15in Notebooks: Best Buys
The ones to choose
Group Test Choosing a winner from this group of 15.6in laptops was a tricky matter as they have a great deal in common. Apart from sharing the same size screen and 1366 x 768 resolution, they all come with 802.11n Wi-Fi and have a tray-loading multi-format DVD writer. So relatively small differences count for a lot.
The HP Pavilion dv6 stands out as it uses an AMD CPU which is weaker than the Core i3/i5 yet the HP managed to dominate in our 3DMark06 test thanks to its use of AMD's Mobility Radeon HD 5650 graphics chip. The HP can switch over to the Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics core embedded in its chipset, which helps it deliver the best battery life in the group.
HP's Pavilion dv6: recommended
Unfortunately it is also rather expensive. While I think the metal cladding on the chassis is worth a certain amount there's no excuse for the lousy mouse action. Still, the benefits outweigh the limitations and so the HP gets Reg Hardware's Recommended award.
Having said that, the most expensive laptop of all is the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge, which delivers a high level of performance thanks to its Core i5 processor, ably supported by a full set of features including an ExpressCard slot, Bluetooth and four USB ports.
Dell combined a Core i5 with decent AMD graphics and some funky cosmetics to come up with a laptop that was unlike any Dell that I can recall seeing. Alas, battery life was unimpressive. These aren't machines you'll use for long periods of time away from the mains, but three at least got me close to a couple of hours. The best the Dell could manage was an hour and a half, as did the the Sony and the Toshiba.
PCMark Vantage (64-bit)
Longer bars are better
Battery life in Minutes
Longer bars are better
Nb. with Radeon HD 5670 graphics, HP Pavilion dv6 scored 100 minutes
And the winner is...
It will take me a long while to recover from the sheer pinkness of the Sony Vaio EB2 and my lasting impressions are of a laptop with few redeeming qualities and battery life that is, as I say, at the lower end of the scale.
Acer's Aspire 5741: the Editor's Choice
I wanted to like the Toshiba as the low price seemed to offer some promise, but the low rent feel of the plastic chassis and the basic nature of the set of features removed the shine. Two USB ports and VGA output? Come on, Toshiba, you can do better than that.
The curious thing is that the winner, the Acer Aspire 5741, rose to glory thanks to a set of features that combine a decent Core i3 CPU with Intel graphics and decent battery life all served up with a low price. For all these reasons, it has to take home Reg Hardware's Editor's Choice award. ®