Notebooks And Netbooks
Whittling down the notebook category to just a few of our favorites was a tough, tough task. So many incredible mobile machines were born in 2009, along with the CULV platform, the mobile Core i7 CPU and intense dual-GPU options. If you think we've left your favorite machine from '09 out, be sure to shout it out in the comments section below.
Thin and Light Notebooks:
Asus' UL80Vt grabs top honors here because of its reasonable price (just over $800), flexibility and overall portability. It's big enough to use comfortably on one's lap (unlike some netbooks), yet it's sleek and thin while still offering up both an integrated GPU and a discrete GPU. Our benchmarks showed that the CULV-based rig could handle most any daily and multimedia related tasks, and when the discrete GPU isn't needed, it can be switched off to save battery life.
Apple's MacBook Pro (13") grabbed our runner-up spot. It's ability to dual-boot into Windows 7 and OS X is a significant advantage for anyone who enjoys running certain applications in the latter, and it's portability/excellent battery life also helped out. It also has a fantastic and durable design, and the resale value is second to none. The price is admittedly on the high side, but it's a premium worth paying if you really want to boot today's best two operating systems on a single mobile rig.
MacBook Pro (13")
MacBook Pro (13")
Dell's Adamo is receiving an honorable mention, and while we weren't able to benchmark it specifically, the public at large has welcomed it with open arms. It set a new bar in terms of PC design, and for a company that has largely relied on plain boxes for years, that's saying something. At around $2000, this is hardly a practical piece, but the CULV processor, built-in SSD and optional WWAN module make it very useful if you've got the cash to spare.
Alienware has always had a thing for producing killer gaming rigs, and that didn't change this year. The M17x still stands as one of the most potent gaming notebooks on the market, and while it experienced a few issues at launch, the company was quick in dishing out a firmware update to make things right. Our own benchmarking proved just what a beast this was, and while you don't want to try and use it for too long away from an AC outlet, this machine has essentially obliterated the notion that a notebook can't be a hardcore gaming rig.
Asus chimed in at the tail end of this year by sliding a Core i7 chip into its G51J, and what we got was one of the most powerful gaming laptops that we've ever seen that also happened to be a good value. To this day, we're still impressed at the kind of power you can get for around $1500, and while the battery life was pitiful and it did run warm, this machine is still far more portable than the company's gargantuan W90Vp. The outer shell design won't please everyone, but you'll be hard pressed to find a better gaming notebook from 2009 in terms of performance-per-dollar.
2009 wasn't exactly a riveting year for netbooks. The Atom platform didn't change a bit, which forced just about every netbook that came out to be exactly like the prior. The only real shake-up came about when Microsoft launched Windows 7, and not surprisingly, the bulk of our favorites came from the October-to-now period.
Asus has always been at the forefront of netbook development, and the Eee PC 1201N is the culmination of style, battery life and portability. At $499.99, it's not the cheapest netbook out, but we still think it provides the most value. It will handle more multimedia than any other netbook thanks to the Ion GPU, and the dual-core Atom 330 CPU is far more powerful than the generic Atom N270 that comes with most netbooks. Throw in the full-size keyboard, multi-touch trackpad and spacious 12.1" LCD, and you've got the best netbook of the year.
The Eee PC 1008HA established a new design bar for netbooks. It was the first in the "Seashell" range, and it has set the tone for all Asus netbooks going forward. The style factor here is second to none, and for just over $300, you'll be hard pressed to find a better all-around netbook with fantastic battery life. Granted, this one still ships with Windows XP, but the Atom N280 CPU and 10.1" LCD makes it both powerful enough for basic tasks and highly portable for the traveling crowd.
The HP Mini 311 is another hot-and-fresh netbook that makes the cut, largely because of HP's heralded build quality and the integrated Ion GPU. The CPU is "only" a 1.6GHz N270, but Windows 7 and NVIDIA's touch on the GPU front helps it to perform far better than some of the older 1.6GHz N270-based machines that shipped with Windows XP. The 11.6" display includes a better-than-average resolution (1366x768), though this machine would've ranked higher if the $530 street price were lower.
Got any other recommendations for the Best of 2009? Toss them down in the comments section below--we're sure everyone has that certain special gadget that really made the year for them.