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Buying the best laptop for you can be a difficult decision, so that’s why we’ve found the top portable tech of 2011. We’ve found the best laptops from Acer, Dell, Sony, Alienware and Apple, and there’s some real gems. Of course, the market moves quickly, and there are already a host of new laptops which are vying for our attention. If you’re looking for a great budget laptop, a powerful portable notebook or something which is great for playing the latest games, look no further.
Best Budget Laptop
Acer Aspire 5742 £349
Just £349 buys you a machine that’s powerful enough to run all of your applications, thanks to a surprisingly strong Intel Core processor and 4GB of memory. As with all budget laptops, the basic integrated graphics can’t cope with recent games.
However, you can enjoy high-definition movies and edit your photos with the likes of Adobe Photoshop, which most laptops at this price point can’t handle.
The 320GB hard drive will be sufficient for the whole family, providing enough space for tens of thousands of photos and songs. You can watch DVDs using the built-in drive, and movies look colourful and crisp on the 15.6-inch screen.
Build quality also impressed, as the 2.3kg frame is solid and slim enough to lug around without too much hassle. If you plan on doing a lot of typing, be it emails or that vampire romance novel you’re planning, you’ll love the perfectly sized isolation-style keyboard. With no real flaws to speak of – a rarity considering the price – this is a fantastic laptop for those on a tight budget.
Best Family Laptop
Acer Aspire 5750G £499
The latest Intel Core i3 processor with Sandy Bridge technology provides stunning performance, and there’s an incredible 6GB of memory to keep everything running smoothly.
If your kids like to blast music while they surf the web, download movies and chat with friends online, they’ll be more than happy.
If you have any gamers in the family, they can play the latest titles thanks to the dedicated Nvidia graphics.
Alternatively, you can sit down as a family and enjoy a high-definition movie on the sharp and colourful screen, with excellent contrast levels and pleasingly wide viewing angles. The 640GB hard drive provides plenty of space for hundreds of films, or tens of thousands of music albums.
Of course, once the kiddies are tucked up in bed, you might want to catch up with some office work. The firm, isolation-style keyboard is comfortable to type on for hours, and the five-hour battery life means you can work in bed without getting all tangled in up cables.
Best Movie Laptops
Dell XPS 15z £1199
Cinephiles need a laptop with a gorgeous screen, and the XPS 15z certainly delivers. The 15.6-inch display is blessed with a razor-sharp Full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel) resolution, so the latest Michael Bay blast-a-thons are perfectly recreated. It’s a bright and colourful panel, which is just as perfect for work as it is for play. And if you demand a larger screen, you can hook up a television using the HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections.
Most laptop speakers are rubbish, but this machine blasts out sound at an incredible volume. You won’t need to hook up external speakers when you sit down to enjoy a film.
That combination of sound and vision alone is enough for an enthusiastic recommendation. However, the surprisingly light and slender body can easily be carried around, and the battery lasts over three and a half hours when watching movies, so this is also one of the most portable media machines we’ve seen. The spacious 750GB hard drive means you can take a huge movie or music collection wherever you go.
Watch our Dell XPS 15z video review here
Best Gaming Laptop
Alienware M11x £999
Choosing our favourite was a difficult task, but we finally decided on the little brother of the family. The M11x may be one of the smallest gaming machines around, but the fact that you can pack it up and take it to a friend’s house without hiring a van to transport it gives it a clear advantage over its rather bulkier siblings. While the M18x weighs in at a back-breaking 5.7kg, this tiny portable weighs a mere 2kg, almost ranking it as an ultraportable.
Battery life is surprisingly good, especially considering the insane performance. Intel’s Sandy Bridge technology has the perfect showcase here, as do Nvidia’s latest portable GPUs. As well as playing the latest games, you can enjoy HD movies and run any software you can think of.
The 11-inch screen may be small, but you can hook up a monitor or television if needed. We happily blasted our way through all kinds of action games on the M11x’s display however, which is brilliantly bright and supremely sharp. The keyboard is also well sized despite the remarkably small frame.
Watch our Alienware M11x review video
Best Performance Laptop
Dell XPS 15z £1199
All four machines here offer incredible performance, but the XPS 15z is the full package and comes at a reasonable cost. The next-gen Core i7 processor and 8GB of memory ensures you’re never hindered by slowdown, even if you’re doing a million things at once.
You can enjoy HD movies on the Full HD screen, and the built-in speakers are powerful enough to fill the average lounge or bedroom.
Dedicated Nvidia graphics can handle the most complex video editing software and the very latest games.
Considering the staggering amount of performance on offer, the XPS 15z is also surprisingly portable. The 2.6kg chassis measures just 27mm at its thickest point and is solid enough to survive a few knocks on the road. Even the five-hour battery life impresses.
A superb set of features and plenty of storage space round off what is a truly excellent performance laptop.
Watch our Dell XPS 15z video review here
Best Business Laptop
Sony VAIO Z-Series £2699
Sony’s standard design is in place, with an excellent backlit isolation-style keyboard for use in gloomy environments. Even better is the anti-glare 13.1-inch screen, with images appearing impressively sharp. If work gets too much, you can happily enjoy an HD movie instead. The 256GB Solid State Drive might offer limited storage space, but gives you speedy access to your files and media.
One of Intel’s latest Core i7 processors handles any software you test it with, from office applications to complex design suites. The VAIO doesn’t have dedicated graphics built in, but you can attach a separate dock which adds an AMD Radeon card as well as an optical drive. With this hooked up, you can run incredibly powerful media editing software and even the latest games.
Regular travellers are catered for by the slender chassis, which weighs a measly 1.2kg. The excellent battery life is also a saviour, keeping you going for hours on end away from the plug socket.
Read the full Sony VAIO Z Series review here
Best Ultraportable Laptop
Sony VAIO S-Series £999
It doesn’t skimp on performance either. The Intel Core i5 processor capably handles everything you throw at it, even if you like to browse the web, listen to music, download files and do hundreds of other things at once.
Sony has crammed in a dedicated graphics card, too and, while you can’t play the latest games, you can comfortably edit your home movies and photos and enjoy HD films. The anti-glare 13.3-inch screen means you won’t be pestered by reflections on sunny days.
Even more impressive is the built-in DVD drive, a rarity on machines this size. Sony also found space for a 500GB hard drive, giving you plenty of storage for your files and software, as well as thousands of music and photo albums.
Of course, none of this would make a difference if battery life was rubbish. Thankfully, you can fit in a three-hour movie before the VAIO dies, or browse the web for close to five hours, which is plenty by any reckoning.
Apple Macbook Air £1349
Earlier this year, Apple updated the Air with the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors to give excellent performance, even when multi-tasking. You can work or play until your head explodes and won’t see any slowdown at all. The other new addition is Apple’s Thunderbolt port, which enables incredibly zippy data exchange with compatible devices. We’ve seen an Air stream four HD movies simultaneously to a widescreen TV, with no stuttering or loss of picture quality.
The 256GB solid state drive gives you fast access to your files and media, and has less chance of failing than a hard drive if the laptop takes a few knocks on the road.
Usability is as excellent as always, thanks to the firm isolation-style keyboard and solid glass touchpad.
Apple hasn’t taken any risks with this latest iteration of the Macbook Air, but as they say, if it ain’t broke, why fix it. Everyone from students to professional designers can own and love this laptop, and that’s why it’s our pick for Editor’s Choice 2011.
on Monday, November 28th, 2011 at 12:13 pm under Buying Guides, Laptops.
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Tags: Acer, Alienware, Apple, awards, awards 2011, Best laptops, Dell, Hot, Laptops, Sony