It's hard to make a convincing argument to spend more, when the current crop of modern desktop replacements can now do the job for under $1300
If there's one thing we've learned from in the last couple of months, it's that it's incredibly difficult to define what makes a "desktop replacement" laptop any more.
The original concept must surely have been a laptop that can do the jobs for which you previously would have needed a powerful PC, but these days it could be argued that half the laptops we see each month fit that bill.
In the July 2010 issue of PC Authority we've tested nine power laptops that have the speed to replace a PC.
For consumers, a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a half-decent graphics chip are invariably enough to give levels of power that were unimaginable a year ago. Multiple fast cores to decode HD video; the graphical grunt to run the latest games; enough of everything to keep the family's computing needs satisfied, with leftovers to analyse proteins or look for ET in the downtime.
This being the case, it's easy to reach the conclusion that the gorgeous Samsung R780 does everything required for a mere $1208. It has a Blu-ray drive and a 17.3in screen, albeit without a Full HD resolution and with a mere two cores in the processor. If you want more, the Acer and Sony are within tantalising reach if you have the budget, and it's tough to make a convincing argument for anything dearer.
But if consumers have it easy, there's a whole other arena of portable computing that still pushes the hardware to the limit - the workstation laptop. The computing demands aren't surprising when you consider the host of tasks being carried out. From CAD/CAM work, 3D rendering and video editing, to medical imaging, seismic analysis, financial modelling, data-mining - every one of these will tax the fastest workstations available.
We made sure we didn't neglect the workstation audience by including Dell's Precision M6500 and Lenovo's ThinkPad T510 systems, both of which are impressive pieces of kit. The Dell is upgradeable to an almost comical degree - as our previous review of the M6400 Covet demonstrates - but even in a lesser configuration it's a staggeringly powerful machine. And the Lenovo, while less imposing and more portable, packs similar power into a fantastically built chassis.
The best part is that the only major components of these workstations that won't filter their way down into the consumer space are the ECC memory and the specialist graphics cards with their accompanying ISV certification. The processors are simply the latest 32nm iteration of the Core i7s inside several other systems here, and laptop makers have repeatedly shown themselves willing to cram 4GB of DDR3 RAM into the cheapest of laptops.
So rather than dwelling on what makes a true desktop replacement, the real question is: how long before we're looking at $1500 consumer laptops that can do everything you want in a blink of the eye?