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Engadget's holiday gift guide 2012: mainstream laptops

Sarah Silbert

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Welcome to the Engadget holiday gift guide! Picking presents for friends and loved ones is never a simple task, and with thousands of options for each category, buying technology can be an especially frustrating experience. We're here to help. Below you'll find today's bevy of curated picks, and you can head back to our hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the holiday season. And don't forget to enter our giveaway -- leave a comment for a chance to nab AT&T's Samsung Exhilarate.

Ah, mainstream laptops. They may not have the same lightweight luster as their Ultrabook brethren, but they pack the beefy hardware to get you and the ones you love through several seasons of work and play. Our top choices below offer Windows 8 (and Mountain Lion) in pretty packages -- and at all spots on the pricing spectrum. Hop past the break for a closer look.

On the cheap

Toshiba Satellite S955


It's not an Ultrabook, but the S955 is 30 percent thinner than the previous-gen S series 15-incher, making it a pretty portable machine given that spacious screen size. Processor options include an AMD A8 APU and an Ivy Bridge Core i5 chip, and storage space tops off at 750GB. In terms of bang for your buck and configuration options, the S955 is hard to beat, and its aluminum lid even lends it a classy vibe.

Key specs: 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, 2.4GHz quad-core A8-4555M processor, 6GB of RAM, 750GB hard drive, AMD Radeon HD 7600G graphics, 0.97 inches thick, 5 pounds.

Price: $650 on Amazon

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Lenovo IdeaPad Y400

The new 14-inch Y400 doesn't offer a touchscreen display -- and its resolution is a modest 1,366 x 768 -- but this machine will satisfy DIY types. It boasts an interchangeable HDD bay which users can swap out for dual graphics chips, extra storage space or an additional fan.

Price: $749 from Lenovo


Sony VAIO E Series

We like the VAIO E's comfortable wrap design -- and the Core i5 CPU, 500GB hard drive and generous selection of ports aren't too shabby, either. Optical media fans will appreciate the DVD drive.

Price: $570 on Amazon


HP Envy dv6t Quad Edition


More of an entertainment powerhouse than your standard Pavilion dv6, this model packs discrete NVIDIA GeForce graphics, 1TB of storage and a Core i7 processor. Beats Audio provides superior sound quality and the spacious keyboard -- complete with a full number pad -- is perfect for gamers. The whole package is a substantial 5.66 pounds, but at least the black aluminum finish is easy on the eyes.

Key specs: 15.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display, 2.4GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, 1.16 inches thick, 5.66 pounds.

Price: $800 from HP

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Sony VAIO S 13

The lightweight magnesium-alloy design (available in four cheery colors) manages to fit in some respectable amenities: a Core i5 CPU, a 750GB hard drive spinning at 7,200 RPM and an optical drive.

Price: $900 on Amazon


Dell Inspiron 13z

At less than an inch thick and weighing 3.97 pounds, this 13-incher is plenty portable. The latest 13z offers a latest-gen Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM with a side of audio chops, thanks to Skullcandy speakers with Waves MaxxAudio 4.

Price: $728 on Amazon

Money is no object

13-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display


Apple has brought the stunning panel to a smaller form factor, sizing down the 15.4-inch notebook's 2,880 x 1,800 display to a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution for this 13.3-inch model. It's every bit as brilliant, though you'll still encounter some app-scaling due to all those extra pixels. Retina aside, this machine is more than capable, with performance on a par with the non-Retina Pro, but with the added benefit of an SSD and a slightly slimmer body.

Key specs: 13.1-inch (2,560 x 1,600) IPS display, 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 0.75 inches thick, 3.57 pounds.

Price: $1,615 on Amazon

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Samsung Series 7 Chronos

It's one step down from the Series 7 Gamer in terms of specs, but this machine is unmistakably top-of-the-line, with a Core i7 CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M graphics, a 15.6-inch (1,600 x 900) display and a brushed aluminum chassis.

Price: $1,100 on Amazon


Dell XPS 15

The XPS 15 promises capable performance, with a Core i5 CPU with 6GB of RAM and NVIDIA GeForce graphics. And, as it rightly should at this price point, the 15.6-inch display boasts a 1080p resolution.

Price: $1,150 on Amazon


DNP Engadget's holiday gift guide 2012 mainstream laptops

Samsung Exhilarate

Ready to take home one of AT&T's hottest smartphones? Today's handset is the LTE-capable Samsung Exhilarate, which runs a dual-core Scorpion CPU and sports a 4-inch Super AMOLED display. The device also has an eco-friendly pedigree, with a casing made from 80 percent recycled material. To enter for your chance to win, be sure to review our full guidelines, then leave a comment below.

The rules:

  • Leave a comment below. Any comment will do. Duplicate entries will be filtered out and discarded, so adding additional comments won't increase your likelihood of winning.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States and the District of Columbia, 18 or older! Sorry, we don't make this rule (we hate excluding anyone).
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One winner will receive one (1) Samsung Exhilarate.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes a contact email. Social media contact details are not carried over into our system.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. AT&T, Samsung and Engadget/AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until December 31st, 2012 at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!
In this article: apple, dell, hgg, hgg 2012, Hgg2012, laptop, laptops, sony
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