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Mid-range laptop buying advice

What you need to know when buying a mid-range laptop

All sorts of laptops are available for less than £1,000, from ultraportables to big-screen entertainment-focused machines. Choosing the right one depends on whether you want something for work or leisure – or both – and if it needs to be portable enough to take on your travels.

For office use a decent keyboard is essential, while road warriors will prioritise long battery life and light weight. It’s also worth considering the screen quality if it’s to be used in a variety of environments – the trade-off for the rich colours of a glossy panel tends to be distracting shine. Anti-reflective coatings can provide a suitable compromise between matt and gloss finishes.

If you’d rather have power than portability, a desktop replacement may be more suitable. A larger chassis affords more space for the fitting of high-performance components and can allow for better heat management, keeping the audible whirring of fans to a minimum.

Ultraportable laptops with 11- to 13in screens are becoming increasingly popular in this price range.

Intel is sponsoring laptop makers to build thin-and-light Windows PCs under the Ultrabook moniker. Such laptops are relatively fast, with low-power dual-core processors and solid-state storage.

You’re unlikely to find more than 128GB of solid-state storage in a sub-£1,000 laptop. You can supplement this provision with an external hard drive; plump for one of the latest USB 3.0 models to take advantage of the faster transfer speeds.

For hard-disk-based home-entertainment laptops, look for at least 500GB for storing your photos, video, music and more.

Intel’s Core i3/i5/i7 processors have become the standard for most laptops, particularly ultraportables. AMD also makes mobile processors, which offer faster integrated graphics than Intel’s current Sandy Bridge generation of Core processors (faster mobile Ivy Bridge chips may be here by the time you read this) but can’t match them for application performance and energy efficiency. If you have a low budget, buying an AMD-based laptop may be the cheaper option.

If you’re more serious about gaming, you’ll need something with a little more grunt inside, such as nVidia’s GeForce GT 555M or an AMD Radeon M graphics processor.

Go to Group test: What's the best laptop for under £1,000?

mid-range Laptops buying advice

Conclusion

Ultraportable laptops often trade storage and other key elements for portability, but not so the Samsung NP530U4B. Not only does this laptop sport a 500GB hard drive with a 16GB SSD built-in, but it also has an optical drive. It’s not the most portable Ultrabook we’ve seen, though, and it runs too slow and too hot for our tastes.

Impressive on paper, but unable to make the grade, is HP’s Pavilion dv7-6101sa. This laptop has a huge 1TB hard drive and offers reasonable graphics performance, but it disappointed in WorldBench.

The two Toshiba Z830-series laptops are nigh on identical, differentiated mainly by their choice of processor and OS. Inevitably, this has a knock-on effect on performance and pricing, too. The Satellite came out on top in our tests, although the Portégé, which runs Windows 7 Professional, may appeal to business users.

The HP Folio 13 is a smart ultraportable and would be even more attractive if it was £200 cheaper. It has good battery life and relatively quick speed, but also a reflective display.

The Asus N55SF-S2276V is the clear winner in our group test, although this model has now been discontinued. However, the N55SL-S2012V is available for the same price with a smaller hard disk, and any similarly specified N55 variant is worth investigating.

But if you’re looking to buy the best laptop under £1,000 today, we’d advise seeking out one out with an as-yet unreleased Intel Ivy Bridge processor. These should introduce even better battery life and improved graphics. Alternatively, if you’re after a bargain, use those chips’ arrival as a means to seek a discounted price on any Intel laptop with last year’s Sandy Bridge processor inside.

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