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Laptop buying: full HD edition

LogicowLogicow Registered User regular
Ahoy! So I'm looking for a laptop to use to spend my free time between classes next semester.
I actually only have 6 classes left before I graduate, and none of them really require a laptop, but I'm used to having a laptop for various things.

I program/draw/develop 2D amateur video games, and I like to chat on IRC + browse forums and stuff simultaneously. Or watch an internet video stream while playing minecraft/terraria in a window. The last laptop I had had a 1680x1050 screen resolution; I wouldn't go any lower, but since laptops all have 16:9 resolutions now this means full HD 1920x1080. (My desktop monitor is 2048x1152 and I use all of it)

I play a lot of 3D games; I used to play World of Warcraft and these days I play League of Legends and Portal 2. I'll definitely want to play Guild Wars 2 when it comes out.

I will buy a separate SSD hard drive, most likely the 120gb intel SATA3 model.

I also wouldn't mind buying additional ram for a laptop that comes with only 4gb.

So, the tech specs I watch for are:

Screen: Full HD 1920x1080 screen resolution is a must. I'll consider 15.4 inches and 17 inches models, but I have good eyes, so it's more about the extra weight and extra hardware that comes with it.

Processor: I could live with anything but at the price range I'm aiming for, an i7 @ 2 ghz would make more sense.

Video card: This is where I'm really undecided. Price isn't the issue here; it's really a question of balancing weight/portability vs gaming capabilities. My old laptop had a geforce 8400, which I found barely acceptable at the time; I've played through Borderlands on it and it was just on the edge of being playable. On the other hand, most multiplayer / social games have been running great with no issues at all (League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, Starcraft 2, Minecraft, World of Warcraft just to name a few). I've looked at currently available cards on the market and it seems that the GeForce 525m, 540m and 550m are all awfully similar in terms of performance (they're all basically the same chip with minor clock differences), with the 460m way up ahead. The GeForce 555 seems to be halfway between the two groups. TLDR: Geforce 525 seems to be decent enough, but a 460m wouldn't go to waste.

Weight: I've carried an 15.4 inches laptop to school for 4 years. It broke, I'm using my parent's netbook as a replacement for now and I really enjoy how light it is. So, I do look at how heavy laptops are.

Memory: Not an issue, if only because I'll buy more separately if it has 4gb or less.

Hard drive: having physical space and slots to add an SSD without taking out the original hard drive would be nice but not required. I have a desktop PC at home with plenty of free space, so I can live with 120gb.

Price: I'm a software engineering student, I live at my parent's place so I have no expenses, I use computers all the time, so my budget here is 1800$ CAD. That's including taxes and an expensive SSD.

Battery: I almost never used my old laptop's battery and would prefer a lighter laptop with less battery life vs a heavier laptop with more battery life.

So, let's see what our options are here...
Here's the laptops I could find that can be bought in Canada from online retailers:

Dell XPS 15:
For 1150$ CAD, I get a core i7 2ghz with a GeForce 540m and 4gb of ram.
Weight: Starting weight of 5.96lbs (2.70kg) with 6-cell battery; 6.33lbs (2.87kg) with 9-cell battery

Dell XPS 17:
For 1250$ CAD, I get a core i7 2ghz with a GeForce 555m and 6gb of ram.
Weight: Starting at 3.36kg / 7.41lbs (with 6-cell battery); 3.53kg/ 7.79lbs (with 9-cell battery)
(they require the 9-cell battery for the GeForce 555m. At this point I'm better off with the 17.3" Asus model, I think.)

Dell XPS 15z:
For 1100$ CAD, I get a core i5 2.3ghz with a GeForce 525m and 6gb of ram.
Starting at Weights
Starting at 5.54lbs (2.51 kg)
(Significantly less powerful, but also significantly lighter than anything else. Maybe the build quality is good? I can get an i7 2.7ghz version with 8gb of ram for $1400, is it worth it?)

ASUS N53 Series N53SV-XV1 Notebook Intel Core i7 2630QM(2.00GHz) 15.6" 4GB Memory DDR3 1333 500GB HDD 7200rpm DVD Super Multi NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M w/ NVIDIA Optimus
Weight: 6.4 lbs

ASUS G Series G53SW-XN1 Notebook Intel Core i7 2630QM(2.00GHz) 15.6" 6GB Memory 500GB HDD 7200rpm DVD Super Multi NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M
Weight 7.90 lbs.
(What's the point? The 17" is the same weight with a significantly bigger screen)

ASUS G Series G73SW-XN2 Notebook Intel Core i7 2630QM(2.00GHz) 17.3" 8GB Memory DDR3 1333 500GB HDD 7200rpm DVD Super Multi NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M
Weight 8.00 lbs.

