Hi, I'm looking to get a new laptop and would appreciate any recommendations. I'm looking at at least another year of a somewhat nomadic existence: I'm living in foreign countries / on the road 100% of the time. So I need a laptop that is a desktop replacement, but also reasonably portable. I'll be lugging it around daily for a couple of months at a time, living out of a backpack and duffle bag, then be somewhat settled in one location for 6 months or more. What this means? I'm probably looking for a 15.6" screen to watch movies on. But I'd also like it to be light, while still having enough power to use it for work on a daily basis, so under 6 pounds.
1. What is your budget?
2. What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?
15.6" screen, under 6lbs weight
3. What screen resolution do you want?
I'd love 1080HD - 1920x1080 , but can settle for 1366x768 if necessary.
4. Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?
5. How much battery life do you need?
I'm currently dealing with under 3 hours, so anything better than that would be great, and obviously the higher the better.
6. Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?
I'd like the option, but realistically, I probably won't be.
7. What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo/Video editing, Etc.)
Light photo editing, basic office stuff - Office, web, etc.
8. How much storage (Hard Drive capacity) do you need?
500G is enough.
9. If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.
10. How long do you want to keep your laptop?
A couple years at least
11. What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?
I don't need any optical drive - I haven't found anything though without. I'd love to sacrifice an optical drive for lower weight.
12. Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.
I'm open to any brands.
13. What country do you live in?
Lots. But I'll be purchasing in the US.
14. Please tell us any additional information if needed.
It's 15.6", but its weight is well under the average for the category, at 4.4 lbs.
It comes with a decent display: 15.6" 1920x1080 IPS. This is part of what makes the Vaio S a good choice, and a lot of other laptops not.
If there's any chance you're going to be doing GPU-intensive gaming on this, I would suggest adding the GT 640M LE GPU upgrade for only $25. It would make a substantial difference over Intel HD 4000 for that kind of gaming.
For the lighter weight and higher resolution I would go with the Sony. 1366x768 resolution is okay, but i find it a bit limiting for researching / reading / multi-tasking. 1920x1080 is much better for those tasks and if you work with Excel you will be able to see more cells on the screen at a single time w/o having to scroll around.
The optional GT 640M LE for the Sony is also more powerful, but not recommended for playing above 1366x768 resolution since it is not that powerful.
The downsides to Sony seems to be limited customer support, limited driver support, and low battery life of around 3 hours (but can be extend with the optional "slate" battery). Based on reviews when the CPU is under a lot stress (like encoding video) it can shoot up to 92C. Sony stated that is normal, but it's a bit too high for my taste. Then again weighing in only at 4.4lbs there needs to be some sacrifices somewhere and heatsinks for effective cooling can weigh a lot.
The problem with the IdeaPad U510 is that it comes with a 15.6" 1366x768 display. 1366x768 resolution in a 15.6 inch display make things onscreen large, and 15.6 inch displays that have 1366x768 resolution tend to be low-grade LCD panels with very poor image quality due to low contrast. You should make a point to avoid displays like this when it is reasonable to do so, unless you require the larger text for eyesight related reasons. (The problem isn't that the display isn't 1920x1080, the problem is that it is what it is. There are decent displays that aren't "1920x1080", but the U510's display is not a decent display.)
The fact that the U510 comes with a "Core i7" processor does not make up for how poor its display is, nor could it really make up for anything else. Processor is generally one of the least important things to focus on. Most processors are far more than powerful enough for the majority of users. That, and the low-voltage i7-3517U isn't really any faster than the standard-voltage i5-3210M in the Vaio S anyway.
On the subject of memory: 4GB should be plenty of memory. The fact that the U510 comes default with 8GB of memory does not make it a better choice than the Vaio S which comes with 4GB by default. Even if you do need more memory, it's very cheap and easy for you to upgrade it yourself after-market. It should cost you no more than ~$20 for you to upgrade the Sony Vaio S 15 to 8GB (by buying an extra 4GB stick to install), and you can do it at any date down the line (save for the case of an apocalypse or dystopian worldly turn of events.)
Regarding the notion that the GT 640M LE isn't good for gaming above 1366x768 resolution: the basis of this conception is underconsideration of all necessary factors. Game performance isn't really a good reason to choose a 15.6" 1366x768 display instead of a 15.6" 1920x1080 display. For one thing, if your framerates are suffering while running in 1920x1080, you can always step your resolution down to 1366x768 inside the game settings. With a 15.6" 1366x768 display, you cannot make up for the limited screen space that's going to affect everything else you do. But the resolution itself isn't all: 15.6" 1366x768 displays tend to be low-grade LCD panels with very poor image quality due to low contrast, whereas 15.6" 1920x1080 displays tend to have great contrast and quality. What this means is that despite the blur you get when running games in a non-native resolution, you'll likely find that games look better running in a non-native resolution on a 15.6" 1920x1080 display, than even in native resolution on a 15.6" 1366x768 display. And of course quality differences are there outside of gaming too, so by going with a lower resolution display you're not only killing usability of your computer outside of gaming, you're also killing image quality outside of gaming.... But you'll probably find that a lot of games will run just fine in 1920x1080 with a GT 640M LE anyway, depending on settings.