The Form-Factor Conundrum
Laptops come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny, 7-inch ultra-mobile PCs and 10-inch netbooks, to 20-inch desktop replacements. The most popular sizes are 15-inches and 17-inches, both of which can offer a wide range of performance, features, and portability. Choosing between these two form-factors can be difficult, though, when manufacturers impose a trade-off between performance, size, and portability.
The choice becomes even more complicated when you’re looking for heavy-duty performer that stays within your budget. When all you need is a basic laptop for simple tasks like browsing the web or watching a few movies, you don't need a lot of horsepower. Almost anything with a modern CPU and a dedicated video card will meet your needs, and systems like that are easily found under $1000, 15 and 17-inch models alike.
But what if you want more? What if you want a laptop that lets you surf the net and watch movies, as well as take care of more demanding tasks, like image and video editing or heavy gaming, all while staying within a tight budget? Suddenly the choices dwindle to just a handful of possible laptops, and you have to decide if you want to sacrifice portability for a larger screen and extra processing power, or sacrifice performance and screen size for the benefit of portability.
We’ve looked at this decision making process from numerous angles, and we’ve found that usually, the decision almost always comes down to the form-factor. It's more expensive to fit a high quality display into a 15-inch notebook, and the small frame means adequate cooling for high-performance parts is extremely difficult.
Yet, 17-inch displays are much easier to manufacture, and the larger chassis leaves plenty of room for aggressive cooling solutions to keep those performance parts functioning properly. In the end, this means that the two form-factors may be similarly priced but offer very different features, and choosing one over the other can be a very tough choice.
We found two aggressively budget-oriented performance laptops made by MSI, which, when looked at side-by-side, perfectly illustrate the drama of the 15-inch vs 17-inch choice that many of us face.