You're likely shopping for a 17-inch laptop because you really need a desktop to run intensive graphics apps or Crysis, but you want a somewhat portable system you can lug to the couch, the dining room table, or occasionally to the office. Compared with your standard 15-inch laptop, the added screen real estate gives you a larger pallet with which to work in Photoshop and makes games and movies more immersive. The larger chassis also allows for more powerful components, from quad-core CPUs to dual graphics cards and hard drives.
Of the 17-inch desktop replacements we're reviewed in the last year, I present our current favorites.
General home use
We just reviewed Toshiba's latest 17-inch Satellite, the X205-SLi4, and it would have scored a lot higher if not for the existence of the Gateway P-6831FX. This fixed configuration Gateway model is one the best laptop deals we've seen in a long time. It hits the low $1,349 price point in part by the unusual pairing of a relatively low-end Core 2 Duo T5450 processor with a high-end GeForce 8800 graphics card. It also serves up 3GB of RAM and a big 250GB hard drive, which are common specs found on much pricier systems. For pure bang for the buck, there isn't a better deal going among 17-inch laptops.
Apple is still the designer's choice, and its venerable MacBook Pro just received a minor but appreciated update that includes Intel's latest Penryn processors while borrowing the MacBook Air's gesture controls for the touch pad.
The Qosmio has long been one of our favorite multimedia machines, and the latest, the Qosmio G45-AV690, offers up home theater goodies that include an HDMI port, a 1080p resolution, an external TV tuner and remote, and media controls including not one but two jogwheels. Unfortunately, now is a bit of an awkward time for Toshiba; this otherwise well-appointed Qosmio is saddled with an HD DVD drive, which now is basically a grossly overpriced DVD burner. Hopefully, we'll see a Blu-ray-equipped Qosmio soon. In the meantime, Toshiba ought to follow Gateway's lead; it's offering a $200 discount on its HD DVD-equipped P171XL FX.
Dell's XPS M1730 is hard to beat as a mobile gaming unit. It offered top-of-the-line components when we reviewed it last October, and it's been updated to include the latest Penryn offerings, including the Core 2 Duo Extreme X9000 chip and dual GeForce 8800M GTX cards. The case is a little creaky, but perhaps the programmable LEDs that abound will distract you from that fact. The unique GamePanel LCD above the keyboard is a nice touch, and you can, of course, choose to outfit the lid in one of a handful of colors. Want to go cheaper? Check out the straightforward Asus G2S. And if you want to go totally over the top, Xtreme Notebooks has a system to sell you. Its 917V Accelerator packs in a quad-core desktop chip inside a custom-painted case (ours featured stars and bars) for right around $5,000.
Of course, the 17-inch screen is widely the most popular size for a true desktop replacement, but Acer recently announced it'll soon be unleashing 16- and 18-inch models. And for a machine that's closer to an all-in-one desktop a la iMac, be sure to check out a pair of 20-inch behemoths, Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion HDX and Dell's XPS M2010.
If you're eyeing a 17-inch (or larger) laptop that we haven't tested, please let me know here, and we'll do our best to get it in for a review.