Multimedia notebooks review

Our tests review the latest generation multimedia laptops.
 
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01 .Introduction

Laptop

Test results for 10 multimedia laptops from $1600 to $4000

Looking for budget laptops? Visit our article on low cost laptops for more details.

If you’re looking for a successor to your trusty old desktop computer but don’t want the bulk of a traditional PC, you might want to consider a portable multimedia powerhouse instead.

Like smaller laptops, these have the all-in-one design with hinged lid containing the screen, integrated into a one-piece package for mobility. But what distinguishes them from the ultraportable, student budget laptops and family all-rounder laptop categories is that they tend to have more of everything: More power, more memory, more room on screen, more storage space and more features.

So, if you want a computer with lots of features, such as widescreens up to 19 inches, multiple-core processors, dual graphics cards and room for several internal hard drives on some models, but which you can move around relatively easily, this could be the way to go.

Our tested models included at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of memory (RAM), a dual-core processor, at least a 120 GB hard drive, a built-in webcam and at least a 15.4 inch widescreen. One of the models was an Apple, running the Mac OS X operating system (but which can also run Windows, which we used for part of the performance testing).

See all our laptops and netbooks reviews.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


As well as looking at their features, we scored them for:


  • Ease of use
  • Performance
  • We also tested battery life and calculated their annual energy cost

Models tested

  • Apple MacBook Pro 17 Inch
  • Asus M51SN-AP003G
  • BenQ R56-BV30
  • Dell XPS M1730
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300
  • LG S900-U.CPS1A
  • Optima CentorisV870 Series
  • Pioneer Dreambook D901C
  • QDI MX100
  • Toshiba Satellite X200

Video: Different notebook PC types

Georgina takes a look at the different types of laptop on the market.

 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test 

What to buy
Brand Price
17 inch
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch $3799
Dell XPS M1730 $3984
Pioneer Dreambook D901C $3971
15.4 inch
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300 $2399
ASUS M51SN-AP003G $1799
BenQ R56-BV30 $1614

Results summary

  • The Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch topped our overall test rankings and is slim, stylish, powerful and well-featured and can run both its native Mac OS X (Leopard) and also Windows (not included).
  • The Dell XPS M1730 was a good performer and, optioned up with a Blu-ray optical drive and Vista Ultimate, makes a great multimedia machine.
  • The Pioneer Dreambook D901C was easily the most powerful laptop tested, being the only one with a quad-core processor, plus a heavy duty video card. Like the Dell, the Pioneer is build-to-order and can be optioned however you like but in this configuration is ideal as a desktop replacement.
  • If you’re looking for a medium-sized value-for-money laptop with all the bells and whistles, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300 is the pick of the bunch. It’s small and light enough to be used on-the-go while not sacrificing speed and storage space and it’s well priced.
  • The ASUS M51SN-AP003G is also a good buy, with the addition of Bluetooth and TV tuner built-in and costs even less.
  • The BenQ R56-BV30 was the cheapest in our test and a good all-rounder, but let down by the inclusion of Vista Business and needs extra MPEG2 decoder software for use as a multimedia laptop.

Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

  SPECIFICATIONS
Brand/model Price ($) Overall Ease of use
(50%)
Performance
(30%)
Battery life
(20%)
PCMark vantage
score
Annual energy cost ($) Weight inc battery (kg) Weight of power supply/cord(g) Dimensions (HxDxW)
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch
www.apple.com.au
3799 77 80 76 69 3612 8.54 3.1 454 3x26.5x39
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300
www.lenovo.com.au
2399 77 82 79 60 3771 9.11 2.9 531 3.4x26.2x36
Dell XPS M1730
www.dell.com.au
3984 75 75 80 67 3687 17.74 5 1492 6x30x40.5
Asus M51SN-AP003G
www.asus.com.au
1799 73 76 72 65 3594 13.94 3 484 5x27x36.5
Pioneer Dreambook D901C
www.pioneercomputers.com.au
3971 70 65 92 49 4026 23.19 5 1369 6.5x30x40
BenQ R56-BV30
www.benq.com.au
1614 68 76 57 63 3246 8.37 2.7 536 3.6x36x26.5
Optima CentorisV870 Series
www.optima.com.au
1999 67 68 57 80 3253 8.65 2.7 512 3.5x25.4x35.5
QDI MX100
www.qditech.com.au
3121 64 65 57 70 3240 10.46 3 524 4.5x29x36.5
Toshiba Satellite X200
www.toshiba.com.au
3798 63 77 58 35 3303 15.28 4 1062 6.5x29x39.5
LG S900-U.CPS1A.
www.lge.com.au
2811 56 71 68 1 3493 16.85 5.9 825 8.5x32x44.5
 

  SPECIFICATIONS FEATURES
Brand/model HDD (GB) RAM (GB) Optical drive [a] Processor type Screen size (in) Max screen res Battery capacity (mAh)

Battery life (hr:min) heavy usage

USB ports FireWire S-Video
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch
www.apple.com.au
250 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, F (slot load) Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz 17 1680 x 1050 6300 (b) 2:19 3
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300
www.lenovo.com.au
250 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, R Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz 15.4 1280 x 800 5135 1:55 3
Dell XPS M1730
www.dell.com.au
160x2 3 1 x Blu-Ray Dual-layer, L Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz 17 1920 x 1200 7700 (c) 2:37 4
Asus M51SN-AP003G
www.asus.com.au
200 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, L Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz 15.4 1280 x 800 4800 2:05 4
Pioneer Dreambook D901C
www.pioneercomputers.com.au
120 3 1 x Dual-layer DVD, L Core 2 Quad 2.4 GHz 17 1920 x 1200 6600 1:19 4
BenQ R56-BV30
www.benq.com.au
160 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, R Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz 15.4 1280 x 800 4800 1:45 4 [d]
Optima CentorisV870 Series
www.optima.com.au
250 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, R Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz 15.4 1280 x 800 4400 3:38 4
QDI MX100
www.qditech.com.au
160 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, R Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz 15.4 1680 x 1050 7200 2:30 4
Toshiba Satellite X200
www.toshiba.com.au
200x2 2 1 x HD-DVD ROM (DVD RW), R Core 2 Duo 2.6 GHz 17 1689 x 1050 6000 0:38 6
LG S900-U.CPS1A.
www.lge.com.au
320 2 1 x Dual-layer DVD, R Core 2 Duo 2.2 GHz 19 1440 x 900 1100 0:15 4
 

  FEATURES
Brand/model Bluetooth S/PDIF out Recovery disc TV tuner Card Reader + location [a] Antivirus Firewall Anti-spyware Operating system Warranty (years) Warranty type
Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch
www.apple.com.au
none Mac Os X 10.5.2 (Leopard) 1 RTB
Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300
www.lenovo.com.au
1 x R (sD/sD Pro, MMC, xD, Ms/ Ms Pro) • 90 days Vista Home Premium 1 PNR
Dell XPS M1730
www.dell.com.au
1 x L ( MMC, Ms Pro, sD, xD ) • 12 mths • 12 mths • 12 mths Vista Ultimate 1 Onsite
Asus M51SN-AP003G
www.asus.com.au
• (inbuilt) 1 x L ( MMC, Ms Pro, sD, xD ) • 12 mths Vista Ultimate 2 RTB
Pioneer Dreambook D901C
www.pioneercomputers.com.au
1 x L (Ms/Ms Pro, MMC, sD) • 12 mths • 12 mths • 12 mths Vista Home Premium 1 PNR
BenQ R56-BV30
www.benq.com.au
1 x L (sD, Ms/Ms Pro, sD, MMC) • 12 mths Vista Business 2 RTB
Optima CentorisV870 Series
www.optima.com.au
• (UsB) 1 x L (Ms/Ms Pro, MMC, sD) •2 mths • 2 mths • 2 mths Vista Home Premium 1 RTB
QDI MX100
www.qditech.com.au
•. (inbuilt) 1 x L (Ms, MMC, sD) Vista Ultimate 2 Onsite
Toshiba Satellite X200
www.toshiba.com.au
1 x F ( sDHC, Ms Pro, MMC, xD ) •90 days Vista Ultimate 1 PNR
LG S900-U.CPS1A.
www.lge.com.au
•. (inbuilt) 1 x L ( MMC, Ms Pro, sD, xD ) Vista Home Premium 1 RTB
 

