Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Laptop
Mighty yet affordable
Team CHIP | 24 August 2010
Mighty yet affordable
Laptops now feature similar feature-sets as desktop computers and are becoming more affordable than before. We tested some priced between Rs 35,000 and Rs 50,000.
Today, computer hardware has not only become much more affordable but also powerful at the same time, and laptop manufacturers seem to be making the most of it. Today, an entry-level laptop can handle applications that were difficult for even mainstream laptops to work with earlier.
Since existing computing platforms are refreshed once a year and newer platforms are introduced every two years, the prices of laptops undergo revision every few months. The changes in platforms include new chipsets, support for newer generation of CPUs and faster memory, support for new wireless standards, better GPUs, and so on. So, unless you’re waiting for a new platform to release, it’s always a good time to buy a new laptop. There’s no point in waiting for months in anticipation for a price drop, because it will further drop in the next few months.
A lot has changed in the recent past, especially after the introduction of the Intel’s new Core Series of processors. The Intel Core i3 variants have successfully replaced the old mainstream Pentium Dual Core and the Core 2 Duo CPUs. With technologies like Hyper-Threading, multi-tasking on laptops, even in this budget, is a piece of cake. Although today, you might find some older hardware on some cheaper laptops, on the whole, entry-level and mainstream laptops are certainly more powerful and feature-rich than what they were a year ago.
Also currently, entry-level machines feature DDR3 RAM and 320 GB hard drives as opposed to DDR2 RAM and 160 GB or 250 GB drives. This is just the tip of the ice berg. If you notice, today, for under Rs 50,000, you can easily buy a gaming laptop. Some of the features such as multi-channel sound, HDMI output and eSATA port that were found in high-end laptops are now common to entry-level laptops too. Also, the new trend of having an eSATA/USB combo port has picked up considerably.
In terms of hardware, the minimum configuration you can expect from laptops in this budget is a 2 GHz dual-core processor, 2 GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive, 14.1-inch LCD and a DVD-writer. Single-core processors lost their charm two years ago. Whether your preference is a larger hard drive, more processing power or good battery life, you will surely find the one that suits your budget and application area.
In this roundup we compared eight entry-level and mainstream laptops, ranging from Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000, by most of the popular brands. You will notice that laptops from this segment target not only home and office users, but also students and businessmen. The most common trait we saw in all these laptops was superb build quality. So if quality is your priority, you might be in a fix, which is why we have a comparison with mathematically correct to help find the best performer and that one that offers best value for money.
The most striking feature of the Inspiron N5010 is the aesthetics, it looks truly stunning. Built around an Intel HM55 chipset, the machine is powered by an Intel Core i3-330M processor, has 4 GB DDR3 RAM and a 320 GB RAM. This machine also has a decent discrete GPU, the ATI Radeon HD 5470. So essentially, it’s a good entry-level desktop replacement, in terms of performance, design and aesthetics. It has a gun metal brush finish on the lid and the wrist rest. But a major downside is that the entire unit is glossy and makes it prone to finger prints. In terms of features, the machine has three USB and an eSATA/USB combo port. The display options include VGA and HDMI, and connectivity options are Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-fi N and Bluetooth. Finally the machine comes pre-loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit). Looking at the hardware and the overall package, we’d say that this machine is not only ideal for home users, but also for business people alike. The overall build quality of this laptop is comparable to the Acer Aspire 5740 and 5738, except that these two machines have a matte finish. With a solid chassis, good screen frame and excellent hinges, there’s almost nothing to complain about as far as the build quality is concerned. Even ergonomically, the machine is awesome. A keyboard with regular sized Enter and Shift keys and with all the keys well-spaced, it almost feels like you’re typing on a desktop keyboard. In terms of performance, the two laptops that came closest to this one were, the Inspiron N4010 and the Acer Aspire 5070. In fact, if the Aspire 5070 performed slightly better than what it did, it would have bagged both the awards, for value as well as performance. All-in-all, the N5010 is ideal for office use and light entertainment. Ofcourse you can even use design suites for trivial tasks, but using heavy filters and serious audio/video editing on this machine will be too much to ask.