And here's a few more which I can't get but are listed for comparison purposes:

MSI GT680R-008US Notebook Intel Core i7 2630QM(2.00GHz) 15.6" 8GB Memory 1TB HDD 7200rpm DVD Super Multi NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M
Weight 7.7 lbs.
(Too expensive. Quite heavy for 15.6")

Alienware 17 inches: Starts at $1650
Weight: Starting at 5.3kg* (11.68 pounds)
(Woah that thing is ridiculously heavy)

Macbook pro 15-inch:
For $2250, I get 2.2GHz quad-core, Intel Core i7, 4GB 1333MHz, 750GB 5400-rpm, Intel HD Graphics 3000, AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1GB GDDR5
Weight: 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)
(Only goes up to 1680x1050. Ridiculously light for the processor and video card it has! I wish I could get one.)

Macbook pro 17-inch:
For $2500, same specs, 1920x1200
Weight: 6.6 pounds (2.99 kg)

So, basically: the two extremes are the Dell XPS 15z for light and portable and a 17.3" Asus for heavy but powerful. Both are tempting, for different reasons. I can't decide :(

If anyone has recommendations, links or can comment on the build quality of any laptop with full HD screens, please tell.

Logicow on


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    Torso BoyTorso Boy Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    If you haven't used a 17" laptop, see if you can try one. I bought one as a desktop replacement (a Dell Studio), and while I was largely impressed with the machine, in retrospect I regret going so big.

    It tends to be a lot of weight to add to a knapsack, can be awkward in your lap, and unwieldy in the close quarters of a lecture hall. If it has a numpad, it can make typing and using the trackpad awkward since they aren't centred. Mine was 16x10, but if you get a 16x9 it'll be a bit wider still. It's pretty brutal on the battery as well. So I absolutely recommend going with a smaller screen, especially since it'll allow you to throw a few more dollars under the hood.

    Torso Boy on
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    The Dude With HerpesThe Dude With Herpes Lehi, UTRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Just a few things to keep in mind, from a previous gaming laptop owner. Well, ok, I still own it, but its years are going on and it doesn't really game, at all, anymore.

    First, don't underestimate the weight and bulk of it. If you're going to do any amount of carrying it around, you'd be surprised how much one of those 17in laptops weights after awhile. I have a 17in Dell XPS from ages long past that I used when I was getting my degree. I had their backpack which was freaking huge but it provided nice protection for the laptop and allowed me to carry everything in it. If you're a smaller person the size of any carrying case you'll need for a laptop that large is gonna be on the uncomfortable/unwieldy side.

    If you're using it mostly for a desktop replacement and will just occasionally carry it around, that isn't an issue, but unless you're already firmly decided on the fact, if you are considering it as a desktop replacement, allow me to try to steer you away from that. You're paying a premium for the features of a gaming laptop, particularly over what you'd get for the same price in a desktop. Typically you can put together a desktop with comparable specs for considerably less and use the leftover money to buy a decent, non-gaming, laptop to use for travel and other uses. There were many times I wish I had gone that route, as much as I loved my XPS for every day use, because there were times when I just needed to take a few notes or check on a quick thing and you can't really "whip out" a 17in laptop to do those things. Besides its size and inability to use comfortably in a non stable (i.e. a desk/table you can set it up on), you have serious battery issues. The dell forces you to get the 9cell for a reason. You're not gonna get more than an hour or so of battery out of any of these machines unless you're a serious power user and know how to manually set up profiles that will save you as much battery as possible; and even then you're gonna be seriously limited in time you can use away from an outlet. Two hour class? Better hope you can sit near an outlet or have a spare battery to make it through, or plan your note taking accordingly.

    On top of these factors, as a desktop replacement, you have the serious issue of the impossibility of upgrading. laptop components, particularly high end ones like graphic cards are entirely proprietary not only among manufacturers but between models. If you get the highest end gaming laptop right now, that's what you've got. You might be able to upgrade your ram, your hard drive, but with very very few exceptions, everything else in that box is all you'll ever get with that machine. That alone is a good enough reason to steer people away from fully desktop replacements. Sure, there's people with the means to have a full gaming desktop and a full gaming laptop and this isn't an issue. But I would venture to guess that most people are picking one or the other.

    There are other issues, but I could go on awhile.

    Having said that, however, I will say that, while it was my main PC, I had few complaints about my XPS. I could run games, at the time, wonderfully, it was far and away better than the desktop it replaced, and hell, it is still on my desk as my "secondary" pc now, 5 years later (granted, with 3 hard drive replacements and 1 video card replacement, and an upgrade of ram ages ago to four whole gigs, from 2) But I can't play anything on it anymore. I can't even play the games it could run before because of other issues with the machine that prevent it from really running any even years old games, that is too cost prohibitive to replace at this point. I took it on numerous trips and allowed me to still raid, trips with the in-laws were less stressful because I knew I had the full power of my PC right there in my bag to escape to, and it was just a fun thing to have. There were many days on campus that I was there for 12-16 hours and large stretches of time writing papers and being able to take a break and log onto WoW was nice. If I had just had a bare basics laptop (at the time), I would have been seriously limited in what I could do with it. But, as I mentioned, it was a pain in the ass just for taking out for some quick notes or to check something online any given time.