Table notes

  1. Price paid in February 2008.
  2. Ease of use (50% of Overall) based on two different, specific, user panels and tester experience
  3. Performance (30% of Overall) based on the performance of benchmark software, a user panel assessment of the display screen and power consumption.
  4. Battery life (20% of Overall) based on two separate tests, simulating both heavyand light usage when using the battery as the power source.
  5. PCMark Vantage scores These are the raw benchmark scores and only included in this table as a point of comparison for future notebook tests.
  6. Annual energy cost Based on the average usage scenario of 20 hours per day standby and 4 hours per day active, calculated at 15c
  7. Specifications
    • Weight (including battery) commonly referred to as the ‘travel weight’, not including mains cord/power supply.
    • Weight of power supply/cord weighed separately.
    • Dimensions the dimensions of the notebook.
    • HDD the included hard drive size.
    • RAM the amount of memory installed.
    • Optical drive the type of optical disc drive and it’s location F, L or R.
    • Processor type the Intel family and speed.
    • Screen size measured in inches diagonally, all are widescreen.
    • Max screen res is the maximum supported screen resolution in pixels.
    • Battery capacity measured in milliAmp hours.
    • Battery life average in hours and minutes under heavy usage.
  8. Features
    • USB ports the number of USB connections.
    • FireWire whether the product has a 4-pin FireWire connection.
    • S-Video port for video output to a monitor or TV.
    • Bluetooth for wireless connection to other Bluetooth devices.
    • S/PDIF out to carry digital audio signals to other devices.
    • Recovery disc with Windows and other bundled software.
    • TV tuner for watching and recording TV on the laptop.
    • Card reader + location number, location and type of memory card. slot — common formats include Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro Secure Digital (SD), MultiMediaCard (MMC), xD-Picture Card (xD) and CompactFlash.
    • Antivirus security software.
    • Firewall software in addition to Windows or OS X firewall software.
    • Anti-spyware software.
    • Operating System Windows Basic, Premium or Ultimate, or Mac OS X.
    • Warranty length of warranty; Warranty type limited parts and labour warranty — Return to base (RTB), Onsite or Pickup and return (PNR).

Footnotes:
[a] Positioning of the optical
drive and card reader (L = Left, R = Right, F = Front)
[b] calculated from 68 Wh
[c] calculated from 85 Wh
[d] HDMI integrated A/V port
Note: All laptops had both a built-in webcam and microphone.

Expert and user panel

We used an expert panel, a user panel and an expert tester to evaluate each laptop.

Our expert tester rated each laptop, looking at:

  • Performance across a range of criteria, including benchmarking with the PCMark Vantage software tool and battery performance.
  • Hardware security, including password protection, security locks and fingerprint scanners.
  • Security software.
  • Power consumption – both active and standby modes.
  • Ease of transferring files from another computer.
  • Monitor visibility under various light levels.
  • The manuals and help files.
  • Support options (including recovering discs).

The expert panel rated the design of each laptop, looking at:

  • Ease of battery removal/insertion.
  • Status lights/indicators – type and visibility.
  • Removal/insertion of DVD/CD and battery.
  • Connectors – placement, labelling and ease of access.
  • Ease of opening/closing the laptop.
  • Stability of laptop when open.
  • Design flaws and advantages.
  • Screen visibility/quality.
  • Overall style.

