The Best Workstation Laptops For Your Money

| November 28, 2012 | (9)

The best workstation laptops for your money?

By that, we mean the laptops that offer the best features at a given price.

Why would you want that? Because if you’re about to buy a laptop, might as well get the one that offers the best features possible for your budget, right?

If you have the time to do research… but who does?

Many of us don’t have the time to read or the knowledge to understand detailed workstation laptop reviews and specifications and just want the answers.

In other words, what you want to know is:
What’s the best workstation laptop for my budget?

So if you don’t have the time, don’t worry. We’re here to help you with this article.

The features that we evaluate in order to make our recommendations:

We evaluate nothing short of 46 points within 8 categories:

1. Price
2. Performance: CPU, RAM, Storage, Video Card and Wireless Adapter
3. Screen: Size, Resolution, Matte or Glossy, Panel type (TN, IPS, etc.), Brightness, Contrast, Viewing Angles and Color Accuracy
4. Portability: Dimensions, Weight, Real-life battery life during average web browsing? Is the battery swappable and is it upgradable?
5. Usability: Keyboard: Layout, Key size, Travel/Pressure, Key Shape and any additional Function keys. Touch pad quality, Trackpoint? Backlit keyboard? Numpad? OS? XP mode? Which ports are offered? Laptop dock? Webcam? Sound quality? Optical Drive? Noise levels?
6. Reliability: How solid is the chassis? Temperatures under load? How solid are the screen hinges? Is the keyboard spill-resistant? Overall manufacturer long-term reliability? How easy is it to service the laptop?
7. Security: Fingerprint reader? Smartcard reader?
8. Warranty: Warranty length? What does the warranty cover? Do you get on-site support?

We then recommend laptops that score the best amongst those 46 points, at different points price. This gives you “The Best Workstation Laptops For Your Money”.

ThinkPad Edge E530

The ThinkPad Edge E530, the best workstation laptop for $500, $600 and $750 (with upgrades).

A few reminders:

We’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices we’ve seen on November 28th 2012. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read this article:

  1. This specific article on the best workstation laptops have nine (9) price ceilings for the recommended laptops: $500, $600, $750, $1000, $1300, $1500, $2400, $3500 and Up to $7500. We also suggest alternatives to our main recommendations, when they offer something interesting.
  2. This list is based on the best U.S. prices from NewEgg, Amazon or the manufacturer’s website. We can’t keep up with pricing/availability, as they change everyday, but we do suggest to you great laptops that you won’t regret buying.
  3. Prices are based on brand new laptops, not refurbished or open box; they might be a good deal, but they come with trade offs, such as missing accessories, higher failure rate, limited return policy, limited warranty, limited availability, etc.
  4. When we compare two laptops, we’ll use the brand name as indicators. When we compare two laptops with the same brand name, we’ll use the model as indicators.

Summary

Click on any of these links to jump to the price point that interests you. Alternatively, scroll down to see them all, in the same order as this list.

- The Best Workstation Laptops For Your Money:

Personalize your laptop with a skin

- Add more ports and video outputs with an universal laptop dock

- Upgrade the RAM, hard drive or sound card:

  1. Upgrade the RAM
  2. Upgrade the hard drive to a larger/faster hard drive or to a SSD
  3. Upgrade the sound quality with a dedicated USB sound card

- Windows 7 or 8?

Best Workstation laptop for ~$500

Lenovo 15.6" Core i3 320GB HDD Notebook$480 – Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 3259-78U

Why we chose this laptop:

Simply put, no other laptop priced below $500 offers the combination of a good Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a numpad, a decent battery life, a matte screen, three USB 3.0 ports and Windows 7 Professional, all in a solid chassis with a spill resistant keyboard.

Ideal for:

- Users looking for a very low cost laptop equipped with a good CPU and with features found in a great workstation laptop such as a fairly solid chassis with solid hinges, dual pointing devices, a spill resistant keyboard, three USB 3.0 ports, etc.
- Users who are on the move requiring good battery life and a battery that can be swapped. If you want a lighter/more portable laptop, see the recommended alternative.
- Anyone who write a lot on their laptop, thanks to the good keyboard
- Using the laptop outdoors or in intensely lit rooms due to a matte display.
- Using the laptop on your lap, as it stays cool under load.
- Business who need laptops with Windows 7 Professional.
- Anyone that need laptops that are reliable, yet easy to service and upgrade.

To avoid for:

- Work involving viewing/comparing multiple documents due to a low resolution display.
- Users whose work involve highly demanding software due to the CPU that has only two cores with no Turbo. It’s no slouch, but it’s still no match for the Core i5 with Turbo or its quad-core counterpart.
- Heavy multi-tasking that involves lots of files in various programs, unless you upgrade the RAM to 8GB, 12GB or 16GB. Even then, the CPU might hold you back.
- High storage capacity requirements, unless you upgrade the 320GB hard drive.
- Video card demanding software due to the lack of a dedicated video card.
- Businesses which need on site support. Dy default you only get a one year warranty, but you can upgrade your warranty on Lenovo’s website.
- Professionals imaging requiring accurate colors.

Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 3259-78U
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i3-2350M 2.3GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 Matte TN
Yes: 720P
Intel HD 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1066MHz
2 Slots, maximum 16GB (2x8GB)
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7,200RPM
Optical Drive DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Stereo Speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
3x USB 3.0
1x USB 2.0/E-SATA
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″
5.4lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-Ion
~4-5 hours

Pros:

  1. Good processor considering the price range (Intel Core i3-380M 2.53GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. Three USB 3.0 ports, a rare thing at this price range
  3. One open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  4. Fast 7,200rpm hard drive
  5. Fast DDR3 1600MHz RAM
  6. Unbeatable chassis toughness at this price point. Solid metal screen hinges.
  7. Dual pointing devices: Trackpad + Trackpoint (red nub)
  8. Spill-resistant keyboard
  9. Keyboard has curved keys, many function keys and a great layout that offers a good typing experience
  10. Numpad
  11. Anti-glare (Matte) display
  12. Decent battery life: 4-5 hours
  13. Swappable battery
  14. Somewhat portable, measuring 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ and weighting 5.4lbs
  15. HD webcam, noise reduction integrated microphone and good speakers: Great for video-conferences.
  16. VGA and HDMI video outputs, making your laptop compatible with older and newer displays/projectors.
  17. Windows 7 Professional
  18. Low cost
  19. Easy to service, RAM and hard drive are easy to access.
  20. Optical drive can be replaced by a drive caddy for a 2nd drive.

Cons:

  1. Hard Drive only has a 320GB capacity. If you want a larger capacity hard drive or a much faster SSD, see the Upgrade the hard drive to a larger/faster hard drive or to a SSD section.
  2. Integrated graphics (Intel HD 3000)
  3. Only 4GB RAM, but upgradable to 8GB by adding a 4GB stick in the open RAM slot. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  4. Comes with only one RAM stick resulting in single-channel as opposed to two RAM sticks with dual-channel. However, the performance loss is quite minimal, 5% on average, and this can fixed by adding a 2nd stick of RAM.
  5. No Bluetooth
  6. Poor color reproduction and poor viewing angles, due to a TN panel. Common on low-cost laptops.
  7. While the keyboard is better than the average laptop keyboard, it’s no match for the classic Thinkpad keyboard.
  8. No fingerprint nor smartcard reader.
  9. No native docking option, but you can use the recommended Toshiba dock with it.
  10. Only a standard 1 year warranty, although you can upgrade your warranty on Lenovo’s website.

14″ variation:

If you like the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530, but would prefer a more portable laptop with a 14″ display for currently a lower price, the $443 – Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 3254-ACU is a great option.

You lose the numpad but gain mobility by moving from 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ / 5.4lbs for the E530 to 13.3″ x 9.2″ x 1.3″ and 4.9lbs for the E430. Otherwise everything else on the E430 is identical to the E530.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Workstation Laptop for ~$600

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530$589 – ThinkPad Edge E530

About the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured on Lenovo’s website with the Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading as the CPU and the 6-cell Li-Ion 62WH as the battery.

Also note that Lenovo often have promo codes and limited-time sales with lower prices. The price listed here is the “standard” price, without any promo code or rebate.

Feel free to configure the laptop according to your needs, see our recommended upgrades section below the pros and cons for more upgrade suggestions if you don’t mind spending more. Upgrade prices are subject to changes, this is outside of our control of course.

Why we chose this laptop:

Like at the previous price point, no other laptop priced around $600 offers the combination of a relatively powerful Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a numpad, a decent battery life, a matte screen and three USB 3.0 ports, all in a solid chassis with a spill resistant keyboard.

Ideal for:

- Someone looking for a low cost speedy laptop with features that make up a great workstation laptop such as a solid chassis with solid hinges, dual pointing devices, a spill resistant keyboard, three USB 3.0 ports, fingerprint reader, etc.
- People who are on the move requiring good battery life and a battery that can be swapped. If you want a lighter/more portable laptop, see the recommended alternative.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Anyone who want to customize their laptop to their needs through Lenovo’s website.
- Using the laptop on your lap, as it stays cool under load.
- Anyone that need laptops that are reliable, yet easy to service and upgrade.

To avoid for:

-Work involving viewing/comparing multiple documents due to a low resolution display.
- Users whose work involve highly demanding software due to the CPU that has only two cores. It’s no slouch, but it’s still no match for its quad-core counterpart. This can fixed by upgrading the CPU though, see our recommended upgrades.
- Heavy multi-tasking that involves lots of files in various programs, unless you upgrade the RAM to 8GB, 12GB or 16GB.
- High storage capacity requirements, unless you upgrade the 320GB hard drive.
- Video card demanding software due to the lack of a dedicated video card.
- Users who’s work involves running high video card demanding software due to the lack of a dedicated video card.
- Business who need laptops with Windows 7 Professional (upgradable for $50).
- Professionals imaging requiring color accuracy.

Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, Anti-glare
No (Upgradable to 720p for $30)
Intel HD Graphics 4000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 16GB (2x8GB)
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
3 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0 (powered)
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″
5.4lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-Ion 62WH
~4.5-5.5 hours

Pros:

  1. Fast and efficient latest-generation Ivy Bridge processor with good performing integrated graphics (Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading with Intel HD Graphics 4000)
  2. One open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade. While you can pay Lenovo $160 to upgrade to 8GB, adding a ~$25 4GB stick will cost you a lot less. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  3. Three USB 3.0 port + one USB 2.0 power port
  4. VGA and HDMI video outputs, making your laptop compatible with older and newer displays/projectors.
  5. Dual pointing devices: Trackpad + Trackpoint (red nub)
  6. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  7. Anti-glare display
  8. Fast 7200rpm hard drive
  9. Fingerprint reader
  10. Spill-resistant keyboard
  11. Durable metal hinges
  12. Good battery life: Expect about 4.5-5.5 hours of web browsing.
  13. Can be customized to your needs; See our upgrade recommendations below

Cons:

  1. Average 1366 x 768 screen resolution
  2. Only 4GB of RAM. You can either pay Lenovo $160 to upgrade to 8GB or you can add a ~$25 4GB stick yourself and save $135. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  3. Integrated graphics (Intel HD Graphics 4000) Despite being much faster than the 2nd generation Intel HD Graphics 3000, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 still lags behind dedicated video cards.
  4. Running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit as opposed to the preferred Professional version of Windows 7
  5. No bluetooth (upgradable for $20)
  6. Poor color accuracy
  7. No wireless adapter that supports the 5GHz band.
  8. Wait period for Lenovo to build your laptop

Click here to go back up to the summary

Upgrades to consider for the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features.

