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Laptop class warfare: Apple vs. Asus

Apple and Dell seem to think that luxury laptops have a future, even in a world of Asus Eee PCs and Acer Aspire Ones. Do you?

A little more than a year after the launch of the MacBook Air, a new luxury laptop has arrived from Dell. This calls for another look at the notebook versus Netbook argument, the computer equivalent of bourgeoisie versus proletariat. In this case, Air versus Aspire; Adamo versus Eee.

Lightweight luxury laptops have been around for a while (think Sony Vaio and Toshiba Portege ultraportables), but the age of head-turning, ultrathin designs dawned with the 13-inch light-and-wide MacBook Air, the HP Voodoo Envy 133, and the ThinkPad X300.

Dell Adamo luxury laptop joins the MacBook Air in the conspicuous consumption computing category
Dell Adamo luxury laptop joins the MacBook Air in the conspicuous consumption computing category Dell

Now the Dell Adamo joins the stable of conspicuously consumed luxury laptops. The Adamo soars along with Apple's Air in the rarefied pricing altitudes of $1,799 to $2,699.

At the other extreme are Asus and Acer, down-to-earth working-class designs which offer portability for a lot less. Though both companies offer expensive laptops too, they have gained prominence with their inexpensive Netbooks: the Eee PC and Aspire One, respectively. These typically fall into the sub-$500 range.

Dell's entry into the luxury laptop market was replete with all the trappings of a high-end product rollout, including a lavish, overdone Adamo Web site (as in, I couldn't click on "skip intro" fast enough) of beautiful people clutching computers. (And viewing the site, this question comes to mind: Is the Adamo meant more as a Dell showcase item--like a piece of finery set in a vitrine, to be admired but not purchased?)

Juxtapose this with what's happening in the Netbook space: inconspicuous but slow-but-steady creep into a higher-performance bracket. This trend is being driven by better Intel graphics (the GN40 is now capable of 720p HD video), with some Netbook designers entertaining the idea of adding even higher-performance Nvidia graphics. Reports also claim the Atom processor will be ratcheted up to 2.0GHz.

Will one design philosophy eventually prevail? Gravitating to a sweet-spot somewhere in the middle?

Let's do a little comparison shopping.

Dell Adamo

  • $1,999 (Dell Web site)
  • 4 pounds
  • 13.4-inch screen
  • 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo
  • Intel GS45 Integrated Graphics
  • Internal optical drive: no
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n wireless
  • 128GB solid-state drive
  • One-year warranty

Asus Eee PC (1002HA)

  • $430 (PC Connection)
  • 2.6 pounds
  • 10.2-inch screen
  • 1.6GHz Atom processor
  • Intel 945GSE-based graphics
  • Internal optical drive: no
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n wireless
  • 160GB hard disk drive
  • One-year warranty

And no price comparison would be complete without the MacBook Air.

Apple MacBook Air

  • $1,799 (Apple Web site)
  • 3 pounds
  • 13.3-inch screen
  • 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo
  • Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics
  • Internal optical drive: no
  • Wi-Fi 802.11n wireless
  • 120GB hard disk drive
  • One-year warranty

My take: The Apple MBA and Dell Adamo are compelling designs with larger screens, faster processors, better graphics, and more advanced storage options than Asus and Acer Netbooks.

But they don't best the Netbooks in some important respects: First and foremost, portability--Netbooks win here--plus, wireless options are essentially identical; battery life is a toss-up; higher-capacity storage is available on Netbooks; and running everyday applications is not necessarily that much faster on luxury laptops.

Hmm...Maybe Adamo and Air will find it's lonely living in the lap of luxury.