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The Best Notebooks of 2010

Meet the very best notebooks of the year.


by Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on November 22, 2010

In a year when the iPad grabbed all the headlines, notebooks hardly stood still in terms of progress. Intel launched Core processors with a new Turbo Boost feature. Nvidia's Optimus enabled laptops to switch between integrated and discrete graphics automatically. And Apple pushed solid state drives into the mainstream with its instant-on MacBook Airs.

The notebooks that made our Best of the Year list don't just integrate cutting edge technologies. They deliver leading-edge performance and design. After evaluating 140-plus machines in 2010, these are the ones to get.

Breakthrough Award

Apple MacBook Air (11- and 13-Inch)

Talk about instant gratification. Flip the lid on the ridiculously light 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs and they spring to life instantly. Thanks to the way Apple integrated flash memory in these ultraportables, they also boot in just 15 seconds. The new Airs measure 0.11 to 0.68 inches thick yet feature sturdy aluminum unibody designs and zippy Nvidia graphics. The 2.3-pound 11-inch model lasts more than 5 hours on a charge, while the 2.9-pound 13-inch Air can work unplugged for nearly 7 hours. Add in a FaceTime camera for easy video calling between Macs and an iPhone or iPod touch--and an upcoming Mac App Store--and you can see why Apple continues to out-innovate the Windows competition.

11-Inch MacBook Air | Read Review
13-Inch MacBook Air | Read Review

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Netbooks

Budget: Samsung N150 Plus

One of the most attractive netbooks yet, the N150 has a deep red and black design with a subtle dot pattern. Inside is a matte deck, an excellent chiclet-style keyboard, and a 10-inch, 1024 x 600 display. The N150's speakers put out some of the best audio we've heard on a machine this size. Its battery lasted a good 7 hours and 12 minutes, and Samsung's Fast Boot utility made the system resume instantly from hibernation mode.

Price: $349.00 | Read Review

Splurge: ASUS Eee PC 1215N

It's the netbook that looks and feels more like a notebook. With a 12-inch display, a dual-core Atom D525 CPU, and discrete (but power-sipping) Nvidia ION graphics, this 3.4-pound machine lets you game and lasts close to 6 hours on a charge. Plus, we like ASUS' redesign, which makes the touchpad a lot roomier and the chassis less prone to fingerprints.

Price: $499.00 | Read Review

Ultraportables

Budget: Toshiba Satellite T235-S1350

One of the most stylish and inexpensive ultraportables yet, this 3.9-pound, 13-inch laptop is great for students and anyone else on the go. Its shiny lid (available in charcoal, red, or white) has a subtle wave pattern on top, while Toshiba's Fusion Chrome finish adds class to the inside, where you'll find one of the best keyboards around. The notebook packs a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive, and its battery lasted just over 6 hours. You won't find a better deal than this.

Lowest Price: $579.99 | Read Review

Splurge: Sony VAIO Z

A no-compromise ultraportable, this 13-inch beauty weighs a mere 3 pounds--barely heavier than most netbooks--but features a Core i5 processor, dual 64GB solid state drives, switchable Nvidia graphics, a high-resolution 1600 x 900-pixel display. This notebook is available in black or silver, the chassis is made of aluminum and magnesium, making it light and durable. The VAIO Z blew away all other ultraportables in our tests and lasted 5 hours on a charge (an extended battery costs extra). You can also configure the Z with WiMax or 3G connectivity for the executive on the go.

Lowest Price: $1,997.45 | Read Review

Thin-and-Light Notebooks

Budget: HP Pavilion dm3t

It doesn't just look cool, it is cool. HP's 4-pound stunner features CoolSense technology, which kept the temperatures on this machine pretty low when we put it through its paces. Somehow, HP crammed a Core i3 processor and a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive into a chassis less than an inch thick. We absolutely love the unique soft-touch black cover and backlit keyboard, as well as this notebook's 5.5 hours of battery life.

Price: $599.00 | Read Review

Splurge: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch)

The 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro lives up to its promise of long battery life, all the while delivering strong performance, thanks to Nvidia's powerful GeForce 320M graphics. For $200 more than Apple's plastic MacBook, this laptop offers a gorgeous aluminum design, twice the RAM, a backlit keyboard, and an SD card slot.

