HH Holiday Gift Guide: Notebooks & Desktops

Notebooks: From Ultrabooks To Desktop Replacements

2012 has been a banner year for both notebooks and desktops, in terms of design and innovation. It's not every holiday season that you get to swoon over a new Windows operating system and freshly designed hardware to go with it, but those in the market this winter will be treated with Windows 8 and some slick new machines should they choose to go that route.

Whether it's for yourself or someone else, consider this your go-to guide for picking out the perfect notebook or desktop PC this holiday season. We're all about spreading the holiday cheer, and if it means sifting through dozens or even hundreds of machines to find the best ones, then so be it. This is what we do, and we'd much rather you spend your time this holiday season with your family and friends than clicking frantically through the web trying to make sense of all the available models. We've already done it, and these are our picks.

Alienware M18x R2 Gaming Laptop ($1,999+)

If price is no object, and high frame rates are a necessity, this is your machine. Be it as a gift to yourself or the most special gamer in your life, this $1,999+ machine doesn't come cheap. But, it'll deliver a serious wallop to with its Core  i7-3630QM CPU, 18.4" LCD, 8GB of RAM, and NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 660M (2GB) GPU.

From our review: "Straight and to the point, if you're looking for a no-compromises desktop replacement, the Alienware M18x R2 has your name written all over it in big, bold, neon letters. This is the system to get if you don't care about trivial things like portability (it weighs 12 pounds, after all), price (and costs around $4,400), and battery life (dual GPUs...'nuff said). Make no mistake, this is a gaming PC that's every bit as powerful as a high-end desktop, but with the benefit of a built-in display and form factor that makes it relatively easy to lug to LAN parties. Yes, it's four or five times as heavy as an Ultrabook, but its shape and weight are both far less unwieldy than packing up a desktop tower on a trip across town."

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook ($1,249+)
 ThinkPad X1 Carbon Edge
If sleek and portable is the goal, Lenovo's gem will deliver. It's built ThinkPad tough, but it's amongst the lightest Ultrabooks on the market. The $1,249+ price tag will get you a powerful notebook for play or business, with Core i7 CPUs, a 14" LCD, up to 256GB of SSD storage and up to 8.2 hours of battery life. Bragging rights are included for free -- Santa's Special!

From our review: "Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon put up very respectable performance figures across a myriad of workloads.  With the exception of gaming, where this ThinkPad's lower memory bandwidth holds back performance, the X1 Carbon competes well with the latest crop of Intel 3rd generation Core series powered ultra-light notebooks. In our light duty gaming benchmarks the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offered performance somewhat below other machines we've tested in this class, although gaming is not what this machine was designed for. Are you going to miss a bit of gaming performance in a feather-weight notebook usage model?  Likely not, but it's worth noting, especially if you tend toward heavier multimedia usage.  Beyond that, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's combination of Intel's Ivy Bridge-based Core i5-3427U processor and its nimble SSD, add up to responsive, power-efficient performance that will satisfy virtually anyone interested in a machine in this weight class."

Dell XPS 13 ($949+)
If you want to get even more mobile, the 13" XPS 13 hits the sweet spot. It also checks in south of $1,000, making it slightly easier on the wallet than most high-end other Ultrabooks. Dell doesn't skimp on design or internals, however, with the base configuration packing plenty of punch for most users.

From our review: "A good friend of ours said the Dell XPS 13 is an ultrabook that "could steal customers from Apple."  That may be a stretch, depending on your point of view, but we'd definitely say the Dell XPS 13 is seriously tough competition for any manufacturer in the ultralight notebook space, Apple or otherwise.  However, Apple has done a magnificent job over the years cultivating extremely loyal customers.  Whether you believe it's out of blind brand worship or that they just make products that good, the loyalty is unmistakable and almost unfailing. And of course, a total solution product like a notebook has a software component with the OS that is a critical differentiator as well.  That said, the "PC" industry obviously saw the writing on the wall when they got behind the ultrabook product category with Intel."

Acer C7 Chromebook ($199)
 Acer AC710
Just because it's $199, doesn't mean that it should be ignored. Cheaper than most netbooks of yesteryear, this Chromebook is amongst the cheapest newly-available notebooks. Yes, it runs an unusual operating system, but for those who only need to keep up with social media, e-mail and movie streaming, it's sufficient.

Apple 13" Retina MacBook Pro ($1,699+)
 MacBook Pro
It's the first ultraportable laptop from Apple with a Retina display, boasting a ridiculously dense panel crammed with almost 4.1 megapixels, all flash-based storage and fantastic battery life. Just be aware that you're giving up an optical drive and there's no discrete GPU option, but it remains the only laptop in the bunch here that'll run OS X and Windows.

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