The user panel judged the laptops for comfort and usability, looking at:

  • The touchpad and keyboard – including comfort, ease of use, responsiveness, position, size and other factors.
  • Wrist rest comfort.
  • Laptop handling (comfort/grippiness) and weight.
  • Screen visability/quality.
  • Overall rating.

Profiles - the best

17-inch screens

Apple MacBook Pro 17in

Macbook pro

Price: $3799

Good points

  • Best overall.
  • Fastest boot time.
  • Excellent standby power.
  • VGA-DVI adapter included.
  • Slot-loading optical drive.

Bad points

  • No multimedia card slot.
  • Failed comfortable temperature test.

Dell XPS M1730

Dell XPS

Price: $3984

Good points

  • Blu-ray drive.
  • Dual hard disks and graphics cards.
  • Excellent standby power.
  • Bundled Creative earbuds.
  • 4-in-1 multimedia card reader.

Bad points

  • Failed comfortable temperature test.
  • Heavy — 5kg.

Pioneer Dreambook D901C

Dreambook

Price: $3971

Good points

  • Quad-core processor.
  • 12 months licensed security suite.
  • Passed comfortable temperature test.
  • Comes with a carry bag.

Bad points

  • Heavy — 5 kg.
  • Borderline battery life.
  • Only OK ease of use.

Toshiba Satellite X200

Price: $3798

Toshiba X200Good points

  • Multimedia remote.
  • Dual graphics cards.
  • Dual hard disks.
  • Recovery partition (a special area on the hard drive with software for restoring the operating system in the event of problems).
  • Extensive electronic manual.
  • Fingerprint scanner.
  • Passed the comfortable operating temperature test.

Bad points

  • Only has 90 day antivirus trial.
  • Heavy – 4 kg.
  • HD-DVD drive.
  • Poor battery life.

15.4-inch screens

Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300

Ideapad

Price: $2399

Good points

  • Excellent standby power consumption.
  • 6-in-1 multimedia card reader.
  • Slot-loading optical drive.
  • Light — 2.9 kg.

Bad points

  • Failed comfortable temperature test.

Asus M51SN-AP003G

Asus

Price: $1799

Good points

  • Inteagrated TV tuner.
  • Two years warranty.
  • 12 months licensed security suite.
  • Fingerprint reader.

Bad points

  • Slowest boot time.
  • Worst standby power.
  • Failed comfortable temperature test.

BenQ R56-BV30

BenQ

Price: $1614

Good points

  • Recovery partition.
  • Two years warranty.
  • Excellent standby power.
  • Passed comfortable temperature test.
  • 5-in-1 multimedia card reader.
  • HDMI interface port.

Bad points

  • Dim status lights and no labelling.
  • Only OK performance.

 

Profiles - the rest

15.4-inch screens

Optima CentorisV870 Series

Optima V870

Price: $1999

Good points

  • USB TV tuner.
  • Light – 2.7kg.
  • On-site warranty.

Bad points

  • No anti virus software.
  • Failed the comfortable operating temperature test.
  • Only OK performance.

QDI MX100

QDI MX100

Price: $3121

Good points

  • Two years on-site warranty.
  • Integrated TV tuner.
  • Multimedia remote.
  • Comes with a carry bag.
  • Fingerprint scanner.
  • Light – 3 kg.

Bad points

  • No antivirus software.
  • Failed the comfortable operating temperature test.
  • Only OK ease of use.
  • Only OK performance. 

 

17-inch screen

Toshiba Satellite X200

ToshibaPrice: $3798

Good points

  • Multimedia remote.
  • Dual graphics cards.
  • Dual hard disks.
  • Recovery partition (a special area on the hard drive with software for restoring the operating system in the event of problems).
  • Extensive electronic manual.
  • Fingerprint scanner.
  • Passed the comfortable operating temperature test.

