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Save Money on Your Next Premium Windows Laptop

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Nearly two years ago, I made a crazy computer purchase buying my first Ultrabook an Asus Zenbook UX31A. At around $1000, it wasn't cheap, but it was a bargain compared to the prices for a 13" MacBook Air.

I've waited for the prices to come down, but an interesting thing has happened. They haven't. That's a little unusually in the world of laptops. It seemed like the older models just got discontinued and vanished. I kept an eye out for used ones in hopes of scoring a good deal to update my wife's computer. There weren't a lot to be found. It's still a mystery of what happened to all those computers, but the newest Ultrabooks are typically in the same $1000-$1500 range.

In the last couple of months, I've noticed a lot of change. For the first time in a long time the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas showed off some impressive looking laptops... with impressive looking prices. Conversely the tablets that highlighted the show in previous years didn't seem to show much innovation.

The truth is that new PCs have started to become interesting to me for about a year now. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 caught my eye for a long time. At around $1000, it was a little more than I wanted to pay, but at least it had the portability of a tablet. It's almost my ideal computer except that I'm am almost always using my lap and a clamshell laptop is better than a tablet for that.

Next up was the LG's UltraPC 13Z940, A clamshell that weighs only 2.14 pounds! It was perfect except that it wasn't released in the United States.

Soon after was the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, which looked perfect as well. At 2.6lbs. it was extremely portable and sported a slick flexible spine that allowed you to use it as a or a clamshell. The problem was that many reviews cited poor battery life and performance. It didn't feel like things were getting better, just that the trade-offs were different.

For around two years, it's been disappointment after disappointment.

Then Dell broke open the doors at CES with its new 13" XPS model. Their engineers crammed a 13" screen in a 12" frame by mostly eliminating the bezels. The weight came in at 2.6lbs, very competitive with other Ultrabooks out there. With the same amount of memory and hard drive space as what I have today, it comes in at $899. However, they are advertising 15 hours of battery life. My laptop gives me 2.5. Computers with the same new chip from Intel are getting great performance, crushing the Yoga 3 chip.

It took two years, but finally there's an increase in portability, battery life, and performance, at less money.

That should be reason enough to celebrate. However, there might be even more reason. While the new Intel Broadwell does better on benchmarks, overall it isn't a big productivity gain over the previous generation. This means that you may be able to find a bargain on an older computer. It might be almost as productive.

Here's the tricky thing about the new Dell XPS. They have a more expensive one at $1300 that has all the bells and whistles, particularly a 3200 x 1800 touch-screen. As Liliputing's Brad Linder points out that the full HD (1920 x 1080) screen is extremely sharp, comes in at 0.2lbs lighter, is going to have better battery life, and cost less. He even suggests that it will be easier to view it outdoors.

The only downside is that it won't be a touchscreen. Some people love their touchscreens in their laptops. I'm not a huge fan. Usually someone tries to point at my screen and activates something not expecting it. Or the two kids under 3 grab onto it, closing browser tabs and creating other issues.

I hope my Zenbook gives me a few more years. It has showed no signs of slowing down. Maybe when I'm looking for my next laptop, I'll be able to pick up one of these Dell XPS 13" in their outlet store for under $500.

Last updated on January 13, 2015.

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