May 17 2013 - Thin and light laptops are dramatically changing. Once the mainstay of general mobile computing, more and more specialized systems are entering the market. This includes ones that are designed for gaming or even ultrabooks for portability and long running times. Here are my selections for the best laptops with 14 to 16-inch displays based upon my research and experience for various uses and prices.
Priced under $850, the ASUS N56DP-DH11 is probably a bit more than many budget minded laptop buyers would look for but this laptop makes up for it with some improved features that are typically found in more expensive systems. First off, it features a 1920x1080 display that is superb over the 1366x768 displays you normally find at this price. Second, it features a spacious one terabyte hard drive that provides plenty of storage. The downside is that it uses a AMD A10 quad core processor that trails behind many Intel based laptops but it still is sufficient for most people. For those on a tighter budget, the Acer Aspire V5-571G features a fast Intel Core i7 for $750 but it does have a lower resolution display and half the storage space.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 is really a gaming system but it offer such an excellent and well rounded package that it is a solid choice for almost any user. The $1250 laptop offers some great performance from a Core i7 quad core processor matched up with 16GB of memory and a one terabyte hard drive with 16GB of SSD caching. Graphics are also amazing thanks to to the 1920x1080 display and a dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M graphics setup. Even with all the performance, it still runs pretty quiet. There are two big downsides though. This includes some pretty awful running times and no optical drive but they are much less relevant now. For those that are willing to spend more, the Apple MacBook Pro 15 With Retina Display is a truly amazing system that is compact but offers a phenomenal screen and running times with some solid performance but at a starting price of $2199.
With the release of the Windows 8 operating system, touchscreens play a much more important role in navigating and using programs. The supply of systems with touchscreens is growing but the best overall choice right now is the ASUS VivoBook S400CA which is an affordable ultrabook that provides a good experience. It may not be a high performance system but it works well for many people and offers a hybrid storage to make it suitable as a primary computer. The big downside here is that it lacks an optical drive which many may still want. Priced between $700 and $750 is it quite affordable. If you want something with a bit more performance that still has a touchscreen, then the Samsung NP780Z5E gives you a high resolution touch screen with quad core processor at just $1199.
There are a huge number of ultrabooks now with 14 and 15-inch displays that offer very thin and light systems. Of these, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers an extremely light laptop at just three pounds and very thin at under three quarters of an inch thick. Even with its small size, it offer a very durable design with some good performance. It offers a very nice high resolution display as well. The only real downside is that it is a corporate computer meaning it is a bit more expensive with prices starting around $1350. For those looking at something a bit more affordable, there is the Vizio Thin + Light which retails just under $1000 and weight just 3.4 pounds but has the disadvantage of a poor keyboard and trackpad design.
With the influx of ultrabooks into the 14 to 16-inch range, there are many more laptops that can run up to five hours. If you are looking to have the longest running time though, the Apple MacBook Pro 15 with Retina Display still outpaces them all to achieve seven hours of continuous video playback thanks to its 95WHr battery. It still offers lots of performance with a Core i7 quad core processor, solid state drive and has an amazing display. All this while weight just four and a half pounds and just one inch thick. The downside is that the pricing starts at $2199. For those looking at something a bit more affordable, the Samsung NP780Z5E achieves up to six and a quarter hours of video playback with comparable specs although a traditional hard drive and lower resolution display but with a more affordable $1199 price tag.