    Bad points
  • Only has 90 day antivirus trial.
  • Heavy – 4 kg.
  • HD-DVD drive.
  • Poor battery life.

19-inch screen

LG S900-U.CPS1ALG S900

Price: $2811

Good points

  • Multimedia remote.
  • Integrated TV tuner.
  • Passed the comfortable operating temperature test.
  • Fast boot time.
  • Excellent standby power consumption.

Bad points

  • No antivirus software.
  • Heavy - 5.9 kg.
  • Very poor battery life.
  • Lowest score overall.
  • Comparatively low-res screen.

Which laptop trumped the rest?

Well, although the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch scored highest overall, the question of which laptop is best for you depends on what you’re looking for, with performance, ease of use, and battery life being some of the main indicators.

The five top scorers overall in our test possessed a particularly good combination of all three, while the next four laptops on the list were also very acceptable and well worth consideration for your next purchase. Note that these scores are relative to each other (and apply to this test only) and none of the laptops tested fell below an acceptable rating overall. And here’s where buying a laptop becomes a matter of ‘horses for courses’.

Some models are particularly strong in certain areas, but not necessarily winners in others. For example, the two notebooks that scored highest overall, the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300, rated higher in ease of use and performance than the Optima Centoris V870 Series and QDI MX100.

But on the other hand, these last two demonstrated better battery performance. The LG S900-U.CPS1A — the largest unit in our test — was let down badly in the overall rankings by its very poor battery life score . For those looking for a big-screen (19 inch) laptop for use as a desktop replacement, it still has much to recommend it — if you’re prepared to keep it plugged into mains power.

Battery life

We tested each notebook with the MobileMark 2007 benchmark program, which includes a DVD module and a Reader module. The DVD module simulates heavy usage with the notebook running a DVD movie until the notebook’s battery is depleted. The Reader module simulates a light workload where a document is read at a pace of one page per two minutes.

Only five of the 10 notebooks we tested recorded an average time of over two hours in the DVD test: the Optima Centoris V870 Series, Dell XPS M1730, QDI MX100, Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, and the ASUS M51SN-AP003G. The Optima Centoris V870 Series was the clear winner in the DVD module, being the only notebook to average more than 3.5 hours.

Using the Reader module, only three notebooks averaged more than three hours: the Optima Centoris V870 Series, Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and the QDI MX100. Once again the Optima Centoris V870 Series was the clear winner, with an average time of just over four hours.

A special mention goes to the worst battery life performer, the LG S900-U.CPS1A, which only produced average times of 15 minutes for the DVD module and 22 minutes for the Reader module. This effectively amounts to the battery doing little more than performing as UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) which, in the event of an interruption to mains power, gives you enough time to save your work and shut down properly.

Key performance indicators

Before buying a laptop you should try it out for at least 10 minutes to see whether it has a comfortable touchpad, wrist rest and keyboard. Our user trial rated each laptop keyboard on comfort, feel, sound, responsiveness, position of keys, size of keys, keyboard angle, and key shape. Three were highest were the Pioneer Dreambook D901C, Dell XPS M1730 and the LG S900-U.CPS1A. The Pioneer Dreambook D901C had the best keyboard, noted by users as “firm and responsive, with quiet keys”. The least comfortable keyboard belonged to the Optima Centoris V870 Series, with users noting the keys felt “stiff” and that it lacked a numeric keypad.

Touchpad

Aside from the keyboard the part you’ll touch most is the touchpad, so good comfort and functionality is very important. Some touchpads have special features, such as scrolling by touching a certain area, usually the right-hand side of the touchpad. Our user panel judged the BenQ R56-BV30 to have the best touchpad, slightly ahead of the Pioneer Dreambook D901C, followed closely by the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch which had the largest surface area.

Weight

Because this class of laptops is kitted out for heavy duty work, you can expect them to be among the heavier laptops you will find. Even the lightest laptops in this test, the BenQ R56-BV30 and Optima Centoris V870Series, both weighed in at 2.7 kg, including battery, just under what we consider to be the maximum comfortable weight for a portable computer, 3 kg.

