Halloween has yet to arrive, but according to major retailers, the holiday shopping season is well under way. Head to your local big box electronics store, and you'll encounter new laptops that were granted shelf space at the beginning of the month.
We've lined up 20 such models for our holiday retail laptop review roundup. We're working our way up from the bottom, starting at a bargain basement $500 model and passing through many mainstream models on our way to a fully loaded $1,849 Sony Vaio. We've completed the entry-level quartet and have a clear favorite: the Acer Aspire 5735-4624.
Winner: When we reviewed the Aspire 5735 two weeks ago, Best Buy was running a promotion that knocked $100 off the price. Sadly, that discount is no longer offered, but this 15.6-inch laptop is still a bargain at its $499 list price. For starters, it offers similar specs and performance to models from Dell and Gateway that cost $150 more, and more muscle than an AMD-based Compaq that costs $50 more. And while it might not appeal to everyone, the extra-wide 16:9 aspect ratio screen makes movie viewing a treat.
Any entry-level laptop must cut some corners, and the Acer is no different. Still, we didn't find any deal breakers here. The plastic chassis flexes a bit, the screen resolution isn't as fine as that of some smaller displays, and the 16:9 aspect ratio display makes the laptop a bit of a wide body for daily travel. The mouse buttons are clacky, and the keyboard feels cramped because it must make room for a separate number pad. And some features commonly found on (admittedly more expensive) multimedia laptops had to be jettisoned, including discrete graphics, an HDMI port, and a Webcam.
Like the other two Intel-based laptops in this review group, the Acer Aspire 5735 foregoes a Core 2 Duo processor for a lower-end but still dual-core Pentium T3200 part. Compared with the Sony Vaio NR430, our favorite entry-level laptop for the back-to-school shopping season earlier this year, the Aspire 5735 provides a slight bump up in performance.
Like other Intel-based models we reviewed last quarter, the Vaio NR430 featured the 1.86GHz Pentium Dual-Core T2390 CPU. The Acer and its 2.0GHz Pentium Dual-Core T3200 proved to be 9 percent faster on our multitasking and Photoshop benchmarks, and 6 percent faster on iTunes. The Sony, however, wins on battery life.
Runner-up: Coming in a close second is the Gateway T-6330U, which costs $649 but trumps the Aspire 5735 by serving up more memory and hard drive space, an HDMI port, a Webcam, and a more portable 14.1-inch screen.