Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Review and RatingsSince the emergence of ultrabooks a few years ago, designers have been making laptops slimmer and trimmer, while new CPUs and speedy solid-state drives continue to make them faster and faster. From that perspective, Dell’s Inspiron 15 7000 bucks several trends: It’s a little bigger and bulkier than today’s average 15.6-inch notebook, and its 5,400-rpm hybrid hard drive—a 1TB mechanical drive with 8GB of flash cache—makes it a bit slower to boot or wake up than a true SSD. But its fourth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and a generous complement of RAM make it a more than adequate performer.

The number 7000 indicates that our test model is at the top of the Inspiron line, between the middle-of-the-mainstream Inspiron 15 5000 and the ritzy XPS 15. As with most Dell laptops, you can buy the Inspiron 15 7000 in several different configurations, starting with a $649 model equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor, 6GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000Our top-of-the-line review unit, priced at $1,149, flaunts a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of memory, the 1TB hybrid drive, and Nvidia GeForce GT 750M discrete graphics instead of Intel’s integrated graphics. It also comes with an impressive 1,920×1,080 touch screen instead of the minimal 1,366×768 display of the $649 system.

While this Inspiron is a good-looking, well-performing machine with an excellent display and a better-than-average sound system, it reminds us in some ways—mostly its weight and thickness—of portables we looked at three or four years ago. But again, it’s still a fine laptop.

Read the entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T Review and RatingsJust as touch screens first appeared on deluxe, high-end systems after the debut of Windows 8 and rapidly moved into the mainstream, Intel’s fourth-generation “Haswell” processors have migrated from ritzy systems like Sony’s VAIO Pro 13 ultrabook to more affordable models in their six months on the market.

Notebooks don’t get more mainstream than the 15.6-inch desktop replacement class—or than Asus’ consumer VivoBook line. The VivoBook S500CA-DS51T we tested in May 2013 was a solid example, with a third-gen Core i5-3317U processor with Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. Like the Acer Aspire R7 and other laptops with that configuration we’ve sampled, the S500CA offered ample performance for everyday computing tasks such as Web browsing, social media, office productivity, and content consumption, but fell short for high-end multimedia rendering tasks and resource-intensive gameplay.

But today, the $999-list VivoBook V551LB-DB71T flaunts not only a fast “Haswell” Core i7-4500U CPU but Nvidia GeForce GT 740M discrete graphics. While more expensive than the $679 model S500CA, the new VivoBook performs head and shoulders above its predecessor on most of our benchmarks, including the demanding battery-rundown test.

Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T rear angleStill, we have some of the same complaints about this VivoBook as we did the last one. For example, as you’ll see below, it’s uncomfortably big and heavy to carry around with you. In addition, considering its price tag, we think it should provide a full 1080p resolution display, instead of the meager 1,366×768 pixels typically found on lower-cost or smaller-screened models.

Furthermore, while the Nvidia chip does boost performance enough to make this machine better than most for serious graphics tasks, such as working with high-resolution images in Adobe Photoshop, it does not deliver enough oomph for playing several of today’s toughest 3D gaming titles—at least not at or near their highest display quality settings, anyway. And that’s despite this laptop’s relatively low native resolution.

Overall, though, especially compared to several slightly cheaper systems, the V551LB is one of the strongest-performing mainstream touch-screen laptops we’ve seen, and the new Core i7 processor and discrete graphics definitely enhance its overall value.

Design

With its classy-looking slim profile, single-hinge design, brushed aluminum lid and metallic texture on the keyboard and palm rest, this VivoBook reminded us of the high-end Asus Zenbook UX51VZ we looked at in February. On the other hand, at 15 inches wide, 10.2 inches from front to back, and weighing well over 5 pounds, it’s a lot clunkier than that ultrabook, or even the 4.3-pound VivoBook S500CA. Call it a cross between the company’s elegant ultrabooks and its entry-level machines.

Asus VivoBook V551LB-DB71T angle

As mentioned, the V551LB uses the same single screen hinge, spanning almost the full width of the laptop, as Asus’ Zenbook UX51, which is plenty sturdy enough for normal laptop operation. As we’ve seen a few times now, however, relying on the same hinge design for touch screens as for non-touch displays can be a bit problematic. Here, for example, when we touched the screen—especially when performing multi-finger gestures—the panel wobbled a little more than it should, which sometimes interfered with our accuracy.

Granted, it’s difficult to design a laptop hinge that doesn’t move a little when the screen is touched, and we’re not saying that this one travels unacceptably. We’ve seen worse, but we’ve also seen better—much better, such as the Ezel hinge on the Acer Aspire R7 we tested in June. The Ezel hinge allows you to position the R7’s screen so that it doesn’t wobble—period.

Read entire review at Computer Shopper.

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Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (215127U) Review and RatingsFinding the best all-around notebook for home, school, and light business use—you know, a machine that displays photos, plays music and videos, and runs mainstream office applications well—can be daunting. There’s just so many of them, and they vary so widely in price and features. Wouldn’t it be easier to just throw up your hands and buy a more costly laptop that does everything well?

That’s fine—if money doesn’t matter. Otherwise, not taking the time to match your notebook to your needs could easily entail spending more—perhaps several hundred dollars’ worth of more—than you have to. That’s a lot of money for most folks, nowadays. Here’s one viable suggestion: Lenovo’s recently released $729.99 IdeaPad Z580, which should do everything—well, almost everything—well enough for the majority of students and business buyers.

If you need powerful graphics processing for high-end gaming and other sophisticated 3D-graphics-rendering tasks, though, you might want to step up to a machine like Lenovo’s IdeaPad Y580 (we’ve got a review of that model forthcoming), or perhaps the IdeaPad Y480 we reviewed last month. These models have discrete graphics processors for speeding up graphics rendering. You can pick up either for around $1,000, depending, of course, on screen size and other options.