As you might expect, the 19 inch LG S900-U.CPS1A was the heaviest, tipping the scales at a whopping 5.9 kg, which makes it a ‘transportable’ rather than portable computer. And the short battery life means you can’t transport it very far while in use (see Battery life, above).

Temperature

We measured the temperature of each notebook at its hottest spot (under the base) after an hour of standard use. We deemed 44 degrees celsius to be the acceptable maximum for comfort. Only four laptops passed this test: the BenQ R56-BV30, LG S900-U.CPS1A, Pioneer Dreambook D901C and the Toshiba Satellite X200. The Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch recorded the highest temperature with a reading of up to 60 degrees celsius.

Design, construction and style

The Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, and the ASUS M51SN-AP003G scored very highly for ease of battery removal and insertion, with the Apple getting a special mention for the battery charge status indicator lights underneath the notebook. On the other hand, both rated poorly in other areas, the Apple for lacking status lights for hard drive activity and Wi-Fi; and the ASUS for status lights that were not easily visible, badly labelled and couldn’t be seen when the lid was closed. For overall style, our user panel rated the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch and Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300 as excellent.

Here’s what to look for in choosing a multimedia powerhouse/desktop replacement laptop computer:

  • Storage capacity — a decent-sized hard disk drive (at least 120 GB) or even multiple drives. The Toshiba Satellite X200 for example, is fitted with two 200 GB hard drives for a whopping 400 GB of internal storage.
  • External video connections. DVI or HDMI port (to connect to large displays — e.g. a TV, widescreen monitor, projector).
  • Wireless networking — 802.11n is the latest and fastest but most will come with 802.11g.
  • Webcam and microphone — built-in for multimedia, VoIP (internet telephony) and videoconferencing and instant messaging. All the laptops in our test had both features.
  • Multimedia card reader — all laptops in this test included a reader, except the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch. Check for compatibility with existing equipment, such as your digital camera.
  • Remote control or function buttons (on the notebook chassis) for multimedia control.
  • Dual-layer DVD burner — plays and burns DVDs and CDs. The Dell XPS M1730 was the only laptop in this test fitted with a Blu-ray optical drive for playing the new generation of high definition discs. It also burns dual-layer DVDs and CDs.
  • Security software — preferably a full security suite for Windows computers with at least 12 months of updates. \
  • Warranty — at least 12 months, preferably with on-site service. Before buying, check the manufacturer’s warranty on the battery and also the dead-pixel policy for the LCD screen. Usually, a manufacturer’s dead-pixel warranty coverage will require a specific number of dead pixels (individual screen ‘dots’ that no longer work) within a certain screen area before allowing a warranty claim for replacement. Note that dead-pixel policies can vary greatly between brands.

Optical options

These notebooks are designed with multimedia and entertainment in mind. All played DVD movies and two included high definition optical drives: the Dell XPS M1730 with a Blu-ray drive, and the Toshiba Satellite X200 with an HD-DVD drive. Both these drives play and burn DVDs and CDs, but the HD-DVD drive has recently become obsolete, having lost out to Blu-ray in the long running battle to be the dominant next generation optical disc format.

Of the 10 laptops tested, the BenQ R56-BV30 was the only one that came with Windows Vista Business which, as with Vista Basic, doesn’t support DVD playback without the addition of additional MPEG2 decoder file software. This is available from the Microsoft website ($US14.95), or via the free K-Lite Codec Pack (www.codecguide.com) or freeware such as the popular VLC media player (www.videolan.org).

Sound

From the 10 notebooks tested, only three notebooks stood out for quality sound — the Dell XPS M1730, LG S900-U.CPS1A and Toshiba Satellite X200. The Toshiba in particular was noteworthy for the sound quality of its Harman Kardon speakers. The remaining seven notebooks struggled to produce audio clearly, some sounding muffled, producing tinny audio with poor bass.

