If you're not a hard-core action gamer but you need a powerful laptop with a great screen for playing movies, casual gaming, and editing photos and videos, you can get an excellent multimedia performer without completely draining your bank account. The best multimedia laptops typically have big high-res displays, discrete graphics and quality speakers. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (Est. $1,300) and the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (Est. $2,000 and up) excel here; see our separate section on Apple laptops for more.
Among Windows multimedia laptops, the best according to reviews is the Lenovo IdeaPad Y510p. It all starts with powerful components. Experts primarily test a step-up version (Est. $1,250 and up). It gets the latest Intel Core i7 Haswell CPU, 16 GB of RAM and a speedy 24 GB SSD in addition to the 1 TB hard drive. It also features not one but two Nvidia GeForce GT750M GPUs with 2 GB of VRAM apiece.
That's an incredible spec sheet for the price, experts say, and the IdeaPad Y510p delivers. Even with its pre-Haswell chips, the Lenovo sails through photo and video editing tests. It's a fairly powerful gamer, too: The Haswell version blazes through "World of Warcraft" on Ultra settings at a smoking 81 frames per second in Laptop Magazine's test and handles "Bioshock Infinite" capably at lower settings. Everything looks and sounds fantastic, thanks to a stellar 15.6-inch 1080p HD display and JBL speakers.
The dual graphics-card configuration might be overkill for basic multimedia enjoyment and everyday computing, however. A step-down version (Est. $1,050 and up) swaps out the second graphics GPU card and replaces it with a Blu-ray drive. The base version (Est. $950) comes with a DVD burner. A budget configuration with a lower-res (1366 by 768 pixels) screen and lower-end Nvidia graphics is also offered. In theory, UltraBay compatibility gives you the option of changing things up on the fly, sliding in the second video card, Blu-ray drive, DVD burner, second hard drive or extra cooling fan, depending on your needs. In practice, finding UltraBay compatible add-ons appears to be a challenge.
The laptop's bulk is a concern. At 6 pounds and 1.4 inches thick, the Lenovo Y510p isn't really all that portable. Battery life is pretty dismal, too. Laptop Magazine editors manage just over three hours of Wi-Fi web surfing, even with the ultra-efficient Haswell chip, so prepare to haul your power cord wherever you go. There's also no touch screen.
For a more svelte multimedia machine, try the Asus Zenbook UX51VZ (Est. $1,820 and up) . It's the closest you can get to a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display Windows-style.
A Retina-fighting, ultra-high-res (2,880 by 1,620 pixels) display is now available in U.S. models (it debuted first overseas). But an update to Haswell technology is still a no-show. For now, the UX51VZ sports a third-generation quad-core Core i7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, a single Nvidia GPU and dual 128 GB SSDs. If that's not enough, try the upgrade with dual 256 MB drives and a more powerful Core i7 version. It even handles many games, although the most demanding ones make it run much too hot.
Movies look fantastic on the 15.6-inch, 1080p HD anti-glare display. Music sounds rich, with a tiny 3.5-inch portable subwoofer that adds depth to the on-board Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers. It's all packed into a beautifully slim aluminum case that commutes comfortably at 4.6 pounds and just under 0.8 inch thick.
Asus backs the Zenbook UX51VZ with an outstanding one-year warranty that covers accidental damage for drops, spills, power surges and fire damage; 24/7 tech support; free two-way standard shipping; and a 30-day flawless display guarantee. Only a few imperfections emerge: There's no touch screen, battery life is limited to four to six hours of web surfing or video playback, and there's no built-in optical drive although an external one can be added.
There are some downsides. Laptop Magazine takes the high-res version of the Zenbook UX51VZ out for a test drive and finds lots to like, but also some disappointments. Cost is one concern, though pricing has since come down. Also, the site notes, "Windows 8 is simply not yet optimized to take advantage of Retina-like displays."