TechSpot Laptop Buying Guide: First Half of 2011

By on March 30, 2011, 5:03 AM
The year kicked off to a good start in the laptop sector with AMD finally delivering its promised Fusion chips -- five years in the making -- and Intel launching its Huron River platform powered by Sandy Bridge processors. Fusion is doing well at the entry level market with limited competition from the Atom, but things haven't been going so smoothly for Intel. The company discovered a design flaw in its 6 Series chipset, which resulted in product launch delays across the board for new Sandy Bridge-based notebooks.

Because of the mass CPU recalls and postponements, we decided to hold off an update to our laptop guide an entire quarter. Now that the issues have been resolved and laptop makers are starting to get their latest designs out in the market, we are once again ready to bring you a list of our favorite notebooks in six different categories: Thin and light, business or general purpose, desktop replacements, gaming, budget offerings, and netbooks.

We've included a quick description under each category to offer some advice on what you should be looking for, as well as a brief recount of what makes each of the laptops listed in this guide special.


Thin and light notebooks serve as a bridge between netbooks and full-fledged laptops, offering a smooth blend of performance, portability and battery life.


Business notebooks offer a combination of mid to high end components with an emphasis on durability, data security and battery life.

Desktop Replacements

With the most complete set of features and performance, desktop replacements often forgo battery life and portability for extra horsepower.


Serious gamers will always lean more toward desktop PCs for their flexibility and sheer power, but if mobility is also a priority, there are some solid choices in this category.


Laptops in this category are usually hot sellers in the back to school season as they offer a good balance of price, features and portability.


Netbooks are perfect as travel companions or secondary systems. Most of them feature 10- to 12-inch screens and an almost identical combination of hardware under the hood.

User Comments: 9

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Guest said:

Use Google chrome on non ENG sites for auto translate to ENG and

have way better gaming options than Alienware, Dell

Guest said:

How the new Lenovo ThinkPad W520 is not on the list for "Desktop Replacement". Review models have been out for enough time to have made the list.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The Thinkpad X120e specs are wrong. They were correct at release, but currently the base model at $400 includes a 320GB 7200RPM disk and 6 cell battery. It's impossible to get a 3 cell battery (unfortunately, IMO, as it makes the X120e smaller, lighter and better looking).

I also think that the Acer AO522 is too important to not include is the netbook category. C-50 CPU and 720p screen make it stand out.

Guest said:

You guys do a great job here at TechSpot.

Sager/Clevo notebooks should seriously be included in the Gaming notebook category. Sager's website is in English natively for me via Firefox, btw.

The Sager NP8150 (generation after my current NP8690 which is a GREAT gaming notebook) starts at $1,270 via XoticPC for a 15.6" gaming notebook. There are plenty of hardware upgrades available, but the price will increase dramatically for that top-end gear.

The starting specs are:


15.6" FHD (1920x1080) Glossy

Video Card:

1536MB DDR5 nVIDIA 460M


2nd Generation Intel® Core? i7-2630QM, 2.0-2.8GHz, (32nm, 6MB L3 cache)


4GB DDR3 1333MHz (Up to 16GB)

Hard Drive:

320GB 7200RPM (Serial-ATA II 300 - 16MB Cache)

Battery Life:

2-3 Hour



Here's the customization page on XoticPC:

Guest said:

I'm still wanting to see higher resolution screens on cheap laptops. The computing hardware on them really doesn't tend to be terrible, especially considering how general performance is still on the up. Even desktop P4 machines from 5 or 6 years ago are still very usable for a lot of people, and the value laptops here would walk all over them.

But, the 1366x768 screens listed on all the value laptops listed are terrible to use. You get less pixels than from a 1280 x 1024 screen that might have come with a P4 desktop... That's not the sort of progress we're used to with computing hardware, and I really think it hurts: I honestly find it hard to do work on these machines, just because of their silly small screen resolutions.

dustin_ds3000 dustin_ds3000, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I'm buying an Asus g73sw-3de gaming laptop this Friday.

Xero07 said:

Good list. my only complaint is that the $700-$1000 price range seems poorly covered.

Guest said:

I bought an ASUS G51J-A1 over a year ago. Great machine to this day (Core i7, 4GB DDR3, 640GB SATA-2 HDD, GeForce GTX 260M; VRAM: 1GB 256-bit GDDR3, 1080p 15.6" monitor)

The gaming laptops here are even better machine and I still play most games in High Settings. Imagine how good of laptops those are.

Highly recommend getting a badass laptop.

ET3D, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Thanks for updating the Thinkpad X120e specs. However the text still says it comes with a 3 cell battery and that upgrading to E-350 + 6 cell costs $90.

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