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Is the 17" MacBook Pro the best deal for a desktop replacement laptop?

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Apple's new 17" MacBook Pro is packed to the gills with features, but at $2,799, is it a better deal than its Windows-based counterparts? We pitted Cupertino's new dream machine against two similarly-configured Windows laptops to see which of the three systems offers the most byte for your buck.

Dell
XPS M1730
Sony
VAIO VGN-AW190
Apple
MacBook Pro 17"
Price
$2,584
$2,344
$2,799
Weight
10 lbs.
8.8 lbs.
6.6 lbs.
Width (at thickest)
1.9"
1.4"
0.98"
Screen
17" 1920x1200 widescreen LCD
18.4" 1920x1080 widescreen LCD with LED backlight
17" 1920x1200 widescreen LCD with LED backlight
Processor
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.6GHz dual-core processor with 800MHz front side bus
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz dual-core processor with 1066MHz front side bus
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66GHz dual-core processor with 1066MHz front side bus
Memory
4GB DDR2 667MHz RAM
4GB DDR2 800MHz RAM
4GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM
Hard Drive
320GB 7200 rpm hard drive
320GB 7200 rpm hard drive
320GB 5400 rpm hard drive
Video Card
NVIDIA Dual GeForce 8700M GT 512MB DDR3 with dual-link DVI output
NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT 512MB DDR3 with HDMI output
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT 512MB DDR3 with Mini DisplayPort output
Optical Drive
dual layer DVD burner
Blu-ray player
SuperDrive
Wireless Networking
802.11n
802.11n
802.11n
Ports
ExpressCard slot, 8-in-1 card reader, FireWire, four USB ports
ExpressCard slot, 3-in-1 card reader, HDMI, FireWire, three USB ports
ExpressCard slot, FireWire, three USB ports
Misc.
built-in Logitech GamePanel, dedicated media buttons, 2MP webcam, overclockable CPU
dedicated media buttons, biometric security, 1.3MP webcam, TV tuner
1.3MP iSight webcam

Like most of Apple's notebooks, the new 17" MacBook Pro sets a new standard in laptop design. At 6.6 lbs., it's one of the thinnest and lightest desktop replacements available. It achieves those numbers by using Apple's unibody enclosure wherein the system is built around a single block of aluminum. That makes it lighter and thinner than any desktop replacement found in Dell's or Sony's current catalog. Feature-wise, however, the new Mac takes a backseat to Sony's VAIO VGN-AW190.

For $455 less, the Sony VAIO AW includes a larger display, faster processor and hard drive, and a host of additional features. And although Sony and Apple use the same graphics card, the VAIO AW as a whole is more HD friendly with a built-in Blu-ray player, TV tuner, and both VGA and HDMI outputs. By comparison, the MacBook Pro's video card only supports Apple's Mini DisplayPort and requires additional cables for VGA and DVI compatibility. Where Apple does pull ahead of Sony is in the memory department, touting faster DDR3 memory. Dell's XPS M1730 on the other hand falls short of matching the MacBook Pro's specs with slower memory, a slower video card, and a heftier design.

Another strike against Apple's new MacBook Pro is its new, non-replaceable battery. Although it's rated at 8 hours, the new battery limits the amount of work that can be done sans a neighboring AC outlet. Desktop replacements aren't meant for travel purposes, but at 6.6 pounds the new Mac is light enough to take on the road, if required, in which case a spare battery is always welcome. Apple also loses points for charging its customers an additional $50 for a non-glare (matte) display option (a glossy screen is included by default). While we welcome the choice (Dell's XPS only comes in glossy), $50 is a high price tag for what the VAIO AW includes by default.

Other Desktop Replacement Alternatives
However, the 17" MacBook Pro isn't the most expensive or powerful desktop replacement on the market. Originally priced at $3,069, the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz 17" / 10.6" Dual-Screen Notebook (currently $2,608.65 at Lenovo via code "USP48HOURSALE") is one of the priciest notebooks available from Lenovo. To justify the price, the system features two displays, a 17" LCD complimented by a slide-out 10.6" screen that can be used to display anything from chat windows to Photoshop tool bars. However, at 11 pounds, this super-sized system is far from portable. The most affordable option for power users is the Acer Aspire 8930G-7665 Core 2 Quad Mobile 2GHz 18" Notebook ($1,799, pictured). This system races past all other desktop replacements with its Intel Core 2 Quad Mobile quad-core processor, which is paired with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB HDD, Blu-ray player, and NVIDIA's GeForce 9700M GT video card. It doesn't pack a secondary display, but proudly features an 18.4" 1920x1080 LCD. Battery life has yet to be rated, but for value and power, this is the system to beat.
(Of note, to match the 17" MacBook Pro's specs, we did not include these laptops in our chart.)

Verdict
Ultimately, despite its slim design and new upgrades, the 17" MacBook Pro is significantly pricier than its Windows counterparts. In addition, it's non-replaceable battery guarantees you'll have to spend more money once it hits the end of its lifespan. With its Blu-ray drive and larger screen, the Sony VAIO AW offers more value for your money, and if you require more horsepower, the Acer Aspire 8930G blows every desktop replacement out of the water with its quad-core CPU and affordability.

— Louis Ramirez is dealnews' Features Editor

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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