Which laptop to buy?
This question is quite common at this time of the year. It’s the start of another school year, and whether you are a freshman looking for a laptop to carry around for the next four years or an upperclassman who needs an IT refresh, this is laptop buying season.
Choosing a laptop can be daunting because of all the impenetrable list of specs you have to compare, and people just buy a MacBook Air because “you can’t go wrong buying a Mac”. Well, actually, you can. If you look hard enough there are many laptops out there that are just as lightweight and stylish as a MacBook Air, with at least the same processing muscle, but are cheaper and make a good deal.
Here is my shortlist of the best MacBook Air Killers, with some budget alternatives that perform just as well, and some portable laptops for gamers.
MacBook Air Killers
Same Performance, Same Price Point, More Style and Runs Windows
The benchmark for my review here will be the 13-Inch Macbook Air with i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB of SSD memory, coming in at $1,618 on the Apple store before education discounts, and weighing 1.35kg.
This is the Goldilocks model of the MacBook Air, in terms of specs, and is the one that will fulfil most of your needs without burning too big a hole in your pocket. All the models I choose to quote later in this section have virtually the same specs, screen size, and number of ports, except for a few important differences which I will point out.
Like all the notebooks in this section, it takes design cues from the MacBook Air. From its thin and tapered body to the simple branding, it gives off the premium vibe. At $1,499, you can get the same MacBook Air specs, but with a significantly better graphics card. In fact, you can even play Overwatch on low settings with this thing. That’s impressive considering that it’s both thinner and lighter than the Air, and for $100 less! However using lighter materials means its build quality suffers just slightly compared to the MacBook Air, but it is still built solidly.
Asus Zenbook 305UA
One look at this gorgeous babe and you can tell that it is a flagship product. Built with the same premium metal found on all Apple systems, the tapered design and ultrabook thinness, it almost looks like ASUS took a MacBook Air and just slapped their logo over the apple. Under the hood, it’s mostly the same story. The same specs, but lighter and thinner than the MacBook Air. At only $1,398 for the Goldilocks model (FC013T), it beats the MacBook Air on price too.
Razer Blade Stealth
If you want a laptop to set you apart, this is the one for you. White on white is so basic – this is the era of black and green, folks! Oh wait, did I not mention that THE KEYBOARD IS RAINBOW COLORED? That’s right folks! Each key is individually programmable with up to 16.8million colours! Build quality is great too. The chassis of the laptop is made of the same stern stuff as the MacBook Air, just in black, and it looks sleek AF.
Of course, many of you will associate Razer with gaming, and that’s not wrong because they are indeed a gaming brand. However, their Razer Blade Stealth is definitely not a gaming laptop. In fact, you can’t play most games on the Razer Blade Stealth, you need to buy their Razer Core for gaming. If you don’t, the Razer Blade Stealth is an amazing laptop all on its own.
This brings us to price. At $1,799 for the 256GB model, it is slightly more expensive than our reference MacBook Air, and has a slightly smaller screen (12.5” vs 13.3”). However, for that, you get a QHD+ screen (in layman terms, more pixels than Apple’s Retina), and a more powerful processor, as well as a freaking cool keyboard.
Dell Inspiron 14 5000
This is one laptop that is easy to miss. It hardly stands out from the crowd with its looks. If you are willing to carry an actual kilogram around for half the price of a MacBook Air, this laptop is for you. It even has a slightly larger screen, even if it’s short of 4GBs of RAM. Build quality is reasonable, and feels sturdy enough to carry around and maybe even survive a few knocks. Prices start at $799 for the 5459 base model, which has two SODIMM slots so you can probably just stick another 4GB of ram inside and you’re good to go. At an IT show, they might even do it for you for free.
This one is for someone who is on the tightest of all budgets, with the lightest of all loads. Maybe you just blew all your cash on building a new desktop, but you can’t really bring that to school. Well, this 11-inch laptop costs only $349 and weighs about 1kg. With it, you can open a couple of tabs on google chrome, watch some movies, and open a few PDF files. Anything beyond that is going to be a laggy experience, but you as a student maybe that’s all you need. Great portability, decent performance, at a dirt cheap price.
Portable laptops for the Gamers
If you didn’t know, Aftershock is a Singapore brand. If you’re feeling particularly patriotic after Joseph Schooling’s Olympic gold, support local! Even if you don’t the Aftershock S15 is a great laptop.
Many gaming laptops compromise on weight to give you the horsepower you need to drive your games, but the S15 packs the latest Pascal GPUs from NVIDIA at a very reasonable 2.5kgs
Of course, gaming laptops don’t come cheap, but Aftershock, being a small and nimble local company, allows you to personalize what goes into your laptop using their handy configurator, Hard disk, GPU, RAM, Screens are all flexible so you can get the perfect laptop that fits your needs and budget.
The recommended model starts at $2,257, and will go higher depending on your configuration. The reason why it’s so expensive is thanks to the innovations of Pascal, as it comes with a full-sized gtx1060 desktop graphics card under the hood. That’s performance that’s roughly on par with the full-sized desktop gtx970. This means that theoretically, you can play almost any game on this laptop, cooling permitting, including AAA titles. It might even run Crysis. If you don’t understand what I just said in this last paragraph, you probably don’t want to spend 2.2k on this laptop anyway. But if you do, go for it!