  1. Upgrading the CPU to to either the Intel Core i5-3320M (+$55 for an extra 100-200MHz Turbo) or even better the Intel Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading ($135). Upgrading the processor will greatly improve your system’s performance and upgrading to an Intel Quad-Core will drastically improve performance.
  2. Upgrading the Operating System to Windows 7 Professional for $50. If you need some of the features that Windows 7 Professional offers, this upgrade makes sense. Otherwise, skip it.
  3. Upgrading the RAM. It’s an easy way to future-proof your laptop and it will allow you to run many programs at the same time with no/less slowdowns. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work. Consider upgrading the RAM yourself to save a lot of money; see the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  4. Adding a 720p Webcam for $30, if you want to do video conferences and the like.
  5. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 500GB (+$10) or the 750GB (+$60). Note: the higher capacity hard drives only run at 5400rpm vs the stock 7200rpm hard drive, so you’ll take a performance hit. Consider upgrading the hard drive yourself if you want a larger 1TB hard drive, a larger 7,200 rpm hard drive or a SSD for even higher performance. See our hard drive/SSD upgrades section for our recommendations.
  6. Adding the “Micro Hard Drive: 16GB mSATA Solid State Cache Drive. (+$40) Basically what this is is a low capacity SSD installed in the notebook’s PCIe Mini Card slot to improve hard drive performance through caching. Not necessary if you upgrade your hard drive to a SSD.
  7. Upgrading the battery to the 6 cell Li-Ion Battery 62WH over the stock 48WH (+$10). $10 to improve your battery life by roughly 30% is definitely worth it.
  8. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to include Bluetooth ($20) or to the Intel Centrino Wireless-N2230 (+$20), or to both (+$40). Upgrading to the Intel wireless card provides better WiFi performance, as in higher throughput and longer range.
  9. Upgrading the Warranty. The “Thinkpad” warranty covers damage resulting from drops and spills, while on-site warranty means that a repair technician will be dispatched to your location if the problem cannot be fixed after calling the customer support. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice.

Upgrades that are not recommended for the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530

These are upgrades that are not recommended, for reasons explained below:

  1. “Upgrading” the CPU to either the Intel Core i5-2450 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading or the Intel Core i5-2520 2.5-3.2GHz Turbo Dual-Core Hyper-Threading. Those are processors based on the older “Sandy Bridge” architecture and offers lower performance at the same frequency, while consuming more power. The Ivy Bridge successors to each processors are priced the same with the same or slightly higher performance along with an improved Intel HD Graphics 4000 video card.

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. the ~$500 Recommended Laptop ($460 Lenovo E530):

Compared to the $450 Lenovo E530, the $579 Lenovo E530 offers a more powerful CPU and a more powerful video card.

Advantages of the $500 Lenovo E530

  1. Costs less ($480 vs the ThinkPad at $579)
  2. Windows 7 Professional vs Windows 7 Home Premium on the $579 Lenovo E530.
  3. 720P Webcam vs no webcam on the $579 Lenovo E530.

Disadvantages of the $500 Lenovo E530

  1. Less powerful processor (Intel Core i3-2350M 2.3GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the $579 E530′s Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. Much less powerful video card (Intel HD Graphics 3000 vs the $579 E530′s Intel HD Graphics 4000)

14″ variation:

If you like the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530, but would prefer a more portable laptop with a 14″ display for the same price, the $589 – Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 , configured with the Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading as the CPU and the 6-cell Li-Ion 62WH as the battery, is a great option.

You lose the numpad but gain mobility by moving from 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ / 5.4lbs for the E530 to 13.3″ x 9.2″ x 1.3″ and 4.9lbs for the E430. Otherwise everything else on the E430 is identical to the E530.

Lacks features, less rugged, powerful quad-core CPU:

If a quad core processor is must for highly demanding software, then the $580 – Acer Aspire AS5750-9422 is one of the lowest costing laptops equipped with an Intel quad core processor available. However, you do lose some features found on the ThinkPad.

Why we recommend Intel quad-core CPUs:

What about the AMD A8-4500M CPU, an AMD “quad-core” processor found in $550+ laptops? Although marketed as a quad-core processor, the A8-4500M includes only two modules with four integer-cores and two floating-point cores total. As a result, the CPU is not a quad-core processor in the traditional sense of the term.

More importantly, due its low frequency (1.9GHz) and not so efficient CPU architecture, the AMD A8-4500M has trouble performing on par with an Intel Core i3/i5 dual-core CPU, let alone an Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU. Simply put, due to its lackluster performance, we are not recommending the AMD A8-4500M for use in a workstation laptop, when Intel CPUs offer higher performance at a similar cost and on top of that, use less power, resulting in less heat/noise and longer battery life.

Advantages of the Acer

  1. Higher resolution webcam (1280 x 1024 vs the ThinkPad at 1280 x 720)
  2. Far more powerful quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-2670QM 2.2-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the ThinkPad’s Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  3. More storage (500GB vs the ThinkPad’s 320GB)

Disadvantages of the Acer

  1. Less total USB slots (3x vs the ThinkPad’s 4x)
  2. Less USB 3.0 slots (1x vs the ThinkPad’s 3x)
  3. Heavier (5.74lbs vs the ThinkPad at 5.4lbs)
  4. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, fingerprint reader, and a spill resistant keyboard.
  5. Slower hard drive (5400rpm vs the ThinkPad at 7200rpm)
  6. Less rugged chassis.

Less powerful, but far more portable laptop:

If you don’t need that much processing power and would rather have a much more portable machine, the $630 – Lenovo IdeaPad U410 (59351632) is one of the most affordable “ultrabook” class of ultra-portable notebooks.

Advantages of the U410

  1. Far lighter (4.19lbs vs the ThinkPad at 5.4lbs)
    Smaller
  2. Far more powerful quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-2670QM 2.2-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the ThinkPad’s Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  3. More storage (500GB vs the ThinkPad’s 320GB)

Disadvantages of the U410

  1. Less total USB slots (3x vs the ThinkPad’s 4x)
  2. Less USB 3.0 slots (1x vs the ThinkPad’s 3x)
  3. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, fingerprint reader, and a spill resistant keyboard.
  4. Slower hard drive (5400rpm vs the ThinkPad at 7200rpm)
  5. Less rugged chassis.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Workstation Laptop for ~$750

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530$744 – ThinkPad Edge E530

About the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the:

  1. Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading as the CPU.
  2. Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 (2×2 BGN & BT4) (Wireless 2×2 + Bluetooth 4.0)

Why we chose this laptop:

No other laptop priced around $800 offers the combination of a powerful Intel Core 7 quad-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a numpad, a decent battery life, a matte screen and three USB 3.0 ports, all in a solid chassis with a spill resistant keyboard.

Ideal for:

- Users looking for a low cost laptop with a powerful quad-core CPU, a solid chassis and features that make up a great workstation laptop such as dual pointing devices, a spill resistant keyboard, a fingerprint reader etc.
- Users who’s work involves highly threaded and highly demanding software thanks to the powerful Intel quad-core CPU.
- People who are on the move requiring good battery life and a battery that can be swapped. If you want a lighter/more portable laptop, see the recommended alternative.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Users who want to customize their laptop to their needs through Lenovo’s website.
- Anyone that need laptops that are reliable, yet easy to service and upgrade.

To avoid for:

- Work involving viewing/comparing multiple documents due to a low resolution display.
- Users who’s work involves running high video card demanding software due to the lack of a dedicated video card.
- Users who plan to be on the move often due to an average size and average battery life.
- Heavy multi-tasking that involves lots of files in various programs, unless you upgrade the RAM to 8GB, 12GB or 16GB.
- Business who need laptops with Windows 7 Professional (upgradable for $50).
- High storage capacity requirements, unless you upgrade the 320GB hard drive.
- Professional imaging requiring color accuracy.

Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, Anti-glare
Yes: 720P
Intel HD Graphics 4000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 16GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2230 (2×2) 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz only
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
3 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0 (powered)
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″
5.4lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-Ion 62WH
~3.75-4.75 hours

Pros:

  1. High performance and efficient latest-generation Ivy Bridge processor with good performing integrated graphics (Intel Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading with Intel HD Graphics 4000)
  2. One open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade. While you can pay Lenovo $160 to upgrade to 8GB, adding a ~$25 4GB stick will cost you a lot less. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  3. Three USB 3.0 port + one USB 2.0 power port
  4. VGA and HDMI video outputs, making your laptop compatible with older and newer displays/projectors.
  5. Dual pointing devices: Trackpad + Trackpoint (red nub)
  6. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  7. Anti-glare display
  8. Fast 7200rpm hard drive
  9. Fingerprint reader
  10. Spill-resistant keyboard
  11. Durable metal hinges
  12. 720P Webcam
  13. Bluetooth 4.0
  14. Optical drive can be replaced by a second hard drive or SSD.
  15. Can be customized to your needs; See our upgrade recommendations below

Cons:

  1. Average 1366 x 768 screen resolution
  2. Only 4GB of RAM. You can either pay Lenovo $160 to upgrade to 8GB or you can add a ~$25 4GB stick yourself and save $135. See the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  3. Integrated graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000. Despite being much faster than the 2nd generation Intel HD Graphics 3000, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 still lags behind the many dedicated video cards.
  4. Fairly small 320GB hard drive.
  5. Average battery life: Expect about 3.75-4.75 hours of web browsing.
  6. Running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit as opposed to the preferred Professional version of Windows 7
  7. Poor color accuracy
  8. Wait period for Lenovo to build your laptop

Click here to go back up to the summary

Upgrades to consider for the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features.

  1. Upgrading the RAM. It’s an easy way to future-proof your laptop and it will allow you to run many programs at the same time with no/less slowdowns. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work. Consider upgrading the RAM yourself to save money; see the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  2. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 500GB (+$10) or the 750GB (+$60). Note: the higher capacity hard drives only run at 5400rpm vs the stock 7200rpm hard drive, so you’ll take a performance hit. Consider upgrading the hard drive yourself if you want a larger 1TB hard drive, a larger 7,200 rpm hard drive or a SSD for even higher performance. See our hard drive/SSD upgrades section for our recommendations.
  3. Adding the “Micro Hard Drive: 16GB mSATA Solid State Cache Drive. (+$40) Basically what this is is a low capacity SSD installed in the notebook’s PCIe Mini Card slot to improve hard drive performance. Not necessary if you upgrade your hard drive to a SSD.
  4. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to the Intel Centrino Wireless-N2230 with Bluetooth 4.0 (+$20). Upgrading to the Intel wireless card provides better WiFi performance, as in higher throughput and longer range.
  5. Upgrading the Warranty. The “Thinkpad” warranty covers damage resulting from drops and spills, while on-site warranty means that a repair technician will be dispatched to your location if the problem cannot be fixed after calling the customer support. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. the ~$600 Recommended Laptop (Lenovo Thinkpad E530):

We’re comparing the exact same laptop, with additional upgrades for the $800 recommendation. Simply put, compared to the $600 recommendation, you get a faster quad-core CPU, a 720p Webcam and Bluetooth 4.0.

14″ variation:

Once again, if you like the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530, but would prefer a more portable laptop with a 14″ display for the same price, the $744 – Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 (equipped with the Intel Core i7-3612QM CPU, the 720p WebCam and Bluetooth 4.0) is a great option. You lose the numpad but otherwise everything else is identical to the E530. This makes for one of the most portable laptop equipped with a quad-core CPU.

Screen with 1600×900 resolution, more RAM, dedicated video card and largest hard drive:
If you don’t mind a slower dual-core CPU (Intel Core i7 3520M 2.9-3.6GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading), the $730 -lenovo G780 (21823UU) offers an higher-resolution 1600 x 900 screen, 6GB of RAM, a dedicated video card (Geforce GT 630M 2GB) and a larger 750GB hard drive.

Advantages of the Lenovo G780

  1. Higher resolution screen (1600 x 900 vs the E530′s 1366 x 768) that’s larger (17.3″ vs 15.6″: pro or con)
  2. Faster dedicated video card (Nvidia Geforce GT 630M 2GB vs the E530′s Intel HD 4000)
  3. More storage space (750GB vs the E530′s 320GB)
  4. More RAM (6GB vs the Lenovo’s 4GB)

Disadvantages of the Lenovo G780

  1. Slower CPU (Intel Core i7 3520M 2.9-3.6GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the E530′s Core i7-3610QM 2.3-3.3GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. No trackpoint (red nub)
  3. No fingerprint reader
  4. Keyboard isn’t spill-resistant
  5. No Bluetooth
  6. Slower hard drive (5,400rpm vs the E530′s 7,200rpm)
  7. Shorter battery life (~3-4 hours vs the E530′s 3.75-4.75 hours)
  8. Less portable (16.4″ x 10.7″ x 1.77″ / 6.6lbs vs 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ / 5.4lbs for the E530)
  9. Less USB 3.0 ports (2 vs the E530′s 3)
  10. Cannot be customized like the E530

1920 x 1080 IPS display, dedicated video card, lightweight and solid magnesium alloy chassis and backlit keyboard:

If you don’t mind a slower CPU (Intel Core i5 3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading), the $800 – Sony VAIO S Series offers an higher-resolution 1920 x 1080 screen with an IPS panel for greater color accuracy/angles and a solid light-weight magnesium alloy chassis, all at a very reasonable price point.