    Anyway, all that aside, lets talk about your options.

    Regardless of what you choose, make sure you price out a better warranty than the base 1yr that comes with the machine. For something as demanding as a gaming laptop you're gonna want more protection that you need with a $400 laptop. If parts go bad, they're not cheap to fix.

    You need to go somewhere, as Torso Boy said, and really play with a 17in laptop because it's considerably larger than you might expect if you haven't used one before. You might find that you simply don't need something that large. If you have a friend that has one and you can spend actual time on it, all the better.

    As far as your graphics card choice goes, if you're shelling out for this type of machine, let me push you towards the best you can buy, at the most reasonable price. If you can upgrade to a 460 for a bit more, that's wonderful. If it's then another few hundred bucks to go to like a 560, probably not worthwhile. But it's always better to get a more powerful GPU in your gaming laptop because, as I mentioned before, this is something you're not going to be upgrading really. What you buy is what you'll likely be stuck with (I realize there can be exceptions), and you don't want an anemic GPU. Of the ones you listed, you'll likely want the 460. It beats the 540 by a long shot (the 540 is just a 435 at a higher clock speed, basically). The 555 is better still, but unless you for sure want the 17in, you're still best off with a 460m at this point. Either way don't settle for a 540m. I'd just recommend taking that off the table entirely if you're going through with this.

    Out of the ones you listed, I'd push you towards either of the ASUS G Series laptops. Find a 17in to play with, and if you find it too big, go with the 15in one. It looks like it'll be similar or identical performance. Try to upgrade the ram if possible (maybe even not via asus; depending ram access on your machine you can probably just get some sticks yourself via newegg for cheaper and ebay your old ones to make back the cost) if you get the 15; start putting aside money for a SSD down the road if you'd like but a 500gb 2.5 is probably gonna be fine for most people. Keep in mind that you more than likely can't fit in two 2.5's into a laptop chassis so if you upgrade to a 120gb ssd in a gaming machine you're going to be hampering your ability to load much on it a lot. 120gb is really not much space at all for a PC, and I'd only advise someone to go that small as a boot drive in a desktop. Save up and get at least a 256, or just wait awhile and use the 500gb one until prices come down.

    EDIT: Also on the size front, if it is fully a desktop replacement, just consider getting bigger LDC and keyboard/mouse that youc an have at your desk and hook it up to when you use it at home to get a bigger screen. even 17in is pretty damn small for every day PC/Gaming use. Most laptops these days have HDMI out so it isn't much of an issue. Just have a location on your desk you can plug it in and treat it like any desktop pc when you're home.

    The Dude With Herpes on
    Steam: Galedrid - XBL: Galedrid - PSN: Galedrid
    Origin: Galedrid - Nintendo: Galedrid/3222-6858-1045
    Blizzard: Galedrid#1367 - FFXIV: Galedrid Kingshand

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    LogicowLogicow Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Alright, I've looked at reviews for the Dell XPS 15z, seems like it has a decent keyboard, decent speakers, decent touch pad and decent screen.

    It also says it gets slightly hot and gets slightly loud from fans while gaming.

    On the other hand, the Asus G series laptops have two hard drive bays, so I could get an SSD and still keep the regular drive.

    Also, this is surprising, but I searched for G Series G73SW-XN2 on google and this thread came up as the third link. I guess it's a new model with not much known about it. Reviews about similar models indicate that the keyboard is chicklet style like the dell and has a solid build quality.

    I'll also have to wait to see what happens to Microsoft's "Buy a windows 7 computer, get a free XBox 360 or 10% off" promotion. If it only affects one of the two it'll help with my decision :P

    Edit: I guess I should mention, I have a Core 2 Duo desktop PC with a GeForce GTX 260, and a 23 inches LCD monitor with an HDMI input. I don't really need another PC at home, I just want something to bring to school every day for 5 months, and then to occasional LAN parties, playing multiplayer games when friends come over, and something to bring when visiting family.

    And I'm not particularly strong or tall, like I said weight is definitely an issue. It's just that big heavy gaming laptops have so much better hardware for the price. ;)

    Logicow on
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    The Dude With HerpesThe Dude With Herpes Lehi, UTRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    I feel the need to point out the irony that last night, after my post about my laptop, it got stuck in an endless "windows repair" loop and will now likely have to be completely reformatted. My laptop has had a history of murdering HDD's which I suspect is related to a mobo malfunction; but replacing the mobo on a 5 year old laptop is expensive as hell and simply not worth it. I usually can get away with reformatting, but in a few months I typically end up with a corrupt disc.

    /sigh. I should have known better than to say anything good about my machine.

    The Dude With Herpes on
    Steam: Galedrid - XBL: Galedrid - PSN: Galedrid
    Origin: Galedrid - Nintendo: Galedrid/3222-6858-1045
    Blizzard: Galedrid#1367 - FFXIV: Galedrid Kingshand

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    BigityBigity Lubbock, TXRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Put that thing to bed, with a shotgun :)

    Bigity on
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