Verdict: If you want a really stylish desktop replacement with superb build quality, ergonomics and performance, this one’s certainly for you.
For: Great performance, aesthetics and price point.
Against: Fingerprint magnet.
This laptop won the Best Value award for very good reasons, the main one being that, it’s very close to the best performer (Dell N5010) in this comparison and costs almost Rs 5,000 cheaper. However, you won’t get the style and aesthetic appeal that N5010 offers, but again, this machine has an all-matte finish which is such a reliever from finger print stains. The 5740 is built around an Intel HM55 chipset and is powered by an Intel Core i3-330M processor. Since this platform effectively replaces a basic desktop PC, it’s most common to entry-level desktop replacements like this one. Even the other hardware is not very different, such as 4 GB RAM, a 15-inch glossy screen and a 320 GB hard drive. In addition to gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth and Wi-fi N, the laptop has a dial-up modem. Other plus points include, dedicated volume controls and a numeric keypad and an HDMI port. There are three USB ports, a webcam, a memory card reader, DVD-writer and Kensington lock slot. Finally, the machine is pre-loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit).This laptop has the usual Acer Aspire-like metallic navy-blue exterior with dark-grey interiors. The interiors have a matt finish, making the laptop scratch-resistant, except for the lid and screen frame, which are glossy, hence prone to dust and finger prints. The chiclet keyboard, multi-touch touchpad and the additional feature, the numeric keypad, are all comfortable to use. Typing on the keyboard, with large and well-spaced keys is very convenient and smooth. The keys are properly placed and the Enter and Shift keys are of regular size. The build quality of the laptop is excellent, a full five on five. So basically, there’s nothing to be concerned about in terms of looks, ergonomics and build quality. If you’re not very keen on the eye candy that the best performer (N5010) offers, then it makes sense to get this one instead. In a real world scenario, the difference in performance between the two is very little. So we’d say that, if sexy looks and an elite design is not your priority, then get this machine.
Verdict: Buy this laptop if you want a no-nonsense design, top notch build quality and very good performance.
For: Excellent build quality, very good performance and good feature set.
Against: Slightly bulky.
From the entire lot, there are two laptops that really caught my attention, the Dell Inspiron N4010 (14-inch) and the Inspiron N5010 (15-inch), mainly because of their aesthetics. Both look truly stunning and are identical in terms of design. The brush gun-metal finish, although glossy, gives them a classy look.
The major downside is that, due to extensive gloss, you’ll notice finger prints all over the body. Both laptops are powered by the Intel Core i3 330M CPU and have the same amount of RAM. If you see the tables, they are mainly different in terms of hardware, apart from the size factor ofcourse.
As a personal choice, I’d go with the 15-inch version, for some good reasons. It has a discrete GPU, so it performs slightly better, especially in multimedia applications, and it has a larger screen, which is usually my preference. Over and above, the price difference between the two versions is merely a couple of thousand rupees.
In terms of aesthetics and performance, Asus laptops usually have an edge. However, the Asus K40IE really disappointed me, not because it features older hardware, but because of its not-so-impressive build quality. It’s not a bad machine, but I’d rather pay a couple of thousand rupees extra and get the Acer Aspire 5740, which has a larger screen, discrete graphics, it looks good, performs better and boasts rock-solid build quality. If only the Dell Inspiron N5010 did not have the overly glossy body, at Rs 37,800 it would have topped my list of favorites.
Speaking of which, the Acer Aspire 4740 is also a good pick when you want a laptop that performs as well as the Aspire 5740, but weighs lesser and is smaller in size, hence portable. With a 14-inch form factor, rock-solid build quality, enough room for data storage, Windows 7 Home Premium, and, the ability to seamlessly run mainstream applications, this laptop is a good pick. The one thing about it that doesn’t impress me as much is the price, it could have been slightly lesser.