Advantages of the Sony S series

  1. Gorgeous higher resolution screen (1920 x 1080 vs the Lenovo’s 1366 x 768) with a superior screen panel type (IPS vs the Lenovo’s TN, resulting in more accurate colors and greater viewing angles)
  2. Faster dedicated video card (Radeon HD 6630M 1GB vs Intel HD 4000)
  3. Solid and light-weight magnesium alloy chassis
  4. Backlit keyboard
  5. More storage space (640GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  6. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  7. More portable (14.97″ x 10.08″ x 0.97″ / 4.40lbs vs 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ / 5.4lbs for the Lenovo)
  8. Battery life can be extended to over 10 hours with the separately sold $125- Sony External Sheet Battery .

Disadvantages of the Sony S series

  1. Slower CPU (Intel Core i5 2450M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the Lenovo’s Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. No trackpoint (red nub)
  3. No fingerprint reader
  4. Keyboard isn’t spill-resistant
  5. Slower hard drive (5,400rpm vs the Lenovo’s 7,200rpm)
  6. Less USB 3.0 ports (1 vs the Lenovo’s 3) and less USB ports overall (3 vs 4 for the Lenovo)

Ultrabook-like lightness and portability, with notebook performance:

If you’re looking for a very lightweight and highly portable laptop, without sacrificing performance, the $920 – Sony VAIO VPCSA41FX/BI is an excellent alternative with a standard voltage CPU, a dedicated video card, a 13.3″ 1600 x 900 screen and a solid light-weight magnesium alloy chassis.

Advantages of the Sony VAIO VPCSA41FX/BI

  1. Higher resolution screen (1600 x 900 vs the Lenovo’s 1366 x 768) that’s smaller (13.3″ vs 15.6″; Pro or Con)
  2. Faster dedicated video card (Radeon HD 6630M 1GB vs Intel HD 4000)
  3. Solid and light-weight magnesium alloy chassis
  4. Backlit keyboard
  5. More storage space (500GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  6. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  7. Very light and very portable (13.04″ x 8.84″ x 0.92″ / 3.65lbs vs 14.84″ x 9.65″ x 1.16″-1.39″ / 5.4lbs for the Lenovo)
  8. Slighly longer battery life at 4.5-5.5 hours vs 3.75-4.75 for the Lenovo.

Disadvantages of the Sony VAIO VPCSA41FX/BI

  1. Costs more ($920 vs the Lenovo at $774)
  2. Slower CPU (Intel Core i5 2450M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the Lenovo’s Core i7-3610QM 2.3-3.3GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  3. No trackpoint (red nub)
  4. No fingerprint reader
  5. Keyboard isn’t spill-resistant
  6. Slower hard drive (5,400rpm vs the Lenovo’s 7,200rpm)
  7. Less USB 3.0 ports (1 vs the Lenovo’s 3) and less USB ports overall (3 vs 4 for the Lenovo)

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Best Workstation Laptop for ~$1000

Lenovo Thinkpad T530 Laptop$989 – Lenovo ThinkPad T530

About the Thinkpad T530:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the following suggested upgrades. Feel free to configure the laptop according to your needs, see our recommended upgrades section below the pros and cons for more upgrade suggestions if you don’t mind spending more. Upgrade prices are subject to changes, this is outside of our control of course:

  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) (+$50)
  • Windows XP Mode: Windows 7 XP Mode – English (Free)
  • Display type: 15.6″ HD+ (1600 x 900) (+$50)
  • System Graphics: NVIDIA NVS 5400M (+$50)
  • Memory: 8 GB DDR3 – 1600MHz (2 DIMM) (+$80)
  • Pointing Device: UltraNav with Fingerprint Reader (+$20)
  • WiFi adapter: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 (Free)

Also note that Lenovo often have promo codes and limited-time sales with lower prices. The price listed here is the “standard” price, without any promo code or rebate.

Why we chose this laptop:

This is the least expensive new laptop that comes with a workstation class video card (Nvidia NVS 5400M). It also offers other pros that you’ll appreciate in a workstation laptop, such as a backlit spill-resistant keyboard, a trackpoint, the optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD, Windows 7 Professional (64 bit), a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a matte screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution, a fingerprint reader and an express card slot, all in a solid chassis.

Ideal for:

- Users looking for a very solid machine with a latest generation processor along with a workstation-class video card.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Business who need laptops with Windows 7 Professional.
- Anyone that need laptops that are reliable, yet easy to service and upgrade.
- Anyone who want to customize their laptop to their needs through Lenovo’s website.
- Users who are on the move requiring good battery life and a battery that can be swapped. If you want a lighter/more portable laptop, see the recommended alternatives.

To avoid for:

- Users looking for top of the line performance. Upgrading the CPU will improve the performance though.
- Professional imaging requiring accurate color reproduction. This can be improved by upgrading to the 1920 x 1080 screen, which offers 95% RGB coverage.

Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad T530
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with XP mode
CPU Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1600 x 900 LED backlight, Anti-glare
Yes: 1280 x 720
Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
8GB DDR3
2 Slots, maximum 16GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Dolby® Advanced Audio® 2.0
Two stereo speakers
Integrated Microphone
Neworking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 Wireless LAN
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
34mm Express Card

Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
LAN
Mini Display Port

VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″
5.56lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6 cell Lithium Ion
~4-5 hours

Pros:

  1. Latest generation Ivy Bridge dual-core processor (Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading) (upgradable)
  2. Good resolution (1600 x 900) (upgradable to 1920 x 1080 with 95% RGB coverage for $200 more)
  3. Dedicated workstation-class video card: Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB, based off the Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
  4. 8GB of RAM
  5. Two USB 3.0 ports + one USB 2.0 power port
  6. Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2×2 for a better WiFi experience. (upgradable)
  7. Dual pointing devices: Trackpoint (red nub in the middle of the keyboard) and trackpad
  8. Anti-glare display
  9. Fast 7200rpm hard drive. (upgradable)
  10. Spill-resistant keyboard
  11. Very durable chassis with metal hinges
  12. 34mm express Card slot. Excellent for expanding ports in the future
  13. ThinkLight (LED flashlight next to the webcam for additional lighting in dark room situations)
  14. Great keyboard
  15. Fingerprint Reader
  16. Smart Card Reader
  17. Optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD.
  18. Windows 7 Professional (64 bit)
  19. Battery is swappable
  20. Components are easy to access and to service
  21. Configurable to your specific needs
  22. Optical drive can be replaced by extra drive

Cons:

  1. Build time
  2. No Numpad
  3. Processor is only dual-core, but it can be upgraded.
  4. No Bluetooth (upgradable)
  5. Poor color reproduction, unless you further upgrade to the 1920 x 1080 screen which offers 95% RGB coverage

Click here to go back up to the summary

Upgrades to consider for the Lenovo ThinkPad ThinkPad T530

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features. The upgrade prices are based on the T530 being already equipped with the suggested upgraded listed above.

  1. Upgrading the CPU to the Intel Core i7-3360M 2.8-3.5GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading (+$105) which is a faster dual-core CPU or even better, the Intel Core i7-3610QM (+$195) the Intel Core i7-3720QM (+$280), which are faster quad-core CPUs. A more powerful CPU is the best upgrade to increase your laptop performance. Avoid the i5-2520M, which is an older generation CPU and the 3520M, which is a dual-core CPU available at an higher cost than the quad-core i7-3610QM.
  2. Upgrading the display to the FHD 1920 x 1080. (+$200). A higher resolution means more screen estate so that your screen can display more things on the same surface, improving your work experience. On top of that, the 1920 x 1080 screen offers 95% RGB coverage, for greater color accuracy.
  3. Upgrading the RAM. It’s an easy way to future-proof your laptop and it will allow you to run many programs at the same time with no/less slowdowns. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work. Consider upgrading the RAM yourself to save money as Lenovo charges a fortune ($260 for 8GB to 16GB!); see the “Upgrade the RAM” section for our recommendations.
  4. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 500GB 7,200rpm (+$40) for more storage without losing performance or the 5,400rpm 500GB (+$10) or the 5,400rpm 1TB hard drive (+$170). Notice: The 5400rpm drives offer lower performance compared to 7,200RPM hard drives. Consider upgrading the hard drive yourself if you want a larger a larger 7,200 rpm hard drive. See our hard drive/SSD upgrades section for our recommendations.
  5. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 180GB SSD (+$230). A SSD will dramatically reduce boot and software load times and will make your system much more responsive too. Once again, consider upgrading the hard drive to a SSD yourself if you don’t want to pay the high prices that Lenovo are asking for SSDs. See our hard drive/SSD upgrades section for our recommendations.
  6. Upgrading to the “Hard Disk Driver Performance Booster”. (+$40) Basically what this is is a low capacity SSD installed in the notebook’s PCIe Mini Card slot which improves storage performance by caching data. Unnecessary if you’re upgrading the hard drive to a SSD.
  7. Replacing the optical drive for the 500GB 7200rpm (+$110) or the 1TB 5400rpm hard drive. (+$370). Replacing the rarely used optical drive for a storage drive is a great choice to get more internal storage, especially if you plan to replace the hard drive with an SSD. Not that hard to do yourself either, if you don’t mind doing a bit of search online to save on costs.
  8. Upgrading the keyboard to the backlit keyboard (+$40). Comes in handy if you’re working in a dark environment.
  9. Upgrading the battery to the 9 Cell Li-Ion TWL 70++ (+$50). This upgrade will give you up to 12 hours of battery life. Note that the 9-cell battery will stick out the back of your laptop. You can also expend battery life up to 30 hours by purchasing the $150 – Slice Add on Battery, which is an add-on slice battery. Do note that the slice battery lacks a pass through for the Lenovo docking station. In other words, you can either dock the T530 with the slice battery or you can dock the T530 with the docking station, but you cannot do both at the same time.
  10. Upgrading to include Bluetooth 4.0. (+$30)
  11. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 AGN (+$20) or to the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN (+$40) will improve your WiFi experience.
  12. Upgrading Warranty. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice.

Accessories to consider

  1. $90 – Lenovo USB 2.0 Port Replicator provides a Lenovo matching dock to your Lenovo laptop to further expand your ports.
  2. $90 – Port Replicator Series 3 adds four more USB ports along with the ability to use any two of its video outputs.

Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$800 Recommended Laptop (Lenovo Edge E530):

Compared to the E530, the T530 is more designed for professional workstation users, thanks to Windows 7 Professional, a workstation-class video card, its backlit keyboard and higher resolution screen.

Advantages of the E530

  1. Costs less ($794 vs the T530 at $989)
  2. More powerful CPU (Core i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the T530′s Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  3. One more USB 3.0 port (3 vs 2 on the T530)
  4. Bluetooth. (upgradable on the Lenovo.

Disadvantages of the E530

  1. Lower resolution display (1366 x 768 vs the T530′s 1600 x 900)
  2. Windows 7 Home Premium vs the T530′s Windows 7 Professional
  3. Integrated video card (Intel HD 4000) vs dedicated workstation-class video card on the T530 (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  4. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard

Faster quad-core CPU, more RAM, dedicated video card, 1600 x 900 display and larger hard drive:

If you’re looking for a powerful and versatile laptop that’s fairly solid and fairly light, consider the $1100 – Samsung Series 7 NP700Z5C-S01US.

Measuring 14.2″ x 9.3″ x 0.94″ and weighting 5.29lbs, it’s fairly portable and this portability doesn’t come at the cost of performance.

The Samsung Series 7 NP700Z5C-S01US comes with a latest-generation Intel Core i7-3615QM 2.3-3.3Ghz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading CPU, a NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M 1GB dedicated video card, 6GB of RAM and a fast 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive.

It also features two USB 3.0 ports, a backlit keyboard, a 1.3MP webcam, a 4-in-1 card reader, great wireless (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235) with Bluetooth 4.0 and good speakers. The screen is encased in brushed metal and hardly flex, the top part of the laptop is brushed metal and the bottom part is solid plastic.

Advantages of the Samsung

  1. Smaller: 14.2″ x 9.3″ x 0.94″ vs 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″ for the T530
  2. Lighter: 5.29lbs vs 5.56lbs
  3. Far more powerful CPU: Intel Core i7-3615QM 2.3-3.3Ghz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the T530′s Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading
  4. Longer battery life, at 6-8 hours vs 4-5 hours.
  5. Larger 750GB hard drive that maintain the high 7,200rpm speed.
  6. More RAM (6GB vs 4GB for the Lenovo)
  7. Better wireless adapter (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 vs Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200) which supports the 5GHz range, unlike the Lenovo.
  8. Bluetooth 4.0 vs no Bluetooth (upgradable) on the Lenovo.
  9. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  10. Battery Life Extender option: Charge your battery to 80% instead of 100% and it will retain 80 percent of its original capacity for up to 1,500 charges. Switching between 80% and 100% battery charge simply involves changing a setting in Samsung’s included software.
  11. No wait time to get the laptop built, unlike the Lenovo.

