The Best All-Purpose Laptops

Two laptops sporting Intel's new Centrino 2 CPU crash our lineup of the best all-purpose laptops. These models can do it all and are a great choice for most people.

Micro Express JFL9226 Laptop

Our expectations for Micro Express's first laptop with Intel's Centrino 2 CPU were pretty high. Keeping true to form, Micro Express comes through with the JFL9226, a well-rounded and well-priced all-purpose laptop.

The octane-fueled laptop, packing 3GB of RAM and a 2.53-GHz T9400 processor, whipped through our WorldBench 6 tests as if the rest of the all-purpose laptop pack were standing still. Whether burning disc images or encoding video, nothing else could keep pace: The JFL9226 scored an impressive 103 on the WorldBench test suite. The nearest competitor in the category--Sony's VAIO VGN-SZ2791N--scored about 10 points lower while costing almost twice as much ($2499 as of 5/30).

What's more interesting is that the JFL9226 has the same guts--well, CPU and 3GB worth of RAM--as Sony's new 16.4-inch entertainment laptop and still comes out slightly ahead. And it does all this while managing to last about 4.5 hours in battery tests.

In the end, the Micro Express may not be much to look at, but the JFL9226 has the quicks where it counts. By stacking on enough ports, features, and power for the right price, Micro Express has put together another solid laptop.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y510 Laptop

Lenovo's ThinkPad line is synonymous with business class, but the company's newer IdeaPad series tries to fly coach. In fact, Lenovo's sub-$1000 IdeaPad Y510 laptop lands on our best laptops list largely on the strength of its design smarts.

The Y510 has a firm, responsive keyboard and a well-designed case with thick hinges that let you position the display at the best viewing angle. It feels durable like its bigger brother, the ThinkPad.

The Y510 also posted an average mark for battery life, surviving for 3 hours, 42 minutes on a single charge. Interestingly, this Lenovo matches the Acer Aspire 5920-6954 almost step-for-step, despite costing about $100 less.

The Y510's 1200-by-800-pixel resolution display is marred by a screen that's more mirror than monitor. Even after I cranked the display's brightness setting to its maximum, my reflection remained visible because of the glare.

Despite the display dilemma, this model represents a solid effort by Lenovo to court a more consumer-centric audience. The Y510 delivers a nice array of multimedia features for a good price.

Acer Aspire 5920-6954 Laptop

This Acer Aspire laptop looks different without being too flashy. It has a black-and-cream-colored case set off by blue accents, including a big, easy-to-press triangle-shaped shortcut key set in the corner of the keyboard like a high-tech sapphire (hence Acer's so-called "gemstone" designation).

The Acer Aspire is the only sub-$1000 laptop we reviewed that had a dedicated graphics chip--an nVidia GeForce 8600M GS with 256MB of memory. Thus it was the only one powerful enough to properly play the 3D games in our tests such as Doom 3 and Far Cry. Its frames-per-second rates weren't the highest we've recorded for a laptop, but are more than enough for smooth, glitch-free play.

Equipped with a 1.66-GHz Core 2 Duo T5450 and 2GB of memory, the Aspire 5920-6954 earned a solid WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 70, the second best on the budget laptops chart.

The cost of applications will make the Acer Aspire 5920-6954 spill significantly over $1000, but if you can afford to splurge a bit, it brings a little extra panache to your home office.

Lenovo ThinkPad R61 Laptop

The Lenovo R61 is full of nice features you don't usually find in a laptop, such as the ThinkLight, an LED that illuminates the keyboard. The R61's 14.1-inch screen and 5.8-pound weight make it an ideal travel companion, too. For a work-oriented notebook decked out with all the trimmings, this model is hard to beat.

The 2.2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7500-equipped R61 performed admirably in our speed tests, with a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 80. The R61's 3-hour, 19-minute tested battery life is good.

Fujitsu Lifebook A6120 Laptop

The Fujitsu LifeBook A6120 has most of the features you'd expect from a well-rounded machine--except good battery life.Regrettably, the A6120's tested battery life was a meagre 2 hours, 36 minutes. That's a far cry from the standard of 6 hours, 19 minutes (with extended battery in place) set by HP's Pavilion dv2660se.

