Thursday, December 16, 2010
Holiday Buyer's Guide: Notebooks
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.