Disadvantages of the Samsung

  1. Costs more ($1100 vs the Lenovo at $989)
  2. Consumer class video card (Nvidia Geforce GT 640M) vs workstation-class video card on the T530 (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  3. No Smart Card Reader
  4. Three USB ports (2xUSB 3.0 + 1xUSB 2.0) vs four USB ports (2xUSB 3.0 + 2xUSB 2.0) on the Lenovo
  5. Lacks: dual pointing devices, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  6. Windows 7 Home Premium vs Windows 7 Professional on the Lenovo
  7. Laptop cannot be customized, unlike the Lenovo
  8. Only one RAM slot allows you to change RAM, the other stick of RAM (4GB) is soldered onboard, for a maximum of 12GB (4GB soldered + 8GB stick) of RAM.
  9. While far from being fragile, it’s not as tough as the Lenovo T530.

More portable alternative:

If you’re looking for a smaller, lighter laptop with similar performance, the $950 – Sony IT VAIO S Series SVS13A12FXB is an excellent alternative.

Advantages of the Sony

  1. Smaller: 13.04″ x 8.85″ x 0.95″ vs 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″ for the T530
  2. Lighter: 3.69lbs vs 5.56lbs
  3. Slightly longer battery life, at 5-6 hours vs 4-5 hours.
  4. Smaller screen (13.3″ vs 15.6″ – Pro or Con)
  5. Larger 640GB hard drive that maintain the high 7,200rpm speed.
  6. More RAM (6GB vs 4GB for the Lenovo)
  7. Better wireless adapter (Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 vs Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200) which supports the 5GHz range, unlike the Lenovo.
  8. Bluetooth 4.0 vs no Bluetooth (upgradable) on the Lenovo.
  9. Slightly less expensive, at $950 vs $989 for the Lenovo.
  10. No wait time to get the laptop built, unlike the Lenovo.

Disadvantages of the Sony

  1. Consumer class video card (Nvidia Geforce GT 640M LE) vs workstation-class video card on the T530 (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  2. No Smart Card Reader
  3. Three USB ports (2xUSB 3.0 + 1xUSB 2.0) vs four USB ports (2xUSB 3.0 + 2xUSB 2.0) on the Lenovo
  4. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  5. Windows 7 Home Premium vs Windows 7 Professional on the Lenovo
  6. Laptop cannot be customized, unlike the Lenovo
  7. Only one RAM slot allows you to change RAM, the other stick of RAM (4GB) is soldered onboard.
  8. It’s not as tough as the Lenovo T530.

Even more portable alternative with an IPS screen panel and a much longer battery life:

If you’re looking for a far smaller, lighter laptop with a very long battery life, the $1059 – Lenovo ThinkPad X230 is an excellent alternative. Its main downside is that it doesn’t have a dedicated video card, relying on the Intel HD 4000 integrated video card instead.

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the following suggested upgrades. Feel free to configure the laptop according to your needs. Upgrade prices are subject to changes, this is outside of our control of course:

  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) (+$50)
  • Windows XP Mode: Windows 7 XP Mode – English (Free)
  • Display type: 12.5″ Premium HD (1366×768) LED Backlit Display, Mobile Broadband Ready, 2×2 Antenna (+$50). The “Premium” panel is basically an IPS panel, which offers far better viewing angles and far more accurate color reproduction. Stick with the 2×2 option, as the 3×3 option removes the possibility of having a webcam.
  • Fingerprint Reader: UltrNav with FingerPrint Reader (+$20)
  • Camera: 720p HD Camera with Microphone (+$30)
  • Battery: 6 Cell ThinkPad Battery X44+ (+$20)
  • WiFi adapter: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 (+$20)

Also note that Lenovo often have promo codes and limited-time sales with lower prices. The price listed here is the “standard” price, without any promo code or rebate.

Advantages of the X230

  1. Far smaller: 12.01″ x 8.13″ x 0.75″ – 1.05″ vs 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″ for the T530
  2. Way lighter: 2.96lbs vs 5.56lbs
  3. Double the battery life, at 8.5-9.5 hours vs 4-5 hours.

Disadvantages of the X230

  1. Costs more ($1059 vs the T530 at $989)
  2. Lower resolution display (1366 x 768 vs the T530′s 1600 x 900)
  3. Integrated video card (Intel HD 4000) vs dedicated workstation-class video card on the T530 (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  4. No Smart Card Reader
  5. No Optical drive

Entry-level Apple Macbook Pro:

If you prefer Apple laptops or need OS X, the $1140 – Apple MacBook Pro MD101LL/A 13.3″ is the entry-level Macbook Pro.

Apple MacBook Pro vs Lenovo T530

Due to the differences in the way OS X (the MacBook Pro’s operation system) and Windows 7 operate hardware, it is difficult to directly compare the performance of the two laptops.

However, because the Lenovo is equipped with a professional grade video card (Nvidia NVS 5400M) over the MacBook’s Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, and an higher resolution screen (1600 x 900 vs 1280 x 800), we don’t recommend the Macbook Pro, unless you prefer Apple laptops or need OS X.

Advantages of the Apple Macbook Pro

  1. Backlit keyboard. (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  2. Higher storage capacity (500GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Far thinner (14.35″ x 9.82″ x .95″ vs the Lenovo at 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″)
  4. Lighter: 4.5lbs vs 5.56lbs for the Lenovo
  5. One Thunderbolt port vs none on the Lenovo
  6. One FireWire port vs none on the Lenovo
  7. Bluetooth (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  8. Slightly longer battery life: 5-6 hours vs 4-5 hours for the Lenovo
  9. One of the best, if not the best touchpad for laptops.
  10. The best power connector on the market.
  11. OS X (Pro or Con)

Disadvantages of the Apple Macbook Pro

  1. Costs slightly more ($1140 vs the Lenovo at $989)
  2. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000 vs the Lenovo’s Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  3. Lower hard drive performance (5,400rpm vs the Lenovo’s 7,200rpm)
  4. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Lenovo’s 4x)
  5. No VGA (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  6. No numpad
  7. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  8. No Smart Card Reader
  9. OS X (Pro or Con)

2.38lbs 11.6″ Apple Macbook Air

If you don’t need that much processing power and would have an highly responsive laptop that’s extremely portable, the $1045 – Apple MacBook Air 11.6″/2.38lbs laptop is a marvel of engineering that you should consider, by being such a relatively powerful laptop in such a small and light package.

Advantages of the Apple Macbook Air

  1. Backlit keyboard (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  2. Far superior storage performance (SSD vs 7,200rpm hard drive on the Lenovo), resulting in faster boot, program launch and improved system responsiveness. In other words, your system feels faster thanks to the SSD.
  3. Far smaller (11.8″ x 7.56″ x 0.68″ vs the Lenovo at 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″)
  4. Incredibly lighter: 2.38lbs vs 5.56lbs for the Lenovo
  5. One Thunderbolt port vs none on the Lenovo
  6. Bluetooth 4.0 (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  7. One of the best, if not the best touchpad for laptops.
  8. One of the best keyboards on ultra-portable laptops.
  9. The best power connector on the market, far better than some small and fragile power connectors seen on some ultrabooks.
  10. OS X (Pro or Con)

Disadvantages of the Apple

  1. Lower frequency CPU: 1.8-2.8GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading for the Apple vs 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading resulting in lower performance vs the Lenovo
  2. Lower storage capacity (128GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Lower screen resolution: 1366 x 768
  4. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000 vs the Lenovo’s Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  5. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Lenovo’s 4x)
  6. No VGA (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  7. No RJ-45/LAN port. Adapters available.
  8. No optical drive
  9. No numpad
  10. Upgrading is next to impossible.
  11. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  12. No Smart Card Reader
  13. OS X (Pro or Con)

Alternatively, the $1140 – Apple MacBook Air 13.3″, which is the 13.3″ variant, has a longer battery life (5-6 hours vs 4-5), an higher resolution screen (1440 x 900 vs 1366 x 768) and a card reader, at the cost of slightly bigger dimensions (12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68 vs 11.8″ x 7.56″ x 0.68″) and a slightly higher weight (2.96lbs vs 2.38lbs)

ASUS Zenbook Prime: 2.9lbs ultra-portable with a 13.3″ 1920 x 1080 IPS screen

Like the Apple Macbook Air but want a better screen? Say hello to the $1083 – ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB51, a 2.9lbs “ultrabook” equipped with a georgous 13.3″ screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and an IPS panel, for outstanding viewing angles and great color accurary.

Advantages of the ASUS Zenbook Prime

  1. Backlit keyboard (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  2. One of the best screen on the market: 13.3″ 1920 x 1080 resolution, IPS panel for outstanding viewing angles and great color accurary.
  3. Far superior storage performance (SSD vs 7,200rpm hard drive on the Lenovo), resulting in faster boot, program launch and improved system responsiveness. In other words, your system feels faster thanks to the SSD.
  4. Far smaller (12.8″ x 8.8″ x 0.70″ vs the Lenovo at 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″)
  5. Incredibly lighter: 2.9lbs vs 5.56lbs for the Lenovo
  6. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  7. Bluetooth 4.0 (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  8. Great Bang & Olufsen sound
  9. Includes a fabric envelope to protect it during transport. Won’t protect it much from a drop though.
  10. 1-Year Accidental Damage Protection covers accidental drops, spills, power surges and fire damage.

Disadvantages of the ASUS Zenbook Prime

  1. Costs more ($1073 vs the Lenovo at $989)
  2. Lower frequency CPU: 1.7-2.6GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading for the ASUS vs 2.5-3.1GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading resulting in lower performance vs the Lenovo
  3. Lower storage capacity (128GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  4. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000 vs the Lenovo’s Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  5. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Lenovo’s 4x)
  6. VGA port through an adapter, which is included
  7. Micro-HDMI instead of HDMI.
  8. No RJ-45/LAN port, but you get an included USB adapter, which is limited to 10/100Mbps unfortunately.
  9. No optical drive
  10. No numpad
  11. Upgrading is next to impossible.
  12. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  13. No Smart Card Reader
  14. Fragile power connector
  15. Touchpad could be improved. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.
  16. Some users report issues with the WiFi. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.

Best Workstation Laptop for ~$1300

Lenovo Thinkpad T530 Laptop$1269 – Lenovo ThinkPad T530

About the Thinkpad T530:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the following suggested upgrades. Feel free to configure the laptop according to your needs, see our recommended upgrades section below the pros and cons for more upgrade suggestions if you don’t mind spending more. Upgrade prices are subject to changes, this is outside of our control of course:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading (+$195)
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) (+$50)
  • Windows XP Mode: Windows 7 XP Mode – English (Free)
  • Display type: 15.6″ HD+ (1600 x 900) (+$50)
  • System Graphics: NVIDIA NVS 5400M (+$50)
  • Memory: 8 GB DDR3 – 1600MHz (2 DIMM) (+$80)
  • Pointing Device: UltraNav with Fingerprint Reader (+$20)
  • WiFi adapter: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 (Free)

Also note that Lenovo often have promo codes and limited-time sales with lower prices. The price listed here is the “standard” price, without any promo code or rebate.

Why we chose this laptop:

This is the least expensive new laptop that comes with both a powerful latest generation Intel quad-core CPU and a workstation class video card (Nvidia NVS 5400M). It also offers other pros that you’ll appreciate in a workstation laptop, such as a spill-resistant keyboard, a trackpoint, the optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD, Windows 7 Professional (64 bit), a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a matte screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution, a fingerprint reader and an express card slot, all in a solid chassis.

Ideal for:

- Users looking for a very solid machine with a very fast processor along with a workstation-class video card.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.

To avoid for:

- Users who plan to be on the move often due to the laptop being rather large and heavy.
- Users looking for top of the line performance.
- Professional imaging requiring color reproduction.

