In the end, I settled with the Dell M6600 because this is the best 2011/2012 laptop that satisfied all of my needs without compromises AND stood inside my budget.
The Alienware series is a kick ass computer series, they have really powerful desktop-like performance and dual GPUs. They are highly suggested for gaming addicts, which I (thankfully) am no more. The Alienware were a little bit over my budget, also (but this is a personal preference), I didn’t quite like too much their fancy eye-catching design, and I reckon they may not look as professional and business-friendly as I preferred. They also don’t have IPS LCD and professional features.
Apple Macbook Pro 15 & 17.
The Apple computers made a name for themselves for their beautiful design and their excellent build quality. I highly respect OS X for its “UNIX” roots. But I think the Linux argument doesn't apply too much to a desktop system (Answer this:"Would you install a "LAMP" environment on your personal desktop?!" That's correct: Parallels or VMWARE!).
Now for the Apple disadvantages!
OS X is usually the first to fall when it is put under security scrutiny during hacking contests.
I found I am not particularly fond about the fixed menu bar over the top (Ubuntu Unity smartly improved this concept - check it out!).
Macs are seriously overpriced.
The hardware is not so performing for the games I "suppose" to play (someday...sob!).
Apple Macs do not support intel AMT and Anti Theft technologies (although they offer some form of remote device locking with Apple Mac OS X Server).
All the Mac laptops do not have a numeric Keypad, for a person that deals with numbers a lot, this is a "feature"!
My AVerTV Hybrid NanoExpress Express Card 54 would not work, not by hardware (missing 54mm EC slot), nor by software.
In short (and with all my personal respect and appreciation for Apple Mac OS X friends and professionals): fantastic UNIX performers but also "too exclusive" and sometimes (depending on their use) nice ornaments.
I tracked the evolution of this nice and sturdy computer, but it didn’t satisfy me from the CPU and chipset POV (no virtualization features and no professional features like intel AMT). Other than that, I must say I’m impressed by its design and by the new Asus G74 with i7 fully virtualized CPUs, too bad they didn’t deploy intel Q67m chipsets!
Dell XPS 17.
I was really close at buying an XPS 17 with sandy bridge, but, at the time, I figured the price difference between the M6600 and the XPS 17 was almost negligible (considering the XPS 17 default standard warranty of 1 year vs the M6600’s 3 years). This laptop is a very good overall performer and it would have practically suited me for everything but the Professional features. Its Geforce 555M has Optimus (but it’s not as powerful as Quadro 3000m). It has an amazing sound (my wife's XPS 15 which really kicks!). It doesn’t have the EC 54 slot, so no tv for me (true, I had the option to buy the pre-installed tv module by Dell, but why pay if I already had a spare 54 EC TV Card?), and last but not least, the XPS 17 doesn't give you this "tank" feeling.
HP Elitebook 8760w.
The HP 8760w is the closest M6600 contender and candidate alternative, but at a price. This machine has everything needed to satisfy your computing needs, too bad that when you try and crank it up, you may end up spending, like $ 3.500+ (not counting your expensive aftermarket accessories). But it's not just that: the HP has serious limitations compared to the M6600: for one, they don't have Optimus, they have 1 fan less than the M6600 (which, with the Optimus feature enabled is unhearable even under medium-high load - the only Optimus downside is that it works only under Win), there is no mSATA slot (which I am actually using it!), and, compared to the M6600, I think it's less scalable hardware-wise. BUT their design is good, so if you're into "design" is better than performance, efficiency and scalability, have a look at it!
Dell Latitude E6520.
This was another close-buy, but since it lacked decent Casual gaming capabilities, I excluded it. Also, it seems, I don’t quite like 15.6 formats, and, esthetically, I highly prefer the cleaner M6600 curves.
The really expensive Vaio.
Well, when the Vaio Z series popped up, I looked at it with contempt and admiration, but, frankly, I think this is just another ornament for the rich (Why doesn't Apple buys the whole Sony I still don't know yet).
Lenovo w520 and the X220.
The w520 is a hell of a machine! But since it seems I’m not fully convinced by the 15.6 LCD format, I was expecting a possible w720 series. Too bad plans for the w720 were scrapped :|
Sometimes in the future, I suppose an x220 will be a great lightweight backup pc with its beautiful IPS screen!
I’ve also looked through the barebones like sager and the others, and since I’m more a do-it-yourself kind of person, this choice may have made a lot of sense.
I found their offers honest and tempting, but, still, a little more expensive and less integrated than my Dell M6600. And they weren't having intel Q67m chipsets.
M4600 vs M6600.
So, why I ended up getting a Second World War Battle Tank instead of the slightly slicker M4600? Good question! Well...maybe I thought “bigger is better” :D Jokes aside, I chose it because of its solid features, sturdy materials, unpaired upgrade-ability, screen real estate (even if it was reduced from 1920x1200 to 1920x1080) and Metal design. For people like me, the M6600 is the reliable solution: Dell did a really great job of documenting and publishing pictures on how to upgrade it as well. It is really a great system (in every aspect) and a solid performer that won't let you down. I have no regrets and I didn't have to compromise on anything.
I know inside my review there are some harsh/direct/raw judgements that may sound like bashing (especially "against" the Apple/Sony friends/fans/crowds), but I spoke only about facts and personal experience, so I hope nobody feels offended by that (they're just Companies and you maybe shareholders, so what? We're all free to say what we think, especially on a personal blog).
I will conclude my review with some pictures that are worth more than 1000 words.
With an M6600 you can have all of this:
"Future Scenarios" ideas:
- Internal Quadro 1000m + e-GPU.
- Pair the M6600 with one or two 24+" Decent LCDs.
- Add the Docking Station to expand its connectivity.
- Make it an home server.
- Crank the RAM @ 32 GB 1600Mhz (it seems to work - search through the M6600 Owner's Thread).
- RAID 0 w/dual SSDs (plus an External ESATA Backup).
As you can see, limitless possibilities for your ideal and perfect system.