I am looking at two laptops in my budget at this time. I plan to buy this weekend but it may be next weekend before I actually pull the trigger. To keep the fanboys at bay, I'm not revealing the laptop brands, models, or other specs until after this is over, if then.
Intel Core i5-2430M 2nd Gen processor
Intel HD3000 graphics on board
nVidia GT520M graphics card
has only one drive bay (I would have to swap to an SSD)
Intel Core i7-3632QM 3rd Gen processor
Intel HD4000 graphics on board
no discrete graphics card
has a second drive bay (I could add an SSD)
Usage Notes: I am a virtual admin doing data entry, web development, social media, and content management. I often have anywhere from 20 to 50 tabs open in a browser at any given time, 3 to 6 hours a day. I generally work with the laptop plugged into power and on wireless internet. I will also have other apps running like Skype, messenger services, an ftp client, a work timer that takes screenshots, and I spend quite a bit of time watching YouTube videos related to work and hobbies.
Gaming Notes: I have a fast X58-based desktop system on which I play primarily GTA IV when I do game, maybe four to six hours a week. I would like to be able to casually play GTA IV on the laptop. I have watched YouTube videos sampling both GT520M with an i5 and HD4000 with an i7 and they perform the same to my eyes and ears.
Both laptops have 6GB of memory and I believe 8GB is the maximum they will run. Both are 15.6 inch screens at 1366x768 (my current laptop has 15.4 inch and 1280x800 and I'm used to it) and both weigh about six pounds. Both have 5400rpm SATA hard drives. Both the laptops I'm looking at are priced at about $500. Both have HDMI but neither has USB 3.0 that I'm aware of.
I would say forget about gaming with either of them and get the second one with the better processor since you are using the CPU so much. But also what are the brands? Possibly a link to where you would buy them. If one is a much worse brand I could rule it out immediately.
I did also find another with i7-2630QM and AMD graphics (awaiting seller response if its HD6490 or HD6770, please pretty please be the HD6770) but I don't think that's much better than GT520M. It's on eBay ends in 20min. The others are Acers, they are on eBay too but are buyitnow items one from Acer's store one from someone called brownbox who has a hundred laptops up from various brands.
I think I may wait until next weekend when I can afford the i7-2630QM one Acer has with GT630M graphics. I do want the quad core. If I can get a $629 i7 quad core with discrete graphics I think that will be a good compromise vs 2Gi5/GT520M vs 3Gi7/IntelHD. But if that HP one stays under $500 I'm pulling the trigger.
The i7 gets my vote considering the workload. Quad core is much better for heavy multitasking than a dual core.
I've also read up on how to update video drivers for HD4000 to make GTAIV run easier. The i7-3632QM it is. The model is Acer Aspire V3-571-9831, it's in Acer's eBay store for $464.99 shipped, and now I'm just waiting for an auction to end for a similar model (V3-571-9890) which is only up to $355 so far. It has the same spec, exactly, I think the only difference is what retail store it may have sold at new. Both have 6GB memory, 750GB hard drive, 15.6" screen, N wireless, etc...
I'm also waiting to see if I can come up with a little extra cash and get the i7-3632QM WITH the 2GB GT640M graphics. It is available for $624.99, same Acer eBay store, only lower spec is a 500GB hard drive instead of 750GB. I added up all my data from my laptops and my desktop and my old backups and I only have 120GB of data as it is so that's a non-issue.
And then there's the top end model, which is i7-3632QM, 2GB GT640M, 6GB memory, 750GB hard drive, AND it's a 17 inch with 1600x900. It is $699.99 and selling from a different seller but has the same Acer warranty. If I can swing the $700 it's got EVERYTHING. But then I need to buy a new cooler and backpack since a 17 inch won't fit in the one I have.
FYI I got lucky this morning and Acer listed another V3-771G, this time with i7-2670QM processor, 8GB of memory, GT640M graphics, 17.3 inch 1600x900 display, and two 500GB hard drives. For $619.99! That's $5 cheaper than the 15 inch one with the i7-3632QM and 1366x768 resolution. So that's paid for and should be here Monday. I'm way too excited about this, the only bad news is because I found a 17 inch laptop, I need a new backpack, since mine only fits up to 15.6 inch!
Edit: forget Monday, they shipped it from Mesquite (Dallas) and it's out for delivery TODAY!!!!