Screens

Three laptops scored highest with the user panel for screen quality — the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, QDI MX100 and the LG S900-U.CPS1A. The other seven were too glossy and produced reflective glare that could be uncomfortable. The user panel felt that displays with a matte finish were easier on the eyes and could be used for longer. Even with a large laptop computer, sometimes the screen is just too small. That’s when you need to hook up to an external TV or projector.

Both the BenQ R56-BV30 and Toshiba Satellite X200 included the best option — an HDMI port. HDMI is an audio/video interface that transmits digital audio and video streams over a single cable, making it easier to hook up without the confusion of multiple connections.

Games on the go

Serious game players are catered for particularly well by two of the tested laptops. The Toshiba Satellite X200 and the Dell XPS M1730 have enormous graphics ‘grunt’ for a laptop computer. Both have dual graphics cards connected by SLI (Scaleable Link Interface) — a feature usually only found on performance desktop computers.

TV tuners too

Don’t want to be without access to TV? Four of the tested laptops come with a TV tuner: the ASUS M51SN-AP003G, LG S900-U.CPS1A, Optima Centoris V870 Series and QDI MX100. Only the Optima Centoris V870 Series provided an external USB TV tuner.

Security

One of the primary considerations when looking for a computer should be security software of some kind (even for a Mac and especially if you plan to run Windows on it).

Most of the laptops tested had security software of some kind, six in total — ASUS M51SN-AP003G, BenQ R56-BV30, Dell XPS M1730, Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300, Pioneer Dreambook D901C and the Toshiba Satellite X200. Of those six, four came with a full security suite (including at least antivirus, anti-spam, anti-spyware and firewall). They were the Asus, BenQ, Dell and Pioneer. Each of the four had 12 months of updates for the antivirus component.

The Dell and Pioneer has 12 months coverage for the entire suite, but note that both computers are build-to-order online and as such, you need to choose this manufacturer-recommended option when ordering. Of the six laptops, the security software on the remaining two — Lenovo and Toshiba — was only a 90-day trial.

Fingerprint and face security

Another handy touch feature is ‘biometric security’ such as the fingerprint scanner included on three of the laptops: the ASUS M51SN-AP003G, QDI MX100 and Toshiba Satellite X200. This can be set up to allow access only to those who have registered their fingerprint on the system. This worked well, but we strongly recommend also setting up a backup password as an alternate access option.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Y510-300 takes this a step further by including face recognition for security. The VeriFace system works in conjunction with the integrated webcam to use your face as the system’s ‘password.’ In our testing,

VeriFace worked well but problems arose, however, with wearers of hats and reflective glasses. Also, those who typically use their laptop in badly-lit places might have second thoughts about facial recognition security. Unless locking your machine this way is important to you, don’t consider it a priority feature to look for.

Energy

Because they’re designed to run on batteries as an alternative to mains power, laptops are generally more frugal with energy consumption than their desktop counterparts. We measured the power consumption of each laptop in our test, calculating totals based on a typical use scenario of four hours of active use per day and 20 hours standby use. The cost per year calculation was based on 15 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity.

Adding standby and active power totals together, the cheapest to run was the BenQ R56-BV30 at 56 kWh, giving a total annual running cost of $8.37. This was only slightly ahead of the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch at 57 kWh and $8.54 per year, and the Optima Centoris V870 Series at 58 kWh and $8.65 per year.

The most expensive of the laptops to run was the Pioneer Dreambook D901C at 155 kWh, or $23.19 per year, but this is still far cheaper than running a standard desktop PC which, on the same usage scenario, uses a comparatively massive 771 kWh per year for a total cost of $115.63. That’s nearly five times the energy consumption of the most power-hungry laptop we tested.

So, if you’re looking to replace a desktop PC with a laptop computer from this category you can expect some savings on your power bill and take comfort from knowing you will be using a ‘greener’ computing option.

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