The first Intel Core i3 notebook for under $500 kicks off the pre- Sandy Bridge sales as retailers get rid of old stock to make way for 2nd gen Core processor notebooks.
They were meant to happen in late January/February: sales to clear old notebooks from retail shelves to accommodate the arrival of Sandy Bridge -powered notebooks. But when the first Sandy Bridge (2nd generation Core) laptops turned up with a flaw in their chipsets everything was put on hold as Intel stopped some shipments and asked retailers to wait for new batches.
Buyers were thrown in limbo and prices of notebooks with 1st generation Intel Core processors even rose again after dropping in some late December / early Jan sales, amid uncertainty over how long it would take Intel to restock the market with 2nd gen Intel Core processors. But Intel moved quickly to supply rectified chipsets and the second wave of Sandy Bridge -powered notebooks is now reaching Australian retailers. Most expect their shelves to be teeming with Sandy Bridge machines by mid-April, which means they have to start clearing the decks of older, first generation gear.
As a result, would-be buyers of notebooks are facing a win-win situation: get a bargain on still quite good 1st generation Core machine now or spend a bit more and enjoy the benefits of a laptop with 2nd generation Core technology.
The first big bargain is a 15.6in eMachines notebook now being sold for $499
at Officeworks (pictured above). This is quite astonishing value for the $400-$499 price bracket, in which full-sized 15.6in notebooks have traditionally harboured feeble processors like Celerons and AMD's V series, the kind that worked up a sweat just opening an email and made Atom-powered netbooks look good. An Intel Core i3 is a serious processor, and while it does not have the tricks of an Intel Core i5 or the power of a Core i7, it will still deliver good mainstream performance. The eMachines notebook comes with 2GBs of RAM, which is the minimum Windows 7 needs to work properly, and a 320GB hard drive. But, all in all, you are now getting a real computer with acceptable performance in a price bracket normally reserved for computers with serious compromises.
The notebooks & tablets buyer for Officeworks, Ben Fermaner, told APC that the eMachines notebook was not strictly on sale. He said $499 was simply the new pricepoint for that model. Fermaner also said that Officeworks would not be clearing notebooks with first generation Core processors, but would keep on selling them alongside those with Sandy Bridge processors, when the latter hit in force by mid April. The first generation Core laptops would just be priced lower, he said, an indication that value-for-money in notebooks is going to skyrocket as the older machines drop into lower price brackets.
1ST GENERATION VS 2ND GENERATION CORE
So do you wait for Sandy Bridge (2nd Generation Core) notebooks or start taking advantage of bargains with 1st generation Core processors? The answer is simple: it depends on what's more important to you.
Advantages of notebooks with Sandy Bridge (2nd Generation Core) processors
The graphics capabilities of Sandy Bridge processors are an order of magnitude better than those of 1st generation core processors. This means that a basic notebook with a Sandy Bridge processor is really the equivalent of a previous generation notebook with a discrete graphics card. But even an allrounder notebook with a Sandy Bridge processor and
a discrete graphics card will benefit from the enhanced graphics capabilities of the 2nd generation Core processors. Among the benefits for all Sandy Bridge buyers will be:
- Better video: Basic notebooks (with a Sandy Bridge processor but without a discrete graphics card) will now be able to handle quite serious graphics, letting you easily play and edit HD video and enjoy better video chatting. Sandy Bridge also comes with Intel Clear Video HD Technology, which improves playback of 1080p high definition Blu-ray or web streaming content. Basic notebooks with Sandy Bridge processors will be the equivalent of
previous generation allround notebooks with a low-end discrete graphics card.
- Insanely good video encoding and transcoding: If you like to play with home movies, Sandy Bridge will be a must, thanks to a built-in feature on the processors called Quick Sync video. This will encode and transcode video (ie, from one format to another) at blinding speed. In our tests video transcoding was even faster than on previous generation notebooks
with high-end graphics cards.
- Play PC games at low to medium detail: Without a discrete graphics card to help them, first generation Core processors were unable to play intensive PC games at watchable detail and frame rates. The new Sandy Bridge processors will play games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare at passable quality (if not highest speed and detail). While very intensive games such as Crysis are still beyond the capabilities of the Sandy Bridge onboard graphics alone, just being able to play most PC games on a basic notebook is a major advance.
- Light and slim: Notebooks with Sandy Bridge processors that won't be accommodating a discrete graphics card can be made lighter, slimmer or smaller.
- Longer battery life: Both basic and allrounder notebooks with Sandy Bridge processors will benefit from longer battery life. Most allrounder notebooks (which come with a discrete graphics card) will have switching technology, in which the system switches to the card only when heavy duty graphics crunching is needed, thereby prolonging battery life. An example is the Samsung QX412, a laptop we think is a great example of the 2nd generation Core machines.
So, in short, if you want notebooks with dramatically improved video handling capabilities, which can play most PC games at low-to-medium detail and which are likely to have a longer battery life (and possibly be slimmer and lighter), Sandy Bridge is for you. In general, we expect a 2nd generation Core notebooks to be priced around $200 more than the equivalent 1st generation processors.
Advantages of notebooks with 1st Generation Core processors
Price, price, and price. And cheaper gaming.
Stay in touch with great deals in the pre-Sandy Bridge sales by following our Notebook Hunter service. If you have any questions our Notebook Hunter experts will try and answer them in the Discussion forum on our newly launched Facebook Notebook Hunter page.
- Save money if all you want to run is productivity applications: First generation Core basic notebooks (without a graphics card) won't be very good with HD video and games but will still have more than enough performance to whip through most of today's common computing tasks. Basic first generation notebooks are going to drop down several price brackets. That first Core i3 notebook to go under $500 from Officeworks is a great example.
- Save money if you want to run games at full blast. Sandy Bridge will allow games to play better on basic notebooks, but won't run them at full detail and framerates. That still requires a discrete graphics card. In that case, a first generation Core allrounder notebook with a discrete top-end 1GB graphics card which has dropped in price will still be a great option. Notebooks with first generation Core i5s and Core i7s will also drop into lower price brackets, so get ready for Core i5s in the $600-$700 bracket and Core i7s for less than $800. A first generation Core notebook with a Core i7 processor and a high-end 1GB graphics card that lets you play Crysis at medium-to-high detail for between $800 and $900 will be a sensational deal, Sandy Bridge or not.