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IT & Systems Management

5 of the best Haswell-powered notebooks you can buy today

The new generation of Haswell laptops has something to say to all those trendy tablets: Eat my dust. A tablet is great for watching video and surfing the Web. With the right peripherals, you can even use a tablet for light productivity tasks. But when you need to get serious about editing digital media, playing real games, or storing lots of data--heck, doing anything the least bit computationally intensive without being tied to a desk--a mere tablet won't cut it. You need a laptop.

And with its fourth-generation Core family of CPUs, aka Haswell, Intel put a laserlike focus on building a chip that would deliver great performance for mobile computers. Haswell-class processors generate less heat, so they don't require noisy fans. They consume less power, so batteries last longer. And they include better integrated graphics technology, so you have less need for a discrete GPU that will generate heat and put another load on the battery. (Then again, Intel's best integrated graphics hardware still can't hold a candle to an upscale discrete graphics processor.) Best of all, these chips are more powerful than any mobile CPU in history.

I've spent the past month or so laying my hands on various classes of Haswell-powered laptops: I've been benchmarking them, carrying them home and back to the office, using them on the train, playing games, pounding out documents, watching movies, editing digital media, and doing pretty much everything else you might do with a laptop. As per our standard practice, I used an Asus VivoBook S550CA as my reference notebook.

CPU, memory, and storage specs

Model

CPU

Memory

Storage

Asus VivoBook S550CA(Reference)

Intel Core i5-3317U

6GB DDR3/1600

500GB 5400-rpm(+24GB cache)

Acer Aspire V7(Model 482PG-9884)

Intel Core i7-4500U

12GB DDR3/1600

1TB 5400-rpm(+24GB cache)

HP Envy TouchSmart 15t

Intel Core i7-4700MQ

8GB DDR3/1600

1TB 5400-rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch

Intel Core i5-4200U

4GB DDR3/1600

500GB 5400-rpm

Sony VAIO Pro 13

Intel Core i5-4200U

4GB DDR3/1600

128GB SSD

Toshiba Qosmio(Model X75 A7298)

Intel Core i7-4700MQ

16GB DDR3/1600

240GB SSD1TB 5400-rpm

Now I'm ready to name the five best Haswell-powered laptops to reach the market so far. Rather than pull together the five most powerful (and most expensive) notebooks and call it a day, I've selected widely available machines that deliver the best bang for the buck at their respective prices, which range from a low of $700 to a high of $1900. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the laptop with the second-highest Notebook WorldBench 8.1 score was also the second-least expensive.

What's best for what?

Lenovo's IdeaPad U430 Touch is no killer gaming machine, but rather a good all-around laptop with a battery that will keep you productive all day. It's relatively thin, if not superlight, and with a price tag of $700, it boasts a killer price-to-performance ratio. Read more about it in my full review.

No two ways about it: You need a discrete graphics processor to get anything close to credible gaming performance on a notebook. HP managed to fit one into its Envy TouchSmart 15t while resisting the temptation to bulk up the machine with a lot of other high-performance components that would lift its price tag into the four-digit range. This model is one of the least-expensive gaming notebooks you can find. Read my hands-on review for additional details.

Acer selected a more powerful discrete graphics processor for its Aspire V7 (Model 482PG-9884), and the company's engineers larded this laptop with 12GB of memory as well. It costs about $350 more than the HP Envy TouchSmart 15t, but it also delivers about 30 percent more frames per second playing hard-core games such as BioShock Infinite. And if battery life is a concern for you, note that the Aspire V7 will last nearly 2 hours longer than the Envy TouchSmart because it uses a lower-voltage CPU. This machine combines the sleek looks of an Ultrabook with enough horsepower for real gaming. For the rest of my opinion, see my complete review.

Graphics, display, and weight specs

Model

Graphics

Display size, resolution

Weight

Asus VivoBook S550CA (Reference)

Intel HD Graphics 4000

15.6 inches, 1366 by 768 touch

5.7 pounds

Acer Aspire(Model 482PG-9884)

Nvidia GeForce GT 750M

15 inches, 1920 by 1080 touch

4.6 pounds

HP Envy TouchSmart 15t

Nvidia GeForce GT 740M

15.6 inches, 1920 by 1080 touch

5.6 pounds

Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch

Intel HD Graphics 4400

14 inches, 1600 by 900 touch

4.6 pounds

Sony VAIO Pro 13

Intel HD Graphics 4400

13.3 inches, 1920 by 1080 touch

2.3 pounds

Toshiba Qosmio(Model X75 A7298)

Nvidia GeForce GTX 770M

17.3 inches, 1920 by 1080 nontouch

7.3 pounds

If you're hunting for mobile power in the sleekest, slimmest package you can find, take a long look at Sony's VAIO Pro 13. This stunningly beautiful Ultrabook is one of the thinnest on the market, measuring 0.68 inch at its highest point. It's outfitted with a drop-dead gorgeous display, featuring some of Sony's best image-processing technology from its TV division. Don't buy this machine if you intend on gaming, because it uses integrated graphics. However, it weighs less than 3 pounds--including its power brick--and it offers nearly 6.5 hours of battery life. Best of all, you can get one with a Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory for just $1400. Check out my review for details.

For a notebook that can do everything from burning Blu-ray discs to editing digital media to playing hard-core games, you'll need to sacrifice battery life and weight. You'll also need to open your wallet. Toshiba's Satellite Qosmio X75 A7298 weighs nearly 8 pounds, its battery peters out in less than 2.5 hours, and it costs $1900 (list). But it is blazing fast, and it can handle just about any task you'd expect a desktop PC to do. Find out more in my full review.

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