Specifications:

Components Lenovo ThinkPad T530
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with XP mode
CPU Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1600 x 900 LED backlight, Anti-glare
Yes: 1280 x 720

Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB DDR3
2 Slots, maximum 16GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Dolby® Advanced Audio® 2.0Two stereo speakers Integrated Microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 Wireless LAN
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
34mm Express Card
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks

2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
LAN: 10/100/1000
Mini Display Port
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″
5.56lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6 cell Lithium Ion
~4-5 hours

Pros:

  1. Powerful Ivy Bridge quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading) (upgradable)
  2. Good resolution (1600 x 900) (upgradable)
  3. Dedicated video card optimized for business application (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB) (based off the Nvidia GeForce GT 540M)
  4. Two USB 3.0 ports + one USB 2.0 power port
  5. Intel Centrino Wireless-N for a better WiFi experience. (upgradable)
  6. Dual pointing devices
  7. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  8. Backlit keyboard
  9. Anti-glare display
  10. Fast 7200rpm hard drive. (upgradable)
  11. Spill-resistant keyboard
  12. Very durable chassis with metal hinges
  13. Fingerprint Reader
  14. Smart Card Reader
  15. 34mm express Card slot. Excellent for expanding ports in the future
  16. ThinkLight (little flashlight next to the camera for additional lighting in dark room situations)
  17. Windows 7 Professional (64 bit)

Cons:

  1. Build time
  2. Average 4GB RAM (upgradable).
  3. No Bluetooth (upgradable)
  4. Poor color reproduction (not an IPS panel)

Upgrades to consider for the Lenovo ThinkPad ThinkPad T530

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features.

  1. Upgrading the CPU to the Intel Core i7-3820QM 2.7-3.7GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading (+$200). Not only does this provide a higher clock speed, you get an additional 2MB of L3 Cache.
  2. Upgrading the display to the FHD 1920 x 1080. (+$200) Higher resolution means more screen estate, improving your work experience.
  3. Upgrading the RAM. While it will not provide additional performance, it’s an easy way to future-proof your laptop and will allow you to run tons of programs at the same time with no/less slowdowns. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work..
  4. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 500GB (+$10) or the 1TB hard drive (+$170). Notice: the higher capacity hard drives only run at 5400rpm vs the stock 7200rpm hard drive.
  5. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to the 128GB SSD (+$280) or the 180GB SSD (+$330). A SSD will improve boot and software load times drastically.
  6. Upgrading to the “Hard Disk Driver Performance Booster”. (+$40) Basically what this is is a low capacity SSD installed in the notebook’s PCIe Mini Card slot to improve cache performance.
  7. Replacing the optical drive for the 500GB 7200rpm (+$110) or the 1TB 5400rpm hard drive. (+$370) Replacing the barely used optical drive for a storage drive is a great choice especially if you plan to replace the hard drive with an SSD.
  8. Upgrading the keyboard to the backlit keyboard (+$40). Comes in handy if you’re working in a dark environment.
  9. Upgrading the battery to the 9 Cell Li-Ion TWL 70++ (+$50). This upgrade will give you up to 12 hours of battery life. Note that the 9-cell battery will stick out the back of your laptop. You can also expend battery life up to 30 hours by purchasing the $150 – Slice Add on Battery, which is an add-on slice battery. Do note that the slice battery lacks a pass through for the Lenovo docking station. In other words, you can either dock the T530 with the slice battery or you can dock the T530 with the docking station, but you cannot do both at the same time.
  10. Upgrading to include Bluetooth 4.0. (+$30)
  11. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 AGN (+$20) or to the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN (+$40) will improve your WiFi experience.
  12. Upgrading Warranty. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice.

Accessories to consider:

  1. $90 – Lenovo USB 2.0 Port Replicator provides a Lenovo matching dock to your Lenovo laptop to further expand your ports.
  2. $90 – Port Replicator Series 3 adds four more USB ports along with the ability to use any two of its video outputs.

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$1000 Recommended Laptop (Lenovo T530):

You’re looking at the same laptop, simply with a far more powerful CPU.

High-end ASUS Zenbook Prime: Core i7, 256GB SSD, 2.9lbs, 13.3″ 1920 x 1080 IPS screen

Like the previously mentionned ASUS Zenbook but want a more powerful Core i7 CPU and a higher capacity 256GB SSD? That’s exactly what the $1471 – ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A-DB51 is.

Advantages of the ASUS Zenbook Prime

  1. One of the best screen on the market: 13.3″ 1920 x 1080 resolution, IPS panel for outstanding viewing angles and great color accurary.
  2. Far superior storage performance (SSD vs 7,200rpm hard drive on the Lenovo), resulting in faster boot, program launch and improved system responsiveness. In other words, your system feels faster thanks to the SSD.
  3. Far smaller (12.8″ x 8.8″ x 0.70″ vs the Lenovo at 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″)
  4. Incredibly lighter: 2.9lbs vs 5.56lbs for the Lenovo
  5. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  6. Bluetooth 4.0 (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  7. Great Bang & Olufsen sound
  8. Includes a fabric envelope to protect it during transport. Won’t protect it much from a drop though.
  9. 1-Year Accidental Damage Protection covers accidental drops, spills, power surges and fire damage.

Disadvantages of the ASUS Zenbook Prime

  1. Costs more ($1471 vs the Lenovo at $1269)
  2. Far less powerful CPU: 1.9-3.0GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading for the Zenbook vs Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading resulting in lower performance vs the Lenovo.
  3. Lower storage capacity (256GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  4. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000 vs the Lenovo’s Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  5. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Lenovo’s 4x)
  6. VGA port through an adapter, which is included
  7. Micro-HDMI instead of HDMI.
  8. No RJ-45/LAN port, but you get an included USB adapter, which is limited to 10/100Mbps unfortunately.
  9. No optical drive
  10. No numpad
  11. Upgrading is next to impossible.
  12. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  13. No Smart Card Reader
  14. Fragile power connector
  15. Touchpad could be improved. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.
  16. Some users report issues with the WiFi. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Like the portability of ultrabooks, but need something that’s definitely designed for business environments? That’s where the $1349 – Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon shines.

With it, you get a carbon-fiber roll cage, a spill-resistant ThinkPad keyboard, a fingerprint reader, Intel vPro, the ability to charge up to 80% battery capacity in only 35 minutes, a 14″ screen with a 1600 x 900 resolution and of course, the Lenovo red trackpoint.

Note that Windows 8 is selected by default, so make sure to select Windows 7 as the Operating System, unless you want Windows 8.

Advantages of the X1 Carbon

  1. Far superior storage performance (SSD vs 7,200rpm hard drive on the Lenovo), resulting in faster boot, program launch and improved system responsiveness. In other words, your system feels faster thanks to the SSD.
  2. Far smaller (13.03 x 8.9 x 0.74″ vs the Lenovo at 14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″)
  3. Incredibly lighter: 2.99lbs vs 5.56lbs for the Lenovo
  4. Intel Wi-Di (Wireless Display) allows you to connect an external display/HDTV wirelessly, with a separately sold $92 – Netgear PUSH2TV HD PTV2000 1080P Adapter for Wireless Display receiver.
  5. Bluetooth 4.0 (upgradable on the Lenovo)
  6. Spill-resistant keyboard
  7. Ability to charge up to 80% battery capacity in only 35 minutes.

Disadvantages of the X1 Carbon

  1. Costs more ($1349 vs the Lenovo at $1269)
  2. Far less powerful CPU: 1.9-3.0GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading for the Zenbook vs Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading resulting in lower performance vs the T530.
  3. Lower storage capacity (128GB vs the T530′s 320GB)
  4. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000 vs the Lenovo’s Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB)
  5. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Lenovo’s 4x)
  6. VGA port through an adapter, which is included
  7. Micro-HDMI instead of HDMI.
  8. No RJ-45/LAN port, but you get an included USB adapter, which is limited to 10/100Mbps unfortunately.
  9. No optical drive
  10. No numpad
  11. Upgrading is next to impossible.
  12. Lacks: dual pointing devices, anti-glare display, 34mm express card, ThinkLight and a spill resistant keyboard
  13. No Smart Card Reader
  14. Fragile power connector
  15. Touchpad could be improved. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.
  16. Some users report issues with the WiFi. Make sure to update to the latest drivers.

Best Workstation Laptop for ~$1500

Dell Precision M4700$1501 – Dell Precision M4700

About the Dell Precision M4700:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the following recommended upgrades:

Processor: Intel Core i7-3740QM (+$240)
Operating System: Windows 7 Professional,w XP Mode, Media, 64-bit, English (+$3)
Memory: 4.0GB, DDR3-1600MHz SDRAM, 2 DIMMS (+$85)
Fingerprint Reader: Internal Swipe Fingerprint Reader, USH and Contactless Smartcard Reader (+$29)
Display type
: 15.6″ UltraSharp FHD (1920 x 1080) (+$50)
Camera
: Integrated HD video webcam (+$30)
Wireless
: Dell Wireless™ 1540 802.11a/n Dual Band (+$15)
Energy Star and EPEAT
: Energy Star 5.2/EPEAT (Free)

Why we chose this laptop:

This is the least expensive new laptop that comes with an even more powerful latest generation Intel quad-core CPU, an equally powerful workstation class video card (AMD FirePro M4000 1GB) and a 1920 x 1080 display. It also offers other pros that you’ll appreciate in a workstation laptop, such as a spill-resistant keyboard, a trackpoint, the optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD, Windows 7 Professional (64 bit), a fast 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a fingerprint reader with a smart card reader and an express card slot, all in a solid chassis. Finally, it comes with a 3 years warranty.

Ideal for:

- Users who’s work involves viewing/comparing multiple documents thanks to a high resolution display.
- Users looking for a very solid machine with a very fast processor along with a workstation-class video card.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Storage upgrades, thanks to the dual 2.5″ bays.
- RAM (4 slots, up to 32GB) or storage (2nd 2.5″ drive bay + mSATA) upgrades

To avoid for:

- Users who plan to be on the move often due to the laptop being rather large and heavy.
- Professional imaging requiring accurate color reproduction. See the recommended alternatives.

Specifications:

Components Dell Precision M4700
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with XP mode
CPU Intel Core i7-3740QM 2.7-3.7GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
15.6″ 1920 x 1080 LED backlight, Anti-glare
Yes: 1280 x 720
AMD FirePro M4000 1GB
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 1600MHz
4 Slots, maximum 32GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7,200RPM
Optical Drive 8x DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Stereo Speakers
Dual Integrated Noise Canceling Microphones
Networking Built-in Gigabit Ethernet LAN
Dell Wireless 1540 802.11g/n Dual Band
Ports 10-in-1 Card reader54mm Express Card Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
1 x 1394 (FireWire)
2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
LAN: 10/100/1000
Display Port
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
14.80″ x 10.08″ x 1.29-1.37″
6.13lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6 cell
2-3 hours

Pros:

  1. Very powerful Ivy Bridge quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-3740QM 2.7-3.7GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading) (upgradable)
  2. FullHD UltraSharp 1080p display with great color reproduction
  3. Two USB 3.0 ports
  4. Total of five USB ports (2x USB 3.0 + 2x USB 2.0 + eSATA/USB 2.0)
  5. Powerful dedicated video card optimized for business application (AMD FirePro M4000 1GB) (based off the AMD Radeon HD 7700M series) (upgradable)
  6. Dual pointing devices
  7. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  8. Anti-glare display
  9. Fast 7200rpm hard drive. (upgradable)
  10. Very durable chassis with metal hinges
  11. 54mm express Card slot. Excellent for expanding ports in the future
  12. Windows 7 Professional
  13. 3 Year Basic Hardware Service: onsite service after remote diagnosis (upgradable)
  14. Noise cancellation microphone
  15. Two open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade
  16. 8GB dual-channel memory
  17. Support for 1866MHz RAM

Cons:

  1. No Bluetooth (Add it if you need it; upgradable for $19)
  2. Not exactly light at 6.33 pounds
  3. Poor battery life.
  4. Video Card performance drops by 25-30% when running on battery power. CPU performance doesn’t change.
  5. Wait time for custom building

Upgrades to consider for the Dell Precision M4700

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features.