The Lifebook A6120's spill-resistant keyboard has a finger-friendly texture, unlike Panasonic's ToughBook CF-W7, whose water-resistant treatment left the keys unpleasantly slippery. The A6120 offers good key spacing and a reasonably solid feel, but its keys bow a little too much under pressure.

The A6120 doesn't win the laurel crown in any particular category, but it gets enough right at the right price to rate as a good (not great) notebook.

Dell XPS M1330 Laptop

The sub-5-pound Dell XPS laptop came with an extra-cost red lid, an optional LED-backlit display, and integrated mobile broadband. All of those trimmings add up, however: A tricked-out XPS M1330 laptop is expensive.

This complete overhaul of the 12-inch XPS M1210 has a bigger screen yet weighs less, and it's no taller than its predecessor because of new dropped hinges. One of the nicest features is its edge-to-edge keyboard; though the keys don't depress far, their large size makes typing comfortable. One heads-up: The M1330 lacks a modem port. While such an omission is not surprising on a notebook of this size, it's still something to be aware of.

Performance, though, was superior. Equipped with a 2.2-GHz Core Duo T7500 chip and 2GB of RAM, our review machine produced a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 82. We saw very good results upgrading from the standard four-cell battery to a nine-cell unit. Though it accounts for half a pound of the laptop's weight, the better battery lasted 7 minutes shy of 5 hours--90 minutes longer than the category average.

Sony VAIO VGN-FW198U / H Laptop

The Sony VAIO laptop's screen will probably turn more heads than its horsepower--or its speakers--will.

Sony's premium entertainment laptop, the VGN-FW198U/H is also built for business. Thanks to a 2.53-GHz Core 2 Duo T9400 processor and a hefty 4GB of RAM, the laptop posts solid performance numbers. A score of 94 in Worldbench 6 doesn't make for the fastest lap around the track, but the unit keeps pace with Sony's more compact VGN-SZ791N.

In short, if you're looking for a fast notebook with the latest in beautiful, functional screens, this Windows Vista Ultimate-equipped unit delivers the goods.

Sony VAIO VGN-FZ180E / B

Sony's VAIO VGN-FZ180E/B delivers a big, bright screen, weighs very little, and has great battery life.

The VAIO turned in a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 75, but the laptop couldn't even launch--much less smoothly run--Far Cry or Doom 3 in our tests. The keyboard feels a little cheaply made, maybe because the keys are so flat and polished, but the layout is fine. With practice, I got used to the slippery feel.

If you want a top-notch multimedia laptop, look to a Dell Inspiron or a Toshiba Satellite. For a nice work laptop with a great 15.4-inch screen, though, this VAIO fills the bill.


Thanks to its Intel 2.5-GHz Core 2 Duo T9300 CPU (a Penryn-class processor that we see in some desktop-replacement notebooks) and its nVidia 8400GS graphics card, the VAIO SZ smoked our WorldBench 6 performance tests with a score of 94. Among all-purpose notebooks, even Lenovo's ThinkPad R61 and Fujitsu's LifeBook A6120 couldn't match that number.

The 13.3-inch screen (with crisp 1280-by-800-pixel-resolution) is vibrant and easy to view from various angles. Though not as gorgeous as its sibling, the backlit VAIO VGN-TZ295N, the VGN-SZ791N does the job. The display's aluminum backing gives the notebook a substantial feel, as does the smooth metallic wrist rest.

The laptop's worst feature is its mouse. Huge gaps act as trenches between the loosely fitting left- and right-mouse buttons and the case.

Fujitsu Lifebook S6510

The Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 is a pricey little laptop, and it's slow and a bit limited in features compared with the competition. Unless its weight and screen size suit you perfectly, you should pass on this Windows Vista Business laptop--you can get a better-performing portable for the same price.

A newer model in Fujitsu's thin-and-light stable, the S6510 weighs 3.8 pounds, including a reasonably bright 1280-by-800-pixel 14.1-inch screen. The S6510's battery life was decent. The main battery endured for 3.7 hours in our tests, about 10 minutes longer than the average of 3.6 hours attained by 14 currently tested all-purpose notebooks. We didn't test the two-battery configuration, but for that setup Fujitsu estimates a total of 6.2 hours of operation.

With its reasonable weight and a screen just small enough to clear a reclining airplane seat back, the Fujitsu LifeBook S6510's physical attributes will please all but the most persnickety laptop fan. If getting maximum performance bang for your buck is just as important to your business, however, keep looking.

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