2011 Holiday Gift Guide: Laptops Are A Geek’s Best Friend

When it comes to gift-giving, there are a few presents that siimply go above and beyond. Getting a first car on your sixteenth birthday (if you’re so lucky) is one of those moments, and some young couples are even lucky enough to get a house as a wedding present. But after a house and a car, a brand new laptop is probably the best gift you can get. We’ve compiled a list of notebooks ranging in price from $839 to starting points of $1,999, so there should be something here for everyone.

Without any further ado, here are some of our recommendations if you’re looking to get your loved one a new notebook.

Acer’s Aspire S3 Ultrabook

I’m actually typing this post on an S3 as we speak, and I must say it’s a pleasant, comfortable little notebook. The first thing you should know is that this is one of, if not the first computers to fall in line with each of Intel’s ultrabook requirements (like being under .83 inches thick, having at least a 5-hour battery life, employment of Intel’s rapid start technology, and a sub-$1000 price tag), meaning you’d be getting your loved one the first in an entirely new category of Windows-powered laptops.

The S3 Ultrabook is powered by a Core i5 processor, packs 4BG of on-board memory, and combines a spinning hard drive with an SSD for speed performance and greater memory. It’s super thin, at just .51-inches thick and weighs just 2.94 pounds, which you’ll surely notice the first time you pick this little guy up. The 13.3-inch screen isn’t amazing by any account, but with a 1366×768 resolution at 450-nits it gets the job done.

You can pick up the Acer S3 Ultrabook for the low price of $839.99.

Apple MacBook Air (Thunderbolt):

If the S3 ever had a competitor, it would be the new MacBook Air. In fact, the MacBook Air is seemingly the inspiration for the entire sub-category, so if you’re in a Mac state of mind (or are ready to convert), look no further. With its unibody aluminum construction, waist line of .11 inches at its thinnest point (.68 inches at its thickest), and new LED backlit island-style keyboard, the MacBook Air simply can’t be beat in terms of design.

Plus, you’ll have between 64GB and 256GB of flash storage (2GB and 4GB internal) depending on the model with either a 1.6GHz or 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5 processor. The Air comes in both 11.6- and 13.3-inch models, with the 11-inch model forfeiting an SD card slot and both models sporting USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt ports.

Configurations start at $999 and go all the way up to $1599.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1

This 13-inch laptop looks and feels about as corporate as you can get. It’s basically a wedge-shaped black box measuring just .65 inches thick at its thinnest point, with sharp corners and a soft-touch finish. It also happens to be the most rugged of the laptops we’re recommending, so if your loved one is prone to spills or clumsiness in any form, this may be your winner. With a water-shedding LED backlit keyboard and Corning Gorilla glass on the display, it’d be a task to destroy this thing. I’ve seen it attempted, first hand.

As far as the guts are concerned, the ThinkPad X1 can be configured with Intel’s Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, and has the same 1366×768 resolution as the S3’s display. Again, like the S3, Lenovo traded out a matte display for a highly reflective, and thus less viewable, one. Still, Dolby speakers produce more than enough volume for even the hardiest of partiers, while Intel’s integrated 3000 HD graphics helped keep things crisp in the entertainment department.

All in all, this is a great option for the laptop gifter starting at $1,349.

Sony Vaio Z

It is here that we venture into pricey territory, but not without extra luxury and performance. The Sony Vaio Z combines a super slim design with powerful graphics and processing in the form of a 2.7GHz Core i7 processor, Intel HD 3000 Graphics, and an AMD Radeon 6630M GPU built in to the included docking station. Oh right, there’s a non-optional Kindle-sized docking station (as in, included in that high price) which features that AMD Radeon GPU and a Blu-ray drive, as well as some extra ports.

The 13-inch Vaio Z has way more processing power, but looks and feels like a competitor to the MacBook Air measuring just .7 inches thick. Of course, you get a little extra heft when you add the optional battery slice, which nearly doubles its five and a half hour battery life. It has an impressive 1920×1080 pixel resolution, along with a 1,600×900 resolution option.

Unfortunately, these high-end specs come at a high-end price, with models starting at $1999.

Dell Alienware M18X Gaming Laptop

Whenever I look at this beast, which is taking up the majority of my desk space at the moment, I can’t help but feel like some sort of all-powerful, futuristic planet conquerer. The M18X is huge, for one thing, but just sexy as hell with a highly customizable back-lit keyboard, back-lit front grills and a Space Black matte anondized aluminum chassis. The display is a solid 18.4-inch 1920×1080 WLED display that I’ve simply replaced my TV with for the time being. Yep, it’s that good.

On the inside things get no less impressive, with Intel Core i7 quad-core processors ranging between 2.2GHz and an overclocked 4.0GHz, between 4GB and 32GB of on-board memory, and the choice between a 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce 560M GPU, dual 1.5GB NVidia GeForce SLI-enabled 560M GPUs, and dual 2GB Nvidia GeForce SLI-enabled 580M GPUs. There are also dual AMD Radeon graphics card options.

That said, things can get painfully expensive with the lowest configuration going for $1999 up to a dual AMD Radeon HD 6990M graphics card, 4GHz Core i7 dual-core processor-powered model for $4,560. A truly generous gift to say the least, but one that will surely go over well in the brownie points department.

Check out the rest of our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide here.