Notebook Holiday 2009 Buyer’s Guide: Mainstream

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“Mainsteam” notebooks generally feature screens between 14 inches and 18 inches in size and are considered “desktop replacement” laptops that combine a nice selection of features and a fair price in one attractive package. You can almost always find these notebooks online or at most retail stores. This category of notebooks derives its name from the fact that these notebooks generally try to meet a wide range of needs for a wide range of people. They aren’t as small and mobile as ultraportables, but they’re usually much cheaper than notebooks designed for gaming or high-performance multimedia use.

While 15-inch and larger mainstream notebooks are usually too bulky to carry with you on a daily basis, there are still many consumers who find 14-inch notebooks to be the perfect balance between portability and usability. Mainstream notebooks are very popular with people who are looking for a full-featured yet affordable “family computer” but don’t need extreme performance, extreme mobility, or extreme ruggedness.

Less Than $600

Gateway NV5214u


The Gateway NV-series is a line of affordable multimedia notebooks offered in both AMD and Intel configurations. They offer a 15.6″ screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, designer looks, and low power consumption to help with extended battery life. The NV-series starts as low as $529 and easily fits into most budgets.

The Gateway NV5214u proved to be a very capable multimedia notebook with good looks and very good build quality. The keyboard and palmrest were rock solid and showed no distortion even under strong pressure. The AMD QL-64 processor and ATI HD3200 integrated graphics were more than willing to handle most things were threw at it, having a strong lead on any Intel alternatives. For multimedia usage the notebook has HDMI out that can pass HD video and digital audio to a television and home theater system. Overall, for a notebook that can be found for $500 right now at BestBuy, the Gateway NV5214u is hard to pass up.

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$600-$800

Dell Studio 15


If you’re one of the many consumers around the globe looking for a multimedia family PC with a 15-inch screen, then the updated Dell Studio 15 (1555) probably has all the features you’re looking for in a new laptop. The Dell Studio 15 offers an impressive balance of customizable features and performance at a fair price. The modern looks, custom lid options, and affordable upgrades are sure to make this a popular notebook for many consumers. Unfortunately, the lackluster build quality, and average port selection will probably leave several owners wanting more. Still, if you want a nice laptop for general use around the house then the Studio 15 makes a good choice.

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HP Pavilion dv4t


The HP dv4t Entertainment Notebook PC is the replacement for the popular dv2700 series. Although this notebook design first appeared in 2008, it’s still being sold and has proven extremely popular among consumers. Essentially, these notebooks are smaller version of the dv5. This laptop delivers a 14.1″ Brightview display, dazzling high-gloss design, Intel’s Core Duo processors and the option to upgrade to Nvidia dedicated graphics cards.
Starting price is actually less than $600, but all of our recommended configurations of this notebook are priced at $650 or more. If you have a little extra cash in your budget then we suggest the dv4t with Nvidia dedicated graphics.

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HP Pavilion dv6z


The newest 16-inch notebook from HP promises to deliver great performance at a low price and might be very popular in 2009. The HP Pavilion dv6z features the latest AMD dual-core processors, your choice of integrated or discrete graphics, and all the ports and features you need. At a starting price of just $600 it might just be the most competitive desktop replacement notebook on the market. If you’re currently shopping for a full-featured desktop replacement notebook at a reasonable price then the HP Pavilion dv6z deserves your consideration. The HP Pavilion dv6z came extremely close to winning an Editor’s Choice Award because of the solid build quality, great port layout, fantastic range of configuration options, and low price. If extreme battery life isn’t important to you then this might be your next family PC.

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More than $800

Dell Studio 14z


The Dell Studio 14z is an impressive 14-inch notebook that proves to be a full-featured companion for school or around the house. If your child or your family is looking for a convenient laptop for general use then the Studio 14z can handle just about anything you throw at it. The overall price/performance ratio makes the Studio 14z one of the more impressive notebooks on the market if you’re looking for something with a 14-inch screen. The nice design, great sounding speakers and a gorgeous screen make the Studio 14z a touch act to follow.

The fact that the Studio 14z lacks an optical drive, SD card slot, and standard VGA port means that some potential buyers will need to look elsewhere. Likewise, the keyboard flex was more than a little disappointing. Still, if you want an alternative to the MacBook Pro that is both attractive and reasonably powerful then the Studio 14z makes a solid choice.

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Toshiba Satellite P500/P505


The Toshiba Satellite P505 is a multimedia powerhouse that packs an ATI Radeon HD 4650 and a massive 18.4″ display. Offering dual drives for optimal performance and storage, this notebook handle all your multimedia needs, while still being able to power through games. The harman/kardon speaker system put out some of the best sound we have heard from a notebook in a long time, full of bass and great midrange tones. While most people might not think a machine of this size could have good battery life, we managed to get four and a half hours thanks to the 12-cell battery. Overall while this notebook might not have been the most lap-friendly system we have tested, its gaming and multimedia performance was excellent for its price range.

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Apple MacBook Pro


The new Apple MacBook Pro brings a lot of new features to the table from the previous generation. Users now get a large battery that gives pretty amazing life, a better display, faster processor, FireWire, SD-card slot, and best of all a lower starting price. Getting more for less seems to be the trend during this slow economy, so despite the $1,000+ price tag the new MacBook Pro offers more than ever before. Overall if you can get past some of its design quirks (like an integrated battery and aluminum construction that makes it hot on your lap) it is a great notebook with a feature set that is hard to beat.

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Keep in mind that this list doesn’t include every mainsteam notebook currently available on the market. This section of our buyer’s guide merely highlights some of the recent mainstream laptops we’ve reviewed that our editors think deserve your attention. Be sure to take a look at the other reviews published on NotebookReview.com.

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