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Explainer: The best laptop gifts of the season

  • Whether you’re buying for a spouse, a parent, a child or yourself, laptops make great gifts. Even if your recipient already owns a portable notebook, she may need a new one that is faster, lighter or better at media playback.

    We’ve gathered together the 10 notebooks that make the best gifts, based on the user’s needs. From laptops with over 10 hours of battery life and great bargain notebooks to sweet gaming rigs, we’ve got you covered.

  • Ultimate Ultraportable: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch ($1,549)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Just like its 2010-era predecessor, this ultraportable is wonderfully thin (0.11 to 0.68 inches) and light (3 pounds), and it boots in just 17 seconds. But the new Air ups the ante with a backlit keyboard and a faster 1.7-GHz Intel Core i5 processor. The notebook is also quite versatile, thanks to a higher-res 1440 x 900-pixel display and the new Thunderbolt port for connecting the laptop to a growing number of super-high-speed peripherals. The Air still has a spacious 4.1 x 3-inch glass touchpad, and new multitouch gestures let you get the most out of OS X Lion.

    MacBook Air 13-inch Review

  • Budget: Dell Inspiron 14z ($599)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Dell's low-priced configuration of the Inspiron 14z offers more than seven hours of endurance in a sleek package. For less than $600, this 14-inch system is a highly affordable gift for college kids, or even parents. For an extra dose of style, spend an extra $54 for the red chassis and backlit keyboard.

    Dell Inspiron 14z Review

  • Best Keyboard Ever: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 ($1219 and $150 Battery Slice)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    The notebook to buy for yourself or the mobile professional on your list, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 redefines the business ultraportable. This 3.7-pound notebook delivers a speedy second-generation 2.5-GHz Core i5-2520M processor, a bright 350-nit screen, a 7,200-rpm hard drive, a backlit keyboard and a rugged chassis that’s built to survive falls. The island-style “smile-shaped” keys deliver the best typing experience we’ve ever had on a notebook. The all-black chassis is made entirely from a soft-touch rubberized material and is 0.8 inches at its thinnest point. Just be sure to get the optional $150 slice battery to get 8 hours of runtime.

    Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

  • Long Distance Stunner: HP Pavilion dm4t ($579)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    A budget laptop that doesn’t look the part, the HP Pavilion dm4t has a dark aluminum body, an island-style keyboard and a fingerprint reader — all the hallmarks of HP’s premium laptops. Its Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB hard drive will let you tackle pretty much anything, and the battery lasts more than seven hours on a charge.

    HP dm4t Review

  • Don't Call It a Netbook: HP Pavilion dm1 ($479)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    An affordable ultraportable, the HP Pavilion dm1 weighs just 3.5 pounds, but it sports an innovative soft-touch Imprint finish, with the design printed into the rubber so it won’t wear off with use. Starting at $399 ($479 as reviewed), the laptop features an 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display and up to 8GB of RAM. Consumers will be able to choose from either an AMD Fusion processor or an Intel Core i3 CPU — the latter of which will include an external optical drive. HP’s Premier Experience software improvements includes the Launch Box, which provides shortcuts to applications via icons in the taskbar.

    HP Pavilion dm1 Review

  • Bang for Your Buck: Toshiba Satellite L655-S5161X ($579)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    A great budget notebook gift for less-mobile users, the Toshiba Satellite L655 has a bright 15.6-inch screen, an accurate touchpad and a numeric keypad for easy data entry. With a starting price under $600, the L655 is available in both AMD and Intel versions, though we recommend configuring with an Intel Core i3 CPU to get the most for your money.

    Toshiba Satellite L655-S5161 Review

  • Gamer Heaven: Alienware M17x R3 ($2099)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    One of the few notebooks to ever receive a perfect rating from LAPTOP, the latest M17x R3 features an Intel quad-core Sandy Bridge CPU, AMD switchable graphics and a Samsung SSD. On top of that, the M17x has a built-in WirelessHD transmitter, so if its 17-inch 1,080p display isn’t large enough, you can beam Blu-ray movies, games and anything else you want wirelessly across the room to a big-screen TV. And let’s not forget the cool-as-heck backlit keyboard.

    Alienware M17x R3 Review

  • Awesomest Audio: Dell XPS 15 ($1,488)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    Dell's XPS 15 is the ultimate gift for mobile media mavens, featuring Intel’s second-generation Core Series processors, Nvidia GeForce GT 500 series graphics, a beautiful full HD screen and the best audio we've heard from a notebook, courtesy of JBL Speakers and Waves MaxxAudio. And your videos aren't the only things that will look good as the XPS 15 features a sleek aluminum deck and lid.

    Dell XPS 15 Review

  • Epic Endurance: Sony VAIO S ($1,479 and $75 Battery Slice)

    Courtesy of Laptop

    A premium ultraportable gift for mobile professionals, students, or anyone who wants top-of-the-line performance in a lightweight package, the Sony VAIO S is available with a host of premium features. Though the notebook starts at $899, we recommend the hi-res 1,600 x 900 screen, more powerful AMD graphics, and the $75 battery slice. With the slice attached, the VAIO S can go unplugged for more than 10 hours!

    Sony VAIO S Review

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