As we move towards the end of 2013, 4th generation Intel Core processors are becoming more readily available in new machines at a wider range of price points. Since I know a few people are looking for a new laptop this time of year, I thought I would pass along one pretty affordable possibility that is available this week in the United States.
Best Buy (which actually has been improving the quality of their computer offerings somewhat over the past year) is selling a Toshiba Satellite P55-A5312 for $529.99 (rather than the regular price of $629.99).
This particular 15.6” model comes with an Intel Haswell Core i5-4200U processor, 6GB of RAM (in two easily accessible memory slots), a 750GB 5400rpm drive and a 1080p, non-touch screen. You can bump the RAM up to 16GB with two 8GB sticks, and with a little more work (removing about twelve screws that are hidden behind rubber covers) you can replace the hard drive with a SATA III SSD of your choosing. If you want to go more hard-core, you can remove the optical drive and put a second SATA III SSD in its place.
Here is an example of a 1.35V 16GB memory kit that uses the slightly higher speed 1866MHz memory:
Crucial Ballistix Sport SODIMM 16GB Kit (8GBx2) DDR3 1866 MT/s (PC3-14900) CL10 @1.35V 204-Pin Memory BLS2K8G3N18AES4 (Make sure to get 1.35V RAM for this processor)
Here is an example of a 1TB SATA III SSD:
You could also go with a smaller capacity SSD for less money, but I would not go any smaller than 250-256GB, since the smaller capacity SSDs don’t perform as well (especially for writes) and going any smaller than that will really restrict what you can do on the machine.
The Core i5-4200U processor in this machine is the exact same processor that is in the new Microsoft Surface 2 Pro and many mid-range Ultrabooks. It is a dual-core with hyperthreading, and its base clock speed is 1.6GHz, with a Turbo speed of 2.6GHz. It also supports VT-x for better virtualization performance. Having 1920 x 1080 screen resolution (even in a cheaper TN panel) is unusual at this price point. Having 16GB of RAM and one or possibly two, fast SSDs would let you run multiple simultaneous VMs pretty easily. The spec sheet says it weighs 5.3lbs, but several people on the Toshiba forums claim it actually weighs about 4.9lbs. It feels lighter than 5.3lbs to me, and it is pretty thin. The battery life should be about 6 hours after you replace the HDD with an SSD (especially one that supports the DevSleep mode).
Depending on your SSD choice, you could come in at under $1000.00 for a pretty competent machine. This is a decent alternative that you might want to consider. With 16GB of RAM and a decent SSD, it would have plenty of horsepower to run some virtual machines and to do some SQL Server development work.