Price: $1,199.00 | Read Review

All-Purpose Portables

Budget: HP G62t

It's cheap. And it's great. The HP G62t has basically everything you could want for the money. This notebook features a 2.13-GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a fast, spacious 500GB 7,200 rpm. (Other machines at this price spin at 5,400-rpm.) Throw in a stylish matte finish--no fingerprint smudges!--and loud Altec Lansing speakers, and you have a winner.

Lowest Price: $789.00 | Read Review

Splurge: Dell XPS 15

The new XPS line pairs a sleek hinge-forward design with a brushed aluminum palm rest and speaker grills, and backs it all up with plenty of power. The XPS 15 comes ready to entertain with Nvidia Optimus-enabled graphics, JBL speakers with Waves MaxxAudio, and available 1080p display and Blu-ray player. Other amenities include USB 3.0 and an high-def webcam that's certified to work with Skype HD.

Lowest Price: $889.00 | Read Review

Business Systems

Budget: Dell Vostro V3300

A small business laptop that looks like it belongs in the executive suite, this 13-inch notebook is clad in brushed aluminum, and has an understated black interior. A 2.27-GHz Intel Core i5-430M CPU and 3GB of RAM provides all the performance you need for work and play, and a 320GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive gives business users plenty of storage. This 4.8-pound notebook endured for a good 5 hours and 34 minutes.

Price: $822.00 | Read Review

Splurge: Lenovo ThinkPad X201s

With a Core i7 processor and more than 8 hours of battery life, the ThinkPad X201s continues its predecessor's tradition of excellence. As always, it has the similar design and ThinkPad keyboard have endeared the line to traveling executives the world over. It eschews a touchpad for the TrackPoint, which is highly accurate. The 12-inch screen has a high resolution of 1440 x 900-pixels, meaning you can fit more of a web page on the screen at once or compare two documents side-by-side. A 2.13-GHz Intel Core i7-640LM processor delivers serious speed, while a 9-cell battery supplies plenty of runtime. All this in a 3.4-pound package.

Lowest Price: $1,799.99 | Read Review

Entertainment Machines

Budget: Toshiba Satellite M645

It looks good, and it sounds even better. The 14-inch, 5-pound Toshiba Satellite M645 sports a snazzy textured design, plus harmon/kardon speakers powered by Dolby Advanced Audio Technology. On our tests, we were floored by the fidelity of this thin-and-light laptop. A 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-450M processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive round out the specs. A chiclet-style keyboard and a spacious 3.2 x 2.2-inch touchpad ensure that users compute in comfort. Bonus: The Fusion X2 finish picks up no fingerprints.

Price: $1,049.00 | Read Review

Splurge: HP Envy 17

Starting from the paisley-esque pattern and HP's glowing logo on the lid, you know this is one premium system. Inside, a superior island-style backlit keyboard and a huge 4.2 x 2.5-inch touchpad rest on the deck. Above them is a 17-inch Ultra BrightView Infinity display, which has 1920 x 1080-pixel resolution, wide viewing angles, and a 72 percent color gamut. Speakers are powered by Beats audio technology, which pumped out some of the best sound we've heard from a notebook. What else does this beast have? How about an HD webcam, USB 3.0, 1.6-GHz Intel Core i7-720QM processor, 6GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200-rpm hard drive, and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5850 graphics? It's a multimedia dream machine.

Price: $1,599.00 | Read Review

Gaming Rigs

Budget: Alienware m11x

Small but powerful, this 11-inch beast packs a 1.2-GHz Intel Core i7-640UM processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 335M graphics into a miniaturized version of Alienware's Camaro-esque gaming rigs. You get customizable backlighting and effects for showing off, plus Nvidia's graphics-switching Optimus technology, which means this 4.6-pound champ can last around 6 hours on a charge.

Lowest Price: $599.00 | Read Review

Splurge: Toshiba Qosmio X505

The best 18.4-inch in our book has everything a gamer or media junkie could want, including a quad-core Core i7 processor, 6GB of RAM, both a 500GB 7,200-rpm drive and 64GB SSD, and 1GB of video memory. Add in harman/kardon speakers and Blu-ray, and you have a force to be reckoned with.

Lowest Price: $1,299.99 | Read Review

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