try it yourself, for 1800 you get a Macbook pro 13 with an SSD but a slower CPU.

    Yes the Z-series is expesive, but that's because the ONLY come with SSD.
    And a fast one!

    Now I hear Anand tell us all the time we WANT SSDs in our laptops.
    M.
    Reply
  • mschira - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    P.S. and whe you max them out the Sony Z series is 2800, but that's with a 8GB ram 256 SSD, i7-640 an Nvidia GT335 and a highdef screen.
    The mac 15' clocks in at a whooping 3500$ if you try to match this.
    M.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - link

    Comparing with the MacBook isn't doing your argument any favors, as we've already established that they're fleecing the customer. Two 64GB SSDs will run about $220 at Newegg (and they'd actually be higher performance models than what Sony uses in all likelihood). Plus putting SSDs in RAID0 is stupid unless you're using models with excellent resiliency and garbage collection; I think Sony is using Samsung SSDs, which have neither feature.

    So start at a basic 13.3" laptop size. Acer gives you that in the 3820T for around $700. Now upgrade the keyboard to something decent with backlighting; that will cost around $50 tops. Put in Optimus 330M for around $100. Make a slick carbon fiber chassis for $100. Upgrade to dual SSDs for $150 (subtracting the standard HDD cost). Fingerprint reader and Bluetooth for $75. Upgrade the CPU to the i5-460M for $100. Toss in a good 900p LCD for $200 (being generous here). Add all of that up and we're looking at a base cost of around $1475, and I figure the above prices already account for the R&D department. So, your "Sony VAIO Z tax" looks to be around 22% -- just like Apple's MacBook tax I guess.

    Is it an awesome laptop? By most accounts yes, though now I'd like to see the 420M in there instead of the 330M. But like the MacBook, you need to understand that you're paying significantly more for the "Sony experience". And honestly, dual HDD bays in a 13.1" chassis seems more like a case of proving you CAN do something as opposed to doing something people are clamoring for. I'd rather have a single 128GB SSD with good TRIM support than RAID0 64GB SSDs--or a single 256GB SSD with TRIM instead of RAID0 128GB SSDs. Or a bigger battery, or better cooling, or whatever. Again, not that the VAIO Z is bad, but it's almost an exercise in excess.
    Reply
  • mschira - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    Well if only there was 13" laptop with a Gt330. Or any other decent GPU for that matter. Of course I would not say no to an even better GPU (is the 420 better that the 330?).

    Or any real light 13" with a fast CPU for that matter - heck ANY notebook under 2k with a decent GPU - (maybe the alienware, but 11" is too small).

    Nobody said the Sony Zs are cheap, but not more so than MacBook, and everybody seems to thinks it's kinda O.K. for them.
    (Evil_Sheep even suggested the Sony prices make Mac look like a bargin - not so. Mac's are in fact more expensive, while weighting more).

    Not sure what sort of SSD Sony is using, but I don't think they have really hard drive Bays in a 13" casing. They offer up to 4 SSDs in RAID and they sure don't have 4 bays.
    In fact I would prefer a standard drive bay myself, so I can get a decent Sandforce SSD in case the factory build in models fail.
    M.
    Reply
  • narayanagame - Thursday, November 18, 2010 - link

    what non sense are you talking...
    there is no competition for vaio z for its specs at that price..
    i understand sony premium but vaio z is completely reasonable and i am being modest here.
    whatever laptop u consider wont match vaio z with its specs for 3lb weight..

    vaio z is marvelous.
    look, u think 1800$ is premium price and in my country vaio z starts at 2200$ and i still feel its good enough.
    in real there is no laptop that has as good specs as vaio z at its weight for that price.compare it with whatever you like nothing ll match atleast till CES 2011
    now dont compare with macbook's,they are underpowered with shiny looking casing.
    the main thing that goes for apple is good screen and battery life and aesthetics and for these they charge easily 40% extra.

    if you think properly battery ability ll wear off within 1 and half yr and you wont be able to replace yourself.
    Reply

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