Ludicrously priced laptops: Apple, HP, Sony

Some laptops, especially ultraportables, brazenly push the envelope on pricing.

Some laptops, especially ultraportables, brazenly push the envelope on pricing. In the age of the ultra-cheap Netbook, are they really worth the $2,000 to $3,000 price tag? I've listed three egregious offenders and two that fall into the less-scandalous-but-still-snooty pricing category.

HP Voodoo Envy 133 is a stunning design but way overpriced because of old hardware
HP Voodoo Envy 133 is a stunning design but way overpriced because of old hardware Hewlett-Packard

Let's start with the Hewlett-Packard Voodoo Envy 133, probably the most brazenly overpriced of the batch because it will still set you back as much as $2,700 despite the fact that it hasn't been updated in almost eight months and, accordingly, comes with obsolete hardware.

The 13-inch ultra-slim Voodoo Envy 133 model NV4050NA is priced at $2,699.99 (with "instant rebate"), but the buyer gets nothing extraordinary for this extraordinary price, with the possible exception of an external optical drive and a power adapter with a wireless access point built in.

The stratospheric-price-defying negatives include an old processor, a lagging-edge solid-state drive (64GB instead of the current 128GB standard), and last year's graphics.

Here's a quick rundown:

  • An old Intel Core 2 Duo SP7700 Processor (1.8GHz) processor (think: original MacBook Air)
  • A passé 64GB solid-state drive
  • An ancient Intel graphics media accelerator X3100 (think: original ThinkPad X300)
  • A short-lasting 3-cell battery
  • An external optical drive (this is one of the few pluses)

The next criminally overpriced laptop is the 13-inch Sony Vaio Z Series ultraportable laptop (3.4 pounds). The VGN-Z590UBB model is priced at $3,899.99. Amazingly, this comes with only a one-year warranty.

Sony Vaio Z series is aimed presumably at Wall Street firms flush with stimulus-package cash
Sony Vaio Z series is aimed presumably at Wall Street firms flush with stimulus-package cash Sony

But first a few positives. One of the most unusual features of the Vaio Z is a discrete Nvidia GeForce 9300M graphics chip. Almost all of the newer ultraportables come with Intel 4500MHD integrated graphics only. So this is certainly a plus and echoes the Nvidia 9400M graphics in the newest MacBook Air. It also packs DDR3 SDRAM memory. This is good too.

But there is little to justify (in my opinion) a price tag approaching $4,000 (unless Sony has doubled up on gold memory connectors and isn't telling us about it). Yes, you get new Intel silicon (a P9500 running at 2.53GHz), hybrid graphics (Nvidia and Intel), a high-resolution LED display (1600 x 900), but nothing that justifies forking over $3,900, even if you're Merrill Lynch flush with stimulus-package cash.

The third up is the 12-inch Fujitsu LifeBook B6230 (3.2 pounds), priced at $1,799. Though it's listed lower than the Voodoo and the Sony, the features are strikingly unimpressive for the $1,800 list price. An archaic Intel ULV U7600 (1.2 GHz) processor (533 MHz front-side bus), 1GB of memory, an 80GB hard disk drive, 802.11a/b/g wireless (no "n" here), and a one-year warranty round out (yawn) the features.

The price of Apple's MacBook Air is less egregious than the others but still exorbitant
The price of Apple's MacBook Air is less egregious than the others but still exorbitant Apple

In descending order of extravagance, at No. 4 is the 12-inch Toshiba Portege R600 model S4202. Price aside, a quick glance at the features would impress most prospective buyers: very light at 2.4 pounds, standard 3GB of memory, a 128GB solid-state drive, a integrated optical drive, 802.11a/g/n wireless, and a Webcam.

What's the downside to these decent features? You guessed it, the price: $2,999--and that includes a slow Intel SU9400 (1.4GHz) processor. With full-featured Netbooks costing about one-sixth the price (between $500 and $700) and an HP Pavilion dv2 ultraportable on the way priced at about $900, the Toshiba begins to look, well, overpriced.

Finally, I must mention the Apple MacBook Air (I know I'll get slammed for this). The newest version with the upgraded Intel processor, Nvidia graphics, and a 128GB solid-state drive is certainly a vast improvement over the original. But in the age of the Netbook and seriously budget-constrained buyers $2,500 ($2,499) is just too expensive.

Apple needs to bring the high-end MBA down to about $2,000. Still pricey but probably justifiable (to the lucky few out there who sold their Nantucket vacation home before the crash).

Note: This is not a CNET review. This reflects the opinion of Nanotech: The Circuits blog only.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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