Whilst laptop specs are steadily increasing year on year, screen resolutions are failing miserably to keep up. Even high end models are unable deliver full HD 1080p panels, with manufacturers – and consumers seemingly – content to tread water, with typical resolutions of 1366×768 for a 15 inch screen.
Perhaps the recent release of the 2012 Macbook Pro with its 2880×1800 retina display will push manufacturers into raising their game over the next few months, but in the meantime finding a 1080p laptop with a decent price tag is much more of a chore than you’d think.
The first question to ask when pondering this lack of progress is why? Well price is the obvious answer and in order to make decent margins on laptop sales manufacturers need to cut a few corners on specifications.
Screen resolution is an obvious first port of call, with most users not able to notice or care about the distinct lack of DPI their laptop delivers. It’s not all bad of course, these little sacrifices add up to big savings and without them the budget laptop market wouldn’t exist.
Even so, as with all technologies price falls over time, and a 1080p standard for laptop screens seems way over due. Smart phone resolutions (I’m looking at you iPhone 4s) having increased massively over the past couple of years and are now sporting resolutions which almost match those of laptops whilst having screens a quarter of the size.
The other factor to consider is usability. Is more always better? Yes it’s all very well for the Macbook, with its customized OS designed to cope with such a massive leap in pixel count, but try running a Windows laptop at that resolution and it won’t be long before you’re reaching for the aspirin and contemplating how long before you permanently ruin your eyes.
Until the software catches up, retina display scales of resolution are just too high for a typical laptop and in all honesty even 1080p on a 15 inch panel is pushing it on Windows 7. Squinting at tiny icons, and fiddling with DPI setting and text sizes will be in order to render your laptop usable for anything more than five minutes.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a higher resolution means a lot more pixels. Whilst a 1366×768 display has just over a million pixels, 1920×1080 has over two million. These additional pixels create extra work for the GPU so if you’re looking for a laptop to handle games and other 3D applications that extra pixel count is going to cause a serious dent in performance.
So, if your in the market for a 1080p laptop you’ll need to quickly ask yourself a few questions; Do I really need a full HD screen? Well if you’re after a big 17 incher then yes I wouldn’t go for anything less. If you looking at 15 inches then the answer is less clear – for those with 20/20 vision and a cavalier attitude towards long term eye care then yes 1080p is OK at 15 inches.
For others 1600×900 or 1680×1050 is the perfect compromise and one which the market is currently catering for, and moving towards as the standard. Anything less than that is too low unless keeping the budget down is your primary concern.
With all that said, let’s take a look at a few of the best 1080p laptops available at the moment.
Dell XPS X15Z-7502ELS
Let’s start with with a good all-rounder that comes in on budget and with a decent spec to boot. This Dell XPS sports a full 1080p 15.6 inch screen. To back that up it also has a dedicated graphics chip – the Nvidia Geforce GT 525M. The Geforce chip is leagues ahead of the typical onboard graphics you often find in laptops and will ensure smooth HD video playback, although it’s 3D performance is decidedly mid-range and will begin to struggle with modern games at full resolution.
The rest of the Dell’s innards are decent as well – an Intel i7-2640M running at 2.8GHz, 6gb of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a full 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium means that you won’t be skimping on other components in order to get a 1080p display.
Being a Dell you can also be assured of decent build quality and after sales support. Although like most Dells this laptop is fairly utilitarian in design, it’s certainly not ugly and also enjoyed the caveat of being the thinnest 15 inch available when it was released.
Next up we have this offering from ASUS. It has the same screen size (15.6 inch) and resolution as the Dell above, and comes in at a similar price. However it has a few differences under the hood which make this laptop an interesting alternative. First of all the ASUS is packing an Intel i7-2670QM processor. Whilst this has a slower clock-speed than the Dell it is a true quad-core meaning in real world use its faster. By a fair margin.
As well as that the Asus also has a more powerful graphics solution – another Nvidia, but this time the Geforce GT 630M. Whilst it’s not going to set the world alight, especially compared to full size graphics cards you’d find in a gaming desktop it will still deliver solid frame rates in modern games, although you won’t be able to max out the graphics.
Other specs of note : a 750GB hard drive and 6gb of RAM. It’s not the thinnest, or the lightest. But if your looking for maximum bang for buck then this Asus delivers.
Sony VAIO F2 Series VPCF232FX/B
Whilst Sony aren’t the cheapest brand on the market you can be assured of great build quality and solid performance. This VAIO laptop is no exception, and in this case the price is pretty competitive as well.
The key difference between this laptop and the two above is the screen size which is slightly unusual measuring in at 16.4 inches. Although not a common size it is just about perfect for a 1080p display on a Windows machine – big enough that on-screen icons and text are clear and readable, but not so big that the laptop itself becomes too large and clunky.
In terms of specs the VAIO sits somewhere in between the Dell and the ASUS. It is armed with the faster i7-2670QM quadcore that is found inside the ASUS, but is only packing the slower GT 520M graphics that the Dell sports. Memory is where the VAIO loses out in the specification department with only 4GB, although in reality this is more than enough for the vast majority of tasks.
One thing to note is that Sony are notorious for pre-loading their laptops with all sorts of bloated software which can hamper performance and cause headaches so be aware that you’ll probably find yourself spending a few minutes uninstalling it all when you boot up for the first time.
Toshiba Qosmio F755-3D320
Our next contender is the Toshiba Qosmio. Qosmio? The obsession with jibberish amongst electronic manufacturers continues. Anyway the F755-3D320 has a trick up it’s sleeve that separates it from the 1080p competition in that it has a 3D display. And it works without 3D glasses. Somehow Toshiba have managed this feat without skimping (too much) on the rest of the components.
Inside is a 2.4 GHz Intel Core i5-2430M dual-core processor (so the slowest of the bunch, but not by much), a GeForce GT 540M, 6GB of memory and a 750GB hard drive. Hardly a powerhouse of a laptop but not too shabby either.
Whether you think 3D is the future or just a gimmick, the way the Qosmio handles the effect is unarguably pretty nifty. The way it works allows 2D and 3D to run simultaneously, in separate windows. The built-in web cam tracks the users eyes so the effect remains ummm, effective, from whichever angle you look at the screen.
I should point out that whilst the screen on the Qosmio is true 1080p HD (it’s another 15.6 inch screen by the way), in 3D it will scale down the resolution to 1366 x 768. This is par for the course however with even top end graphics cards unable to display true 3D at anything much above 720p. If you are after a laptop for watching movies on, this might be just the one for you.
HP Pavilion DV6-6B51NR
OK this HP Pavilion is a smidge over budget but it makes the short list thanks to the spec sheet which warrants giving it a look. For an extra few dollars more than the competition you got a lot more kit.
Again we have a 1920×1080 15.6 inch screen. The Intel Quad Core i7-2670QM Processor @ 2.20 GHz is complimented with a hefty 8B of RAM, a massive 1TB hard drive and graphics are supplied courtesy of a 2GB Radeon HD 6770M. On top of that you get a Blu-Ray drive and that Beats Audio thing that HP keep banging on about.
For the price this laptop is generously equipped, whether it’s worth the extra pennies is up to you, but if you tend to keep laptops for a few years at a time before upgrading then the HP Pavilion will see you for a far old while before it begins to slip in to obsolescence .