If you don’t need a graphics workhorse, though, this particular $729 IdeaPad, which Lenovo touts as primarily a multimedia machine, is an impressive all-around everyday-computing notebook. Its roomy 15.6-inch screen displays images, videos, and Web sites respectably for a machine in this price range, and it comes with an impressive array of expansion ports and connectivity options. In addition, it’s built around Intel’s latest Third-Generation (“Ivy Bridge”) dual-core processor. That, in particular, makes it more powerful and more viable long-term than most other machines in this price range, especially some earlier low-cost 15-inch models.Lenovo IdeaPad Z580 (215127U) Review

Is it perfect? Well, no. You can’t expect perfect at this price. But it’s practical, and it does what it’s designed to do reasonably well. We liked this laptop—the Dolby-enhanced sound system particularly impressed us, as did the large 750GB storage capacity and generous 6GB allotment of RAM. So did its overall performance. It turned in strong scores on our slate of benchmark tests, and even the removable battery (a feature less common than it used to be) lasted longer than on several competing models.

Our take overall? The IdeaPad Z580 is a well-built, strong-performing notebook well worth its $729 price.

Read full review at Computer Shopper.

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Samsung Series 5 14” Ultra ReviewNot every Editors’ Choice-winning notebook is a love-at-first-sight machine, and the Samsung Series 5 Ultra is one such notebook. It probably won’t turn heads or elicit any “wows” from those who look at it casually. But if you had a few notebooks lying around your house to choose among, we bet this would be the one you’d reach for most often—for a short trip, a day trip, a long trip, or a trip to the couch.

If you’ve been keeping up with trends in laptops in 2012, you know about “ultrabooks”—a new breed of exceptionally light laptops built around powerful Intel CPUs and that comply with a set of specifications dictated by Intel. And if you’ve seen any ultrabooks in the flesh (or should that be, “in the metal”?), you probably think of them as slim, sleek, and sexy. But one thing that you don’t expect out of most ultrabooks, given how lean they are, is a DVD drive inside. That’s an inclusion that makes the $949 Samsung Series 5 Ultra stand out from the ultrabook pack.

With a 14-inch screen and a little more girth than most ultrabooks, the Samsung Series 5 14″ Ultra juts out in other ways, too. It’s actually closer in size and weight to the almost-hefty but very sexy HP Envy 14 Spectre, another 14-inch-screened laptop that’s priced $450 more at $1,399. And while we liked the Envy 14 Spectre for its forward-looking innovation and unique design, we like the Series 5 Ultra for its creature comforts and healthy selection of ports. It’s simply a practical machine. With it, you won’t end up stranded in a hotel room or an out-of-town office with all the right cords and no ports to plug them into.Samsung Series 5 14” Ultra

The Series 5 Ultra comes in two screen sizes and three flavors. The $949.99 14-inch model (model NP530U4BI), the one we’re reviewing here, has an optical drive and a 500GB “hybrid”-style hard drive. (The drive is equipped with onboard cache for better performance.) If you prefer something smaller, thinner, and lighter, though, and you can do without the optical drive, Samsung offers a 13-inch model (NP530U3BI) in two configurations. The lower-priced ($899.99) 13-inch model comes with the same 500GB hybrid drive as the 14-incher we tested, while the higher-end ($1,099) version moves you up to a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). All three models use the 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor, have 4GB of RAM, and run the Home Premium version of Windows 7.

Granted, the Series 5 Ultra is no ultra-looker; its appearance is less striking than most other ultrabooks. And its benchmark-test scores, in most cases, hovered just above the ultrabook-category averages. Regardless, we liked this laptop. Samsung products typically have good-looking screens, and the Series 5 Ultra was no exception.

We can’t help but wonder, though, how much less it would cost if it wasn’t called an ultrabook—a distinction that, in itself, is worth a premium. We admired the first wave of ultrabooks for their elegant, MacBook Air–like grace and elegance. The Series 5 Ultra is a good-quality laptop, to be sure, but it didn’t remind us much of the MacBook Air or any of the first ultrabooks we’ve come to know. It’s more practical than pretty.

See the full review at Computer Shopper.

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HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition Review and Ratings

HP Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition - great notebook, great price!

Blame, or thank, the MacBook: Most of the notebooks showing up in our labs lately are coming encased in brushed- or polished-metal chassis—an understated, elegant look that catches the eye. The only problem with the big move to metal: It also makes them look very much alike.

That can’t be said of HP’s Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition, though. This stylish laptop’s all-black aluminum chassis, with a bright-red Beats Audio logo in the center of the lid, definitely distinguishes it from the pack. Its hip appearance gives it a charm all its own, and it definitely won’t be mistaken for any other laptop, HP or otherwise.

The Pavilion dm4 Beats Edition’s different-drummer design is not all it has going for it, though. Lately, you’ve probably seen the Beats Audio logo bobbing around on the sides of the heads of plenty of hipsters and regular folks; the over-ear Dr. Dre Beats headphones are phenomenally popular. The Beats Audio technology has been integrated into the sound system of this laptop, and it makes for a top-notch media-playback machine with excellent sound reproduction. Plus, the generous 1,600×900 resolution on the 14-inch display allows for more screen real estate than on several other similarly priced 14-inch laptops. And the machine has a respectable selection of ports.

In addition, compared with similarly priced and equipped notebooks (such as the $999 Dell XPS 14z), the dm4 Beats Edition performs well. All told, this laptop offers a well-rounded set of features for a very reasonable price, making it a terrific value for the student in your life.

Read the review at Computer Shopper.

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