  1. Upgrading the CPU to the Intel Core i7-3840QM 2.8-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading (+$200) or to the fastest mobile CPU on the market, the Intel Core i7-3940XM Processor 3.0-3.9GHz Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading. (+$900) Upgrading the processor, if you can afford it, is always a good choice to get more performance out of your workstation laptop.
  2. Upgrading the OS to Windows 7 Ultimate (64 bit). Windows Ultimate provides even more security of you data. Here are all the different Windows 7 compared: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/compare
  3. Upgrading to include the Fingerprint Reader. (+29) For another layer of security to your laptop.
  4. Upgrading the display to the FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS. (+$200) An IPS display will prove you with much better color production and viewing angles.
  5. Upgrading to the Nvidia Quadro K2000M 2GB. ($325) Upgrading to the Nvidia video card will not only bring more performance, but also drivers better optimized for business applications.
  6. Upgrading the RAM. While it will not provide additional performance, it’s an easy way to future-proof your laptop and will allow you to run tons of programs at the same time with no/less slowdowns. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work.
  7. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to one with higher storage capacity.
  8. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to a SSD. A SSD will improve boot and software load times drastically.
  9. Upgrading the stock 320GB 7200RPM to a Mini-card SSD, potentially making your laptop have three storage drives. (Mini-card, 2.5″ bay, and optical bay)
  10. Upgrading the optical drive to a slot load style. (+$79) The traditional tray load style are more prone to damage.
  11. Replacing the optical drive for more storage.
  12. Upgrading to a backlit keyboard. (+$49) Great for usage in dimly lit rooms.
  13. Upgrading the battery to the 9 Cell (97Wh) (+$79).
  14. Upgrading to include Bluetooth 4.0. (+$19)
  15. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 2×2 (+$15), or to the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 3×3 (+$25) to improve WiFi experience.
  16. Upgrading Warranty. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice.
  17. Upgrading to include a mobile broadband card reader.

Upgrades that are not recommended for the Dell Precision M4700

These are upgrades that are not recommended, for reasons explained below:

  1. Upgrading to the Nvidia Quadro K1000M 2GB. (+$150) Nvidia Quadro cards tend to be supported in more applications than their AMD Firepro counterparts, but spending $150 for a less performing card is hard to recommend.
  2. Getting a 2nd hard drive to use RAID 0. Get a SSD instead, you’ll get a much higher performance boost, without the higher failure risk inherent with RAID 0.

Accessories to consider:

  1. $119 – Dell E-Port Plus Replicator/Docking Station with Legacy ports – Adds a slew of ports to your Dell Precision workstation laptop.
  2. $77 – DELL E-Port Replicator No legacy ports - Similar to the dock above, however with less ports at a lower price.

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$1270 Recommended Laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad T530):

Compared to the Lenovo, the Dell offers the exact same processor, however comes equipped with a more powerful video, better warranty, and some useful features.

Advantages of the Lenovo

  1. Costs less ($1270 vs the Dell at $1454)
  2. Spill resistant keyboard
  3. ThinkLight
  4. Lighter (5.56lbs vs the Dell at 6.13lbs)
  5. More portable (14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″ vs the Dell at 14.80″ x 10.08″ x 1.29-1.37″)

Disadvantages of the Lenovo

  1. Less powerful video card (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB vs the Dell’s AMD FirePro M4000 1GB)
  2. Less potential RAM (2 slots vs the Dell’s 4 slots)
  3. Less powerful RAM support (max of 1600MHz vs the Dell’s max of 1866MHz)
  4. Lower resolution display (1600 x 900 vs the Dell’s 1920 x 1080)
  5. Less card support (4-in-1 vs the Dell’s 10-in-1)
  6. Lower quality warranty (1 Year basic warranty vs the Dell’s 3 Years onsite after remote diagnosis)

Alternative:
Lenovo ThinkPad T530 + 1920 x 1080 IPS screen with 95% of RGB coverage upgrade:

If you upgrade the Leovo ThinkPad T530 even more than we have at the $1000 and $1300 price point, you can get the $1509 – Lenovo ThinkPad T530, which features a 1920 x 1080 screen, with an IPS panel and 95% RGB coverage, for greater color accuracy and great viewing angles, which makes it a great alternative to the Dell.

Here are the upgrades that we chose to get to $1509:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading (+$280)
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) (+$50)
  • Windows XP Mode: Windows 7 XP Mode – English (Free)
  • Display type: 15.6″ FHD (1920 x 1080) (+$250). The 1920 x 1080 screen is an IPS panel and offers 95% RGB coverage, for greater color accuracy and great viewing angles.
  • System Graphics: NVIDIA NVS 5400M (+$50)
  • Memory: 8 GB DDR3 – 1600MHz (2 DIMM) (+$80)
  • Keyboard: Keyboard Backlit (+$40)
  • Pointing Device: UltraNav with Fingerprint Reader (+$20)
  • WiFi adapter: Intel Centrino Wireless-N 2200 (Free)

Advantages of the Lenovo

  1. Superior screen that is an IPS panel and offers 95% RGB coverage.
  2. Backlit keyboard. (upgradable on the Dell)
  3. Spill resistant keyboard
  4. ThinkLight
  5. Lighter (5.56lbs vs the Dell at 6.13lbs)
  6. More portable (14.68″ x 9.65″ x 1.25″ vs the Dell at 14.80″ x 10.08″ x 1.29-1.37″)

Disadvantages of the Lenovo

  1. Slightly less powerful processor (Intel Core i7-3720QM 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading vs the Dell’s Intel Core i7-3740QM 2.7-3.7GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. Less powerful video card (Nvidia NVS 5400M 1GB vs the Dell’s AMD FirePro M4000 1GB)
  3. Less potential RAM (2 slots vs the Dell’s 4 slots)
  4. Less powerful RAM support (max of 1600MHz vs the Dell’s max of 1866MHz)
  5. Lower resolution display (1600 x 900 vs the Dell’s 1920 x 1080)
  6. Warranty isn’t as good (1 Year basic warranty vs the Dell’s 3 Years onsite after remote diagnosis). It can be upgraded, but it’s quite expensive.

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Best Workstation Laptop for ~$2400

HP EliteBook 8760w B2A83UT$2330 – HP EliteBook 8760w B2A83UT

About the HP EliteBook 8760w B2A83UT:

Why we chose this laptop:

This workstation laptop offers a combination of a powerful Intel Core i7-2670QM quad-core CPU, a powerful workstation class AMD FirePro M5950 1GB video card and a top-notch HP “Dreamcolor” IPS 1920 x 1080 display that offers excellent contrast, accurate colors, 97.7% AdobeRGB 1998 color gamut and fantastic viewing angles.

It also offers other pros that you’ll appreciate in a workstation laptop, such as a spill-resistant keyboard, a trackpoint, the optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD, Windows 7 Professional (64 bit), a fast 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a fingerprint reader with a smart card reader and an express card slot, all in a solid chassis. Finally, it comes with a 3 years warranty with on-site support.

Ideal for:

- Users who’s work involves viewing/comparing multiple documents thanks to a high resolution display.
- Professional imaging requiring accurate color reproduction.
- Users looking for a very solid machine with a very fast processor along with a workstation-class video card.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Storage upgrades, thanks to the dual 2.5″ bays.
- RAM (4 slots, up to 32GB) or storage (2nd 2.5″ drive bay + optical drive can be replaced by a 3rd drive) upgrades

To avoid for:

- Users who plan to be on the move often due to the laptop being rather large and heavy.

Specifications:

Components HP EliteBook 8760w B2A83UT
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i7-2670QM 2.2-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
17.3″ 1920 x 1080 LED, Matte, IPS “Dreamcolor”
Yes: HD
AMD FirePro M5950 1GB
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
4 Slots, maximum 32GB
Storage 500GB Hard Drive running at 7,200RPM, 2 drive bays
Optical Drive 8x DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW, can be replaced by a 3rd drive
Audio Stereo Speakers
Dual Integrated Noise Canceling Microphones
Networking 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN
Intel 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Ports 4-in-1 Card reader
54mm Express Card

Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks

1 x 1394 (FireWire)
2 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0 (One charging)
1 x eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port
RJ-11: Dial-up
LAN: 10/100/1000
Display Port
VGA Output
Smart Card Reader
Dimensions
Weight
16.40″ x 10.70″ x 1.47″
7.96lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
8-cell (83 WHr)
2-3 hours

Pros:

  1. Powerful quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-2670QM 2.2-3.1GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. 17.3″ 1920 x 1080 LED, Matte, IPS “Dreamcolor” display with excellent contrast, accurate colors, 97.7% AdobeRGB 1998 color gamut and fantastic viewing angles
  3. Two USB 3.0 ports
  4. Total of five USB ports (2x USB 3.0 + 2x USB 2.0 + eSATA/USB 2.0)
  5. Powerful dedicated video card optimized for business application (AMD FirePro M5950 1GB)
  6. Dual pointing devices
  7. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  8. Anti-glare display
  9. Fast 500GB 7200rpm hard drive. (upgradable)
  10. Very durable chassis with metal hinges
  11. 54mm express Card slot. Excellent for expanding ports in the future
  12. Windows 7 Professional
  13. 3 Year warranty with onsite service
  14. Noise cancellation microphone
  15. Two open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade
  16. 8GB dual-channel memory
  17. Bluetooth 2.1

Cons:

  1. Heavy: 7.96 pounds
  2. Poor battery life

You may also want to consider the main recommendation or one of the alternatives in the $1500 price range with more upgrades.

Apple Macbook Pro with Retina Display alternative:

$2164 – Apple MacBook Pro 15.4″ MC975LL/A Retina Display:

Another option is the MacBook Pro 15.4″ with Retina Display which boasts the highest resolution ever on a laptop (2880 x 1800) along with a super sleek chassis. The pixel dense display also has far above average contrast and color production making this a popular choice for those who can afford it.

However, despite having a superb resolution, not every application supports the “retina” display. Such applications will have inconsistent image resolutions. e.g. Some parts of the software may look nice, but text, images, and buttons with lower resolutions will end up blurry and fuzzy due to interpolation (stretching of images to more than their maximum resolution). Although most developers confirm an upgrade to support the “retina” display, as of right now many important applications do not support the display. We invite you to read, http://techland.time.com/2012/06/22/10-mac-apps-that-need-macbook-pro-retina-support-and-pronto/ for a more detailed analyses of popular applications that do not support the retina display.

I’d also recommend avoiding the new 13.3″ Apple Macbook Pro with Retina Display, for one very simple reason: A dual-core processor in a $1700 laptop? Are you kidding me? Better off spending more and getting the 15.4″ Macbook Pro Retina with the quad-core CPU or save money with a standard display Macbook Pro.

Apple MacBook Pro vs HP Elitebook

Due to the differences in the way OS X (the MacBook Pro’s operation system) and Windows 7 operate hardware, it is difficult to directly compare the performance of the two laptops.

However, because the HP is equipped with a professional grade video card (AMD FirePro M5950 1GB) over the MacBook’s Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 1GB, and also because the HP has potentially much more and faster RAM and storage, we give the upper hand to the HP in performance.

Advantages of the Apple

  1. Much higher resolution display (2880 x 1800 vs the HPat 1920 x 1080)
  2. Backlit keyboard.
  3. Faster storage (SSD vs the HP’s hard disk drive)
  4. Much Lighter (4.46lbs vs the HP at 7.96lbs)
  5. Much more portable (14.13″ x 9.73″ x .71″ vs the HP at 16.40″ x 10.70″ x 1.47″)
  6. 2x Thunderbolt ports
  7. Costs about $300 less
  8. OS X (Pro or Con)

Disadvantages of the Apple

  1. No professional video card (Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 1GB vs the HP’s AMD FirePro M5950 1GB)
  2. Less potential RAM (0 slots (soldered) vs the HP’s 4 slots)
  3. Lower quality warranty (1 Year basic warranty vs the HP’s 3 Years onsite)
  4. Non expandable storage, battery RAM; basically what you get is what you will ever have on the laptop
  5. Less storage (256GB vs the Dell’s 500GB)
  6. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Dell’s 5x)
  7. No optical drive
  8. No Ethernet (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  9. No VGA (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  10. No noise cancellation microphone
  11. No numpad
  12. OS X (Pro or Con)

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If you want an Apple Macbook Pro but don’t need the Retina Display or simply want a less expensive model, consider the $1680 – Apple MacBook Pro MD103LL/A, which is pretty much the same laptop as the Macbook Pro Retina Display, but without the Retina Display and with a much lower price tag.

Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook: 3.63lbs ultra-portable

Like the Apple Macbook Air lightness and small footprint but prefer Windows? Say hello to the $1800 – Samsung Series 9 NP900X4C-A03US, a 3.63lbs “ultrabook”. Equipped with a relatively powerful Core i7 CPU, a 1600×900 screen and a 256GB SSD for ultra quick boot times (7-8 seconds from power up to the login screen), it is one of highest performance “ultrabook” available on the market.