Dell Inspiron 15 7000
If you want a slightly cheaper gaming laptop without the cheesy gamer aesthetic, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is a sleek-looking machine that packs a GTX960. This guy will handle most games with finesse but don’t expect it to run the latest and the greatest. At around 2.6kg this is no ultrabook, but you should be able to carry this around in your backpack just fine. Prices start from $1,249 for the cheapest i5 model and go all the way up to cool $2,099 for a decked out i7 model with a 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD combo.
Bonus: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
No student laptop guide will be complete without a mention of the Microsoft Surface. Neither laptop nor tablet, this device is a powerful tool for students. Its 12.5inch screen is in a 3:2 ratio, more similar to an A4 sheet of paper than the traditional 16:9 laptop screen and, coupled with the surface pen it comes with, is the perfect note-taking device. It also has a front-facing camera so if you are too lazy to take down the whole slide during lectures, just snap a picture. Unfortunately, it costs $1,999 for the 256GB, i5 version with 8GB of RAM to match our benchmark MacBook Air, but I feel the price is justified by the utility. The keyboard type cover is usually sold separately, but at IT shows you can get them to give it to you for free.
To really get a feel if this device is for you, find a retail outlet near you can give it a try. Most Challenger outlets and big electronic stores like Courts and Harvey Norman will have display sets.
Do some homework!
There is a whole world of laptops out there of all shapes and sizes. The list above is by no means exhaustive – there are so many other awesome laptops that I just couldn’t fit into one article. If you look hard enough, there will definitely be one laptop out there that’s perfect for you. And whatever you do, don’t buy a MacBook Air if you can help it.
Of course, the best place to see them all in one place is at an IT show, which happens every quarter. The upcoming ones for the second half of 2016 are COMEX from 9 – 11 September and SITEX from 24 – 27 November.
|13-inch MacBook Air||1.6GHz Processor |
128 GB Storage or 256 GB
1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz
Intel HD Graphics 6000
|Lenovo 710s||Up to 6th Generation Intel® Core™ i7 Processor|
Up to 8 GB LPDDR3
Up to 256 GB PCIe SSD
13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS
(mm) : 307 x 214 x 13.9
(inches) : 12.09" x 8.42" x 0.55"
|Starting at 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg)||$1,499|
|Asus Zenbook 305UA||Intel® Core™ i7 6500U Processor|
LPDDR3 1600 MHz SDRAM,
OnBoard Memory 4 GB / 8 GB
13.3" 16:9 IPS FHD (1920x1080)/IPS QHD+(3200 x 1800)
BIOS Booting User Password Protection
HDD User Password Protection and Security
TPM (Trusted Platform Module)
USB Security Lock Cable Solution
|Razer Blade Stealth||Intel Skylake Core i7-6500U CPU, |
dual-core 2.5 GHz(3.1Ghz boost)
Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520
8 GB LPDDR3 1866Mhz
128GB M.2 PCIe (Samsung PM951)
Wireless AC, Intel Bluetooth 4.1
321 mm or 12.6” (w) x 206 mm or
8.1” (d) x 13.1 mm or .52” (h)
|1.25 kg or 2.75 lb||$1,799|
|Dell Inspiron 14 5000||Powered by 6th Generation Intel® Core i5 Processor |
Windows 10 Home
1TB hard drive & Intel® HD Graphics 520
|Starting weight at 4.90 lb (2.22 Kg)||$799|
|ASUS E200||Intel® Cherry Trail Quad-Core Z8300 1.84 GHz Processor|
OnBoard Memory 2 GB
11.6" 16:9 HD (1366x768)
Integrated Intel® HD Graphics
Integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Built-in Bluetooth™ V4.1
Built-in Speakers And Digital Array Microphone
286 x 193.3 x 17.5 cm (WxDxH)
|0.98 kg (with 2 cell battery) (with Polymer Battery)||$349|
|Aftershock S15||6th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-6700HQ Processor (2.60GHz), |
6MB Smart Cache
Intel® HM170 Express Chipset
Dual Channel DDR4
Four 206 Pin SODIMM Sockets , support for DDR4 2133 mhz
Up to 64GB Max with 4 x 16gb modules
Intel® HD Graphics 520 (Integrated on i7-6700HQ)
Intel I7 6700HQ with 100 series chipset
|Starts from 2.49 KG, based on configuraiton||$2,257|
|Dell Inspiron 15 7000||6th Generation Intel® Core™ i5-6300HQ Quad Core (6M Cache, up to 3.2 GHz)||Starting from 2.67Kg / 5.88lb (with touch)||$1,249|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 4||6th Gen Intel Core m3, i5, or i7|
m3 Intel HD graphics 515
• i5 Intel HD graphics 520
• i7 Intel Iris graphics
TPM chip for enterprise security
4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM
802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
8.0 megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video recording
Stereo speakers with Dolby audio
Ambient light sensor • Accelerometer • Gyroscope • Magnetometer
|i5/i7: 1.73 lbs (786g)|
m3: 1.69 lbs (766g)