Whether you’re looking to surf from an ultralight netbook at your favorite coffee shop, tear into opponents on a gaming PC, or edit family videos on a touch-friendly all-in-one desktop, this year’s crop of laptops and desktops offers a bounty of power and flexibility at prices that have never been more reasonable. We’ve compiled some of the most worthy machines on the market today, along with a few of the most promising upcoming hardware, to highlight some of 2010’s best laptops and desktops.
HP TouchSmart 300
HP has been producing finger-friendly desktops under its TouchSmart moniker for years now, but the native touch features added with Windows 7 truly bring this system into its own. Besides integrating touch even more tightly with built-in software, a reasonable $800 price tag, more refined build quality and 2.8GHz AMD Athlon II X2 240e processor coupled with ATI graphics make the TouchSmart 300 a great value.
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e
Netbooks don’t have to feel cheap. With the X100e, Lenovo has bred real ThinkPad durability and build quality into a machine only a little more expensive than your average netbook. An 11.6-inch display and AMD Neo processor help further differentiate it from the toy-like netbook crowd, but be warned: Battery life does suffer a bit. Expect no more than four hours under typical use.
Sony Vaio CW Series
The name “Sony” doesn’t typically end up in the same sentence with “bargain,” but we think the Vaio CW Series is just that. Even the most bare-bones CW notebooks come equipped with Intel’s new Core i3 processor, dedicated Nvidia GeForce graphics with 256MB on-board memory, a 320GB hard drive, and 2GB of RAM. Wrap it all up in one of six metallic finishes that wouldn’t look out of place at an Audi dealership and you’re looking at one fast, attractive notebook for the cash.
HP Pavilion MS225
While most manufacturers have resigned to borrowing anemic netbook hardware for all-in-one PCs in this price range, HP has managed to outfit the MS225 with a legit AMD Athlon II X2 250u. It’s no speed demon by a long shot, but when you consider the MS225 sweetens the deal with its own 18-inch screen and peripherals, you can’t get much more bang for the buck from an all-in-one.
Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid
Does Apple’s iPad announcement have you wondering whether to buy a tablet or a notebook? Now you can get both in one. Using a separate battery and processor in both the screen and base, the U1 literally splits apart to turn the laptop screen into a dedicated tablet running a custom Linux OS. (Traditional convertible tablets merely swivel around the screen, which keeps all the bulk of the base attached in tablet mode.) Although this CES 2010 announcement hasn’t yet come to fruition, the very concept of it should keep potential PC buyers on their toes this year.
Dell Alienware M11x
Get your game on wherever you go with Alienware’s astoundingly tiny M11x. Although the 11.6-inch screen makes it tiny by gaming standards, Dell claims it will be able to pull off the same feats a 15-inch notebook will, including 720p gaming at over 30 fps, courtesy of the Intel Core 2 Duo and 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 335M inside.
The most affordable MacBook in Apple’s enviable stable got even better in late 2009, making it one of our favorite all-around laptops out there. Sturdy unibody construction gives it unrivaled build quality, while standard Intel Core 2 Duo processors and Nvidia’s GeForce 9400M put some serious pep in its desktop performance. The $999 price tag still seems steep by some standards, but unless you’re on a serious budget, the extra cash pays for a lot of polish.
Gateway One ZX Series
Whether you view touch as a cute novelty or an absolute necessity, Gateway’s One ZX series delivers with one of the most fluid and engrossing touch-screen experiences we’ve encountered. The massive 23-inch 1080p screen and top-notch hardware in the high-end model ($1,400) make it equal parts cinema, gaming rig, media-editing machine and touch toy, while the cheaper 20-inch model tones it all down in favor of a reasonable $720 price tag.