Advantages of the Samsung Series 9:

  1. Lightweight and highly portable: Only 3.63lbs and 14.0″ x 9.3″ x 0.58″
  2. Far superior storage performance (SSD), resulting in faster boot, program launch and improved system responsiveness. In other words, your system feels faster thanks to the SSD.
  3. Comes with Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit
  4. 15″ with a 1600 x 900 resolution
  5. Two USB 3.0 ports
  6. Great connectivity: 10/100/1000Mbps, Bluetooth 4.0 and Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235
  7. Backlit keyboard
  8. Up to 10 hours of battery life

Disadvantages of the Samsung Series 9:

  1. Lower frequency CPU that’s only dual-core: 1.9-3.0GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading
  2. Only 256GB of storage capacity, even less with Windows and pre-installed programs. You can upgrade the SSD yourself if you want to.
  3. No professional video card (Intel HD 4000)
  4. Micro-HDMI instead of HDMI.
  5. RJ-45/LAN port requires the use of an included adapter, which offers full 1000Mbps speed.
  6. No optical drive
  7. No numpad
  8. No Smart Card Reader
  9. Somewhat fragile power connector
  10. Some users report poor wifi performance, when running on battery power. This is due to the Windows power settings for the wireless adapter which is set by default to the maximum power savings setting. This can fixed by changing it to “Medium Power Saving” when on battery.

$1800 – Samsung Series 7: Powerful GTX 675M 2GB video card

If you want a laptop with a powerful Nvidia video card for CUDA and other applications that are accelerated by the video card, or simply want a powerhouse, the $1799 – Samsung Series 7 NP700G7C-S01US. Equipped with a latest generation Intel Core i7 3610QM 2.3-3.3GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading CPU, a Nvidia Geforce GTX 675M 2GB video card, 16GB of RAM, two 750GB 7,200rpm hard drives for 1.5TB of high speed storage capacity, a 1920 x 1080 screen, a backlit keyboard and a Blu-Ray player, it’s one of the most powerful laptops available on the market.

Advantages of the Samsung Series 7:

  1. Powerful CPU: Intel Core i7 3610QM 2.3-3.3GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
  2. Power video card: Nvidia Geforce GTX 675M 2GB
  3. 16GB of RAM, in four slots(4x4GB), so you can even upgrade to 32GB (4x8GB) if you want to. Note that you’d have to upgrade to Windows 7 Professional if you want to upgrade to 32GB because the Home Premium version only supports up to 16GB of RAM.
  4. 1.5TB of storage capacity, on two 750GB 7,200rpm hard drives.
  5. Two hard drive bays, but they are both used with a 750GB hard drive in each. You could swap a 750GB hard drive for a SSD to boost performance while still having plenty of storage capacity.
  6. 17.3″ display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution
  7. Two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports
  8. Great connectivity: 10/100/1000Mbps, Bluetooth 4.0 and Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235
  9. VGA, HDMI and Displayport video outputs.
  10. Backlit keyboard

Disadvantages of the Samsung Series 7:

  1. Big and heavy: 8.39lbs and 16.1″ x 11.2″ x 1.29″-1.96″.
  2. Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit as opposed to Windows 7 Professional.
  3. Only ~2.5-3.5 hours of battery life.
  4. Plastic build instead of metal.
  5. No Smart Card Reader.

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Best Workstation Laptop for $3500+

Dell Precision M6700$3525 – Dell Precision M6700

About the Dell Precision M6700:

Note: The price represents the laptop configured with the following upgrades:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3840QM
  • OS: Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, w/ XP mode
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K5000M with 4GB GDDR5
  • Fingerprint and smartcard reader: Internal Swipe Fingerprint Reader, USH and Contactless Smartcard Reader
  • Display type: 17.3″ UltraSharp FHD (1920 x 1080) Premier Color IPS RGB Anti-Glare
  • Camera: Integrated HD video webcam and noise reducing array microphones, IPS RGB
  • Primary Storage: 256GB 2.5″ (SATA3) Mobility Solid State Drive
  • Wireless LAN: Dell Wireless™ 1540 802.11a/n Dual Band

Why we chose this laptop:

This workstation laptop offers a combination of a powerful Intel Core i7-3840QM quad-core CPU, a powerful workstation class NVIDIA Quadro K5000M 4GB video card, a top-notch UltraSharp FHD (1920 x 1080) Premier Color IPS 30-bit RGB Anti-Glare display that offers excellent contrast, accurate colors, 100 percent sRGB, 100 percent NTSC and 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut and fantastic viewing angles and finally, a SSD (Solid State Drive) which offers far superior performance than a hard drive as well as far better shock resistance.

It also offers other pros that you’ll appreciate in a workstation laptop, such as a trackpoint, the optical drive can be replaced by an additional hard drive or SSD, Windows 7 Professional (64 bit), a fingerprint reader with a smart card reader and an express card slot, all in a solid chassis. Finally, it comes with a 3 years warranty with on-site support.

Ideal for:

- Users who’s work involves viewing/comparing multiple documents thanks to a high resolution display.
- Professional imaging requiring accurate color reproduction.
- Users looking for a very solid machine with a very fast processor along with a workstation-class video card.
- Users looking to work either outside or in brightly lit rooms thanks to an anti-glare display.
- Business who need laptops with Windows 7 Professional.
- Anyone that need laptops that are reliable, yet easy to service and upgrade.
- Someone looking for a solid warranty with on-site support
- Storage upgrades, thanks to the dual 2.5″ bays.
- RAM (4 slots, up to 32GB) or storage (2nd 2.5″ drive bay + optical drive can be replaced by a 3rd drive) upgrades

To avoid for:

- Users who plan to be on the move often due to the laptop being rather large and heavy.

Specifications:

Components Dell Precision M6700
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, with XP mode
CPU Intel Core i7-3840QM 2.8-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
17.3″ 1920 x 1080 Premier Color IPS 30-bit Anti-Glare
Yes: 1280 x 720

NVIDIA Quadro K5000M with 4GB GDDR5
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz
4 Slots, maximum 32GB
Storage 256GB SATAIII SSD (Solid State Drive)
Optical Drive 8x DVD/CD Burner DVD±R/RW
Audio Stereo Speakers
Dual Integrated Noise Canceling Microphones
Networking Built-in Gigabit Ethernet LAN
Dell Wireless 1540 802.11g/n Dual Band
Bluetooth 4.0 
Ports 10-in-1 Card reader
54mm Express Card

Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
1 x 1394 (FireWire)
3 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
LAN
Display Port
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
16.41″ x 10.65″ x 1.3-1.42″
7.76lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
9 cell
4-5 hours

Pros:

  1. One of the fastest mobile CPU available: Ivy Bridge quad-core processor (Intel Core i7-3840QM 2.8-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading)
  2. FullHD UltraSharp 1080p (1920 x 1080) display, Premier Color IPS 30-bit RGB Anti-Glare  that offers excellent contrast, accurate colors, 100 percent sRGB, 100 percent NTSC and 100 percent Adobe RGB color gamut and fantastic viewing angles
  3. Three USB 3.0 ports
  4. Total of five USB ports (2x USB 3.0 + 2x USB 2.0 + eSATA/USB 2.0)
  5. Powerful workstation-class dedicated video card: NVIDIA Quadro K5000M with 4GB GDDR5
  6. Dual pointing devices
  7. Numpad: Very useful for spreadsheets
  8. Anti-glare display
  9. 256GB SSD (Solid State Drive) which offers far superior performance than a hard drive as well as far better shock resistance.
  10. Very durable chassis with metal hinges
  11. 54mm express Card slot: Excellent for expanding ports in the future
  12. Windows 7 Professional
  13. 3 Year Basic Hardware Service: onsite service after remote diagnosis
  14. Noise cancellation microphone
  15. Two open RAM slot for easy RAM upgrade, four RAM slots in tt
  16. 8GB dual-channel memory
  17. Support for 1866MHz RAM
  18. Tough chassis with metal hinges.
  19. Decent battery life (4-5 hours) for such a powerful laptop
  20. Bluetooth 4.0

Cons:

  1. Very expensive
  2. Heavy at 7.76 pounds
  3. Wait time for custom building

Upgrades to consider for the Dell Precision M6700

These are options that weren’t included in the price above, but that are to consider for additional performance or features.

  1. Upgrading the CPU to the Intel Core i7-3940XM. It’s an expensive upgrade, at $475 for an extra base 200MHz and an extra 100Mhz Turbo frequency, but it’s worth it if you need all the processing power that you can get.
  2. Upgrading the OS to Windows 7 Ultimate (64 bit). Windows Ultimate provides even more security of you data. Here are all the different Windows 7 compared: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/compare
  3. Getting the recovery media (DVD) for $2. Comes in handy if you change the hard drive.
  4. Upgrading the Warranty. Upgrading warranty if you can afford it is always a good choice. Consider the accidental damage protection warranty too.
  5. Upgrading the RAM to 16GB or 32GB. To consider if you multitask a lot or work with a lot of programs and/or a lot of large files/projects at the same time. It’s also an easy way to future-proof your laptop. A good idea if you plan on using your laptop for high-end audio/photo/video/3D work. No point in upgrading to 1866MHz unless you run programs that specifically need more memory bandwidth.
  6. Upgrading the display to the FHD 1920 x 1080 IPS Nvidia 3D. A 3D display is required for those whose work involves developing media in 3D.
  7. Upgrading the storage. There’s two drive bays, a mSATA slot and the optical drive can be replaced by a drive. If you want a SSD for the performance and one to three hard drive for additional storage, use the mSATA storage for the SSD, you can add two hard drives for storage and if you want to, you can replaced the optical drive by a 3rd drive.
  8. Upgrading the optical drive to a slot load style. The traditional tray load style are more prone to damage.
  9. Replacing the optical drive for more storage.
  10. Upgrading to a backlit keyboard. Great for usage in dimly lit rooms.
  11. Upgrading to include Bluetooth 4.0.
  12. Upgrading the Wireless Network Adapter to the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 2×2, or to the Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 3×3 to improve WiFi performance.
  13. Upgrading to include a mobile broadband card reader.

Upgrades that are not recommended for the Dell Precision M6700

These are upgrades that are not recommended, for reasons explained below:

  1. Getting a 2nd hard drive to use RAID 0. Get a SSD instead, you’ll get a much higher performance boost, without the higher failure risk inherent with RAID 0. Using two hard drives in RAID 1 can be a good idea to improve availability though. Just remember that RAID isn’t a backup solution.

Accessories to consider:

  1. $119 – Dell E-Port Plus Replicator/Docking Station with Legacy ports adds a slew of ports to your Dell Precision workstation laptop.
  2. $77 – DELL E-Port Replicator No legacy ports – Similar to the dock above, however with less ports at a lower price.

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$2400 HP Elitebook:

Basically, the differences between the HP Elitebook and the Dell Precision M6700 are the displays and the video card selection.

Advantages of the M6700

  1. More powerful CPU (Intel Core i7-3840QM 2.8-3.8GHz vs the HP’s Intel Core i7-2670QM 2.2-3.1GHz)
  2. More powerful video card (NVIDIA Quadro K5000M 4GB GDDR5 vs the HP’s AMD FirePro M5950 1GB)
  3. Superior storage performance, thanks to the SSD vs the hard drive in the HP
  4. Slightly thinner (1.3-1.42″ vs the HP at 1.47″)
  5. Slightly lighter (7.76lbs vs the HP at 7.96lbs)
  6. mSATA slot allows for a higher number of drives in total (4 for the Dell vs 3 for the HP)
  7. HDMI output on the Dell, none on the HP
  8. Longer battery life at 4-5 hours vs 2-3 hours for the HP
  9. Can be customized on Dell’s website.

Disadvantages of the M6700

  1. Costs more ($3525 vs the HP at $2330)
  2. Less storage capacity as currently configured (256GB vs 500GB for the HP). Of course, you can configured it differently if you want to.
  3. Wait time for your laptop to be assembled, the HP is available right away.

Apple MacBook Pro 15.4″ MC976LL/A with Retina Display alternative:

Similar to the $2194 – Apple MacBook Pro Retina Display 15.4″ MC975LL/A recommended as an alternative at the previous price range, for ~$2800 the Apple MacBook Pro 15.4″ Retina Display MC975LL/Aoffers an upgrade to the SSD to a 512GB model and the processor is upgraded to a higher clocked Intel Core i7 2.6-3.6GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading processor.

