Gift guide: All I want for Christmas is a new laptop!

It's the perfect time to purchase a new notebook

If you're in the market for a new laptop and are wondering when the best time is to buy — the answer is "now"! As most retailers see a surge in sales between now and mid-January, it won't make any difference if you buy now or wait until the post-Christmas sales. If you haven't already started shopping for a Christmas bargain, then do so now!

Most of the major manufacturers are rolling out new models over the Christmas period — Toshiba being among the most prolific with 21 new models. There is even a relatively new notebook segment to look out for: slimline notebooks. These factors combined with the strong Aussie dollar should help reduce prices on existing models over the Christmas period, so be on the look-out for run-out stock.

The sub-$1000 segment will be strong as slimline notebooks become more prolific. As manufacturers realise that many people want something that's comfortable to use yet still very mobile, they have introduced larger notebooks that have similar CPU power to netbooks but which have more powerful graphics cards. They are an alternative to hugely popular 10-inch netbooks, with bigger screens and more spacious keyboards. They have a slim profile and screen sizes ranging from 11.1 to 12.1 inches, and they can weigh up to 1.6kg.

We've already looked at a few of these slimline notebooks, the latest being the Toshiba Satellite T110. This notebook uses an Intel Pentium CPU rather than an Intel Atom CPU, and is therefore a lot more powerful than a netbook. It has great battery life and looks good, too. Other models to consider are HP's Mini 311, which is also a stylish little beast, but this has similar CPU power to a netbook. For something more powerful, but still slim and mobile, look at HP's Pavilion dv2, which uses an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Neo CPU and is great for multimedia tasks. The dv2 costs a little more than $1000, and has slightly less battery life, but if you want excellent performance in a slim and mobile form factor, it's worth the extra dollars. MSI's X-sim series of notebooks, Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 and Fujitsu's LifeBook P3110 should also be considered.

Whatever your need, there has never been a better time to look for a laptop than right now.

The gaming notebook segment is also set to be strong over the December-January period, as high-powered notebooks become more affordable. Not only are gaming notebooks useful for running the latest games, they make for excellent desktop-replacement notebooks if you don't want your computer to take up much space in your home. ASUS, MSI, HP and Toshiba are just some of the vendors offering potent models at competitive prices. If you're really after a kick-arse laptop this Christmas, you can pick up an Alienware M17x, which is perhaps the cream of the crop when it comes to gaming notebooks that look the part, too.

If you want a powerful laptop this Christmas but not necessarily for games, look for one that features the Intel Core i7 CPU. This is currently the fastest CPU you can get for a laptop. Pricing for Core i7-based notebooks is very competitive: you can find some models for less than $2000 and many more laptops for under $2500 (such as HP's Pavilion dv7). One of the high-end laptops you can find for under $2000 is the ASUS M60J, which has a 16in screen, an Intel Core i7 720QM CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

For gaming, the key specification to look for is a powerful graphics card. A fast CPU and 4GB of RAM just won't cut it if you have a graphics card that's slow. For an adequate gaming experience on a notebook, look for one that has at least an NVIDIA GeForce GT240M or GTX260, or an ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4600 or 4850. You'll pay a premium price for a laptop with a GTX260 or Mobility Radeon 4850 graphics adapter, but if serious gaming is your thing, it might be worth looking at this type of model.

If you want a powerful notebook but don't want to pay more than $1500, then you should opt for an Intel Core 2 Duo–based model. The Intel Core 2 Duo CPU has been relegated to mid-range notebooks with the introduction of the Core i7, and many vendors have built affordable configurations around it. Look for a model with a CPU clock speed of at least 2.1GHz, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and Windows 7. In fact, if you shop around online using a search engine such as, you should be able to find this type of laptop for just over $1000! Now you might wonder why you should buy underpowered slimline notebook or 10in netbook for around the same price when a more powerful machine is available — the answer is size. A powerful notebook with a Core 2 Duo CPU, such as the ASUS X61SL, has a 16in screen, so it's not exactly portable — it's a desk dweller.

There is no doubt that the notebook segment this year is extremely competitive. New CPUs, the release of Windows 7, different form factors and a strong Australian dollar have formed a perfect storm for buying a notebook — there are plenty of bargains to be found. Happy shopping and merry Christmas!

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Elias Plastiras
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