In search of the perfect laptop PC

When buying a new laptop, your main concern, even above the price, is what do you actually want to use your new machine for?

Are you after a machine to just browse the Internet and carry out general office-related activities such as word processing? Or are you after a gaming beast that's going to eat the latest games for breakfast?

Thinking things through

There's also a third option... the truly mobile, ultra-portable, small form-factor notebook, that's purely designed for mobility and low power consumption. And while we're at it, there's a fourth option... the good-for-nothing machine that you'll buy because you haven't properly thought things through.

The top end of the market is split quite evenly between the gaming beast and the ultra portable, but you'll end up paying through the nose for both. Productivity laptops make up the lower end of the spectrum, and are consequently the cheapest of the bunch.

But don't necessarily discount these shining workhorses just because they're cheap - think 'value'. With ever-falling CPU prices you can now pick up a dual core laptop for very little. So even your budget-priced laptop may work out pretty well as a mobile media machine.

Things aren't just changing in the terms of processors - entire computing concepts are being put to the test. Take the concept of the expensive ultra portable. PCs such as the Dialogue Flybook and those in the high-end of Sony's Vaio TZ range - priced well over the £1,300 mark - could see their market shaken in the next few months, particularly if the Asus Eee 701 performs well.

Gaming solutions

One thing is perfectly clear: if you're looking for a laptop that's going to be able to run with the latest gaming herd then you're not going to be looking at something that will sit comfortably on your lap. Your average gaming notebooks start at around the 17-inch mark and go up from there.

You can even get SLI-enabled machines with two beefy graphics cards sitting inside, just waiting to chew up games - and your battery life with them. Let's face it, these are simply desktop replacement systems. However, if you don't have enough space in your life for a full desktop rig, then this could be the answer to your PC gaming needs.

At the moment, the newest mobile GPU is the DirectX 10-ready 8700M-GT, the card powering Rock's new HD DVD-equipped portable, the Xtreme 770. It delivers a decent 3DMark 06 score and should be enough to get you gaming without too many constraints (though obviously, filling up the Rock's high-def 19-inch screen is going to be a tough task).

The high-end performance of these next-generation GPUs is somewhat in question though, as despite having DX10 capabilities (limited as they are in DX10 rendering) they still fall short of the DX9 performance of the last-gen Nvidia 7950 GTX mobile chip.

The sweet spot for laptops is inevitably the cost. If you can find the right laptop to suit your needs at the right price then you're literally quids in.