Due to the differences in the way OS X (the MacBook Pro’s operation system) and Windows 7 operate hardware, it is difficult to directly compare the performance of the two laptops.

However, because the Dell is equipped with a professional grade video card (AMD FirePro M5950 1GB) over the MacBook’s Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 1GB, and also because the Dell has potentially much more and faster RAM and storage, we give the upper hand to the Dell in performance.

Advantages of the Apple

  1. Much higher resolution display (2880 x 1800 vs the HPat 1920 x 1080)
  2. Backlit keyboard.
  3. Faster storage (SSD vs the HP’s hard disk drive)
  4. Much Lighter (4.46lbs vs the HP at 7.96lbs)
  5. Much more portable (14.13″ x 9.73″ x .71″ vs the HP at 16.40″ x 10.70″ x 1.47″)
  6. 2x Thunderbolt ports
  7. Costs about $300 less
  8. OS X (Pro or Con)

Disadvantages of the Apple

  1. No professional video card (Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 1GB vs the HP’s AMD FirePro M5950 1GB)
  2. Less potential RAM (0 slots (soldered) vs the HP’s 4 slots)
  3. Lower quality warranty (1 Year basic warranty vs the HP’s 3 Years onsite)
  4. Non expandable storage, battery RAM; basically what you get is what you will ever have on the laptop
  5. Less storage (256GB vs the Dell’s 500GB)
  6. Less total USB ports (2x vs the Dell’s 5x)
  7. No optical drive
  8. No Ethernet (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  9. No VGA (Thunderbolt adapter available)
  10. No noise cancellation microphone
  11. No numpad
  12. OS X (Pro or Con)

Best Workstation Laptop for up to $7,500

Basically, take our ~$3190 recommended laptop (Dell Precision M6700) and apply any the recommended upgrades that are useful to your work till you hit your price limit. If you have any questions concerning any of the upgrades or if they’re worth it or not to your work, post a comment at the bottom of the page or join us on the forums and drop a question.

Alternatively, if you don’t know which options to pick and/or just want a workstation that’s fully loaded with pretty much every possible upgrade, the $7250 – HP Elitebook 8770w is what you want.

You literally get everything with that laptop:

  • The fastest mobile CPU on the market: The Intel Core i7-3920XM 2.9-3.8GHz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading
  • The fastest workstation class mobile video card: 4GB GDDR5 NVIDIA Quadro K5000M
  • Genuine Window 7 Professional 64 bit
  • A 17.3 inch LED DreamColor FHD UWVA Anti-Glare screen
  • 32GB of DDR3 1600 MHz (4 x 8GB) RAM
  • Two Samsung 830 512GB SSDs (Total storage: 1024GB), the exact same SSDs that I recommend as upgrades.
  • Blu-ray Burner
  • Integrated 720p HD webam
  • Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 with Bluetooth 4.0
  • Dualpoint (Touchpad and Pointstick) Backlit Keyboard
  • HP Long Life 8-Cell 75 Wh Li-lon Battery (3 year warranty)
  • 3-year standard parts and labor warranty 3/3/3. Includes HP Elite Premium Support, 24x7x365.

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Personalize your laptop with a skin!

Make it Yours

If you want to personalize your laptop, get a laptop skin from Skinit.com.

They even make it easy for you to upload your own photos and to create a truly one-of-a-kind custom made skin, so if you want a custom skin with your company’s logo, that’s not a problem.

Get more ports and video outputs with an universal dock

Compatible with pretty much any laptop that has an USB port, the $130 – Toshiba Dynadock Universal USB 3.0 Dock is a terrific solution.

It offers 5.1 surround sound, 6 USB ports (4x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0), Gigabit LAN, HDMI and DVI simply by connecting to an USB 3.0 port on your laptop.

Upgrade your RAM, Hard Drive and/or Sound Card

Upgrade your RAM:

RAM can easily be upgraded on most laptops.

Simply pick one of the following recommendations below, depending on if your laptop comes with a single stick of RAM or two, or if you can have up to 4 sticks. You can find this information in the specifications for each laptop above.

My recommendations should be compatible with all the laptops recommended in this guide. I recommend to you memory sticks from the most reliable RAM manufacturers.

Important note: Windows 7 Home Premium supports only up to 16GB of RAM. If you want more than 16GB of RAM, you’ll need to upgrade to Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate.

Add a single 2GB, 4GB or 8GB stick:

Upgrade to a 2x4GB(8GB) or a 2x8GB(16GB) kit:

Laptops with 4 RAM slots: 16GB (4x4GB) or 32GB(4x8GB) memory kits:

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Upgrade your hard drive:

You can also upgrade your hard drive to a faster and/or a larger hard drive. Alternatively, you can also replace it with a tremendously faster SSD (Solid State Drive), which also consume a tad less power than laptop hard drive, so replacing a hard drive by a SSD will slightly boost your laptop’s battery life.

Do note that most laptops accept hard drives with a 9.5mm height. The Lenovo Thinkpad X230 is an exception though, as it only takes drives with a maximum height of 7mm.

Keep your old hard drive for external storage via an USB 3.0 enclosure:

USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0, if your laptop does not have USB 3.0.

When you replace the hard drive that your laptop came with, I recommend putting in this $17 – MASSCOOL Aluminum 2.5-Inch USB 3.0 External Hard Drive Enclosure and using it for external storage, such as backups.

750GB, 7,200rpm standard hard drive:

As fast as it gets for a standard laptop hard drive:

$83 – Western Digital Scorpio Black 750 GB SATA 3 GB/s 7200 RPM 2.5-Inch Mobile Hard Drive

750GB, 7,200rpm hybrid hard drive:

If you want a fast laptop drive but can’t afford a large capacity SSD, the $119 – Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 2.5″ Hybrid Drive is a great alternative.

It’s an “hybrid” hard drive, that is it comes with a SSD like cache, allowing it to perform close to a SSD when it reads from its cache. It’s all done automatically by an algorith that learns your usage pattern and improves the performance of often used files. It also speeds up Windows booting.

1TB, 5,400rpm hard drive:

As large as it gets for a laptop hard drive capacity. Not as fast as the two 750GB hard drives above, due to its slower rotation speed (5,400rpm vs 7,200 rpm) and smaller cache.

$91 – Western Digital 1 TB Scorpio Blue SATA II 5400 RPM 2.5-Inch Notebook Hard Drive

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Upgrade to a SSD

SSDs are for you if you want:

  1. Much faster OS boot, Shutdown, Sleep and Hibernation
  2. Much faster program and game loading, meaning that you don’t have to wait as long for your program or your game to load.
  3. A system that feels more responsive.
  4. A longer battery life
  5. A drive that’s much more shock proof than a hard drive

If you want to upgrade your hard drive to a SSD, I recommend to you the Samsung 840 Pro series line-up of SSDs, which offers industry-leading performance AND reliability. Not only that, but they also offer an excellent power consumption, resulting in a longer battery life on your laptop.

They include a CD with software to clone your hard drive to the SSD but they don’t include a SATA to USB adapter to connect your SSD to your laptop to clone your hard drive to it, to help you transfer the content of your current hard drive to the SSD, in order to minimize downtime and make your life easier. I recommend this one: $18 – Uspeed USB 3.0 to SATA Converter Adapter Cable

Alternatively, I invite you to read The Best SSDs and HDDs For Your Money article, to decide yourself which SSD is right for you.

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Upgrade the sound quality

While integrated audio on laptops has improved a lot in the last few years, it’s still no match for a dedicated sound chip if you care about sound quality.

The $40 – ASUS Xonar U3 is a USB-stick based dedicated sound chip that will greatly improve sound quality, with its built-in headphones amplifier, Dolby surround support, S/PDIF optical output, ASUS GX2.5 and much more.

I highly recommend it if you enjoy high-quality sound, whether it’s for music, movies, games or anything else.

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Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Released on October 26th 2012, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s latest version of the popular Windows operating system. While it uses the same core as Windows Vista and Windows 7, visually it is a departure from these two OS, using colourful tiles and a look often referred to as “Metro”.

While you can switch back to the classic desktop look, “Metro” loads up by default. The “Start” button and menu are gone too. While this will irratate some users, it is possible to have the desktop load by default and it is also possible to bring back the start button and menu by installing third parties apps.

Windows 8 offers slightly better performance and a longer battery life thanks to being a lighter-weight OS than Windows 7. The vast majority of applications that ran on Windows Vista and 7 should have no problem running on Windows 8.

For more information on Windows 8, there are countless reviews of it available online that will do a better job than I can fully describing the changes that it brings to the Windows OS.

Let’s address the obvious question:
Should you use Windows 7 or 8 for your workstation laptop?

While I welcome novelty and change, as well as the slightly better performance and longer battery life that Windows 8 offer, the “Metro” looks makes it less efficient to multi-task and switch back and forth between various open applications, which is problematic for a laptop used for work.

More importantly, Windows 8 is a brand new OS, while Windows 7 has been around for three years. What this means is that Windows 7 bugs have been nearly all fixed, while Windows 8 is crippled with bugs, as any new operating system usually is.

Considering these two points, I’d sticking with Windows 7 for now. Don’t get me wrong though, Windows 8 definitely brings some good changes to Windows and it has the potential of being a great OS for workstation laptops, but it still needs some time to get its bugs fixed to be reliable enough for a workstation laptop. Perhaps when its first service pack (SP) will be released, Windows 8 will be the OS of choice for a workstation laptop.

Conclusion

With the latest round of laptops released following the release of Windows 8 and with main hardware changes not expected for several months, our recommendations shouldn’t change much over the next several months.

In the second quarter of 2013, Intel is expected to launch their next generation of processors, codename “Haswell”, which should bring another boost in CPU performance and integrated graphic performance for laptops, as well as further reduced power consumption, resulting in even longer battery life. We’re still far away from Q2 2013 though, so if you need a workstation laptop now, you have our recommendations above.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this first edition of the Best Workstation Laptops For Your Money, co-written by Xai Her (Ichigeki), our “Best Laptops For Your Money” collaborator and Mathieu Bourgie, the editor-in-chief and founder of Hardware Revolution.

Of course, with this being such a large article (over 16,400 words!) with so many recommendations and alternatives, you may find some typos. Alternatively, you may believe that there’s a better option than our recommendation.

If that happens, feel free to leave a comment below and remember, you can join us on Hardware Revolution’s forums to discuss with everyone else the laptop that you’re planning to buy, ask your questions and join our helpful community.

Category: The Best Laptops For Your Money

About Xai Her (Ichigeki): As a student of Geology, I spend the majority of my time attending lectures, working with microscopes, and working out in the field. Also at the university, I work with a small research team researching the evolution of science literacy in today's media. Other than being a student, my hobbies/passions include photography, sports, and of course working with computers. Computers have always intrigued me in that when all components act harmonically, you have a beautiful piece of machinery... .

  • Robert

    Outstanding article…..Well-written and organized, objective data, nice comparisons and contrasts between different hardware choices. I had given up on laptops…..The article makes me want to revisit my decision.

  • Guest

    Why did you omit the Lenovo W series?

    1600 bucks and you get a quadro 2000M….

    • Xais Hawj

      Guest,

      Equipped at $1600, the Lenovo W cost $100 more than the $1500 Dell, performs slightly lower in processing, lower resolution display, does not come with W7 Professional, and only have a stock warranty of 1 year.

      It may have passed as a contender because of the 2000M and with some upgrades, however would have costed much more.

      Thanks

      Ichigeki

      • Vook

        Lenovo W series has better build quality, spill resistant keyboard, thinklight, sales at least every month and an always available 10% discount through email making it average around $1400 which allows for a 3yr next day warranty to be added for under 1500.  Lenovo’s website can be a nightmare and it’s best to just call a rep and order by phone for best options and discounts.

  • ot

    Would I be able to replace the i3 in the E530 with a Core i7-2630QM? I have been trying to figure it out looking on google for an hour and haven’t been able to find an answer. 

    • https://www.facebook.com/Mathieu.HR MathieuB

      I highly doubt it, I don’t think that the E-530 can handle the cooling requirements of an i7-2630QM.

  • tz

    Hey guys, I have been trying to configure the T530 to the specs you recommend but I cannot choose the same customizations. Did lenovo’s website change or is this article outdated?

    Thanks for your help!

  • joy please

    Great article – nothing of this sort on web. Thanks for presenting in such a useful format.

  • Balakumar

    Brilliant article!!! Thanks Much !!