Laptop Buyer's Guide: 14-inch and Smallerby Vivek Gowri on July 19, 2010 12:01 AM EST
A couple of weeks ago, Dustin published the first part of our Mobile Buyer’s Guide, focused on notebooks and desktop replacements larger than 14”. Now we’re back with the second half, detailing the best choices for portable and ultraportable notebooks and netbooks.
With the back to school season approaching, newly refreshed notebooks are being released on a rapid fire basis. It’s pretty exciting, with tons of new products and new technology platforms hitting the market all at once. While a few months old, Intel’s Core i3/5/7 processors are really starting to ramp up, with standard voltage Core i3/i5/i7 processors essentially taking over the market. The delayed CULV refresh, with low voltage Arrandale chips, is also starting to hit the market in notebooks like the Alienware M11x R2 and Acer’s TimelineX series. Intel’s also done a bit of refresh job on the netbook-class Atom processor, with higher clock speeds, support for DDR3 memory, and a dual core variant expected to hit early Q3.
AMD has its own updates in the pipeline, with tri and quad core Phenom II chips (Danube platform) launching in some of the larger notebooks and their 2010 Ultrathin platform, codenamed Nile, just starting to hit the market. Danube and Nile both share the RS880 chipset and SB820 southbridge, along with a 55nm Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics chip built on the RV620 core.
And on the graphics front, we’ve got ATI really making some waves with high performance DX11 parts like the HD 5850 and 5870, and on a more mainstream level, the HD 5650 as well. NVIDIA is dominating the portable market, with the Optimus automated graphics switching technology being a real draw for notebook manufacturers. On the higher end, NVIDIA just launched its first mobile DX11 part, based on a cut down version of the beastly Fermi core. More mainstream DX11 parts are in the pipeline for Q3 as well, based on even more scaled down variants of Fermi. And then there’s Next-Gen Ion (or Ion 2, whichever you prefer), which adds a discrete NVIDIA graphics chip and Optimus to Pine Trail based netbooks, making them serviceable HD media playback machines. We’re still waiting for NG ION to hit market (the Acer 532g just got canceled), but it’s supposed to be out this summer as well.
With all of the major chip makers firing on all cylinders, the sheer amount of new laptops on the market is simply astounding. In fact, of the group of laptops mentioned in this guide, just a handful are more than two months old, and there are at least five that are still in the preorder stage, though due to ship in the very near future.
Since this is the “Portable Edition”, we’ll be focusing on laptops mostly this side of 14” screen size, with 13.3” being the most common screen size in our list. We do have a few 14-inchers though, either because they were powerful enough to merit mention in this guide, or because they are slim enough to compare with smaller notebooks. I used 5.0 lbs as the (flexible) upper cap on weight, with sub-4.0 lbs carrying weights preferred. A surprisingly high number of systems on my list claim to top 8 hours of battery life, even with dedicated graphics and standard voltage Core i3/i5/i7 processors – a testament to how far battery life has come in recent years, even with battery tech staying mostly stagnant for some time now.
So, with all the background info out of the way, let’s get to our picks.
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VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkOops! Fixed now, thanks for catching that!
EarthwormJim - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI'm surprised that the 13" Macbook wasn't included. Doesn't it have a better display than all the other laptops here?
ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkWell, the Envy 14's screen is 1600x900 (that's in the base model, too!), which definitely beats the 1280x800 on a MBP. I'm not sure if it's IPS, but early reviews of the screen say it is amazing.
erple2 - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - linkNo, the screen is not IPS. It's a TN just like every other notebook is. The screen has slightly better viewing angles than some other screens, but it's ultimately more of the same. Same basic color reproduction, same basic everything else.
While it is "better" than other screens in the 13" market space, I wouldn't call it any better than various other high quality notebook screens (Envy 15 1080p looks a little bit nicer, though the Dell "RGB LED" screen does look noticeably better).
zshift - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI know it's currently only available at Best Buy, and it's not even mention on Asus' website, but the U52f is a pretty good laptop. 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, DVD Super Multi drive, Core i3-350M, and around 6.5 hours of battery life (listed), it's a pretty good deal at $679. Granted, it only has Intel HD graphics, but for anyone not interested in gaming or 3D content in general this laptop is pretty good. Also, I've personally used it in the store at my local Best Buy, and the build quality is excellent, being nearly as tough as the Protege 705. As far as the touchpad, though, the buttons were a little uncomfortable to press, requiring a little too much force. All in all, I would recommend this as a cheaper alternative.
8steve8 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI'm super-familiar with this market segment and think there's a real lack of good choices out there with ULV or LV arrandale CPUs.
It's not just the power consumption, it's the heat generation.
the X201s with the i7 LV cpu is not available for sale (hasn't been for months)
what the market needs:
dell V13 with arrandale ULV cpu and a little better battery
X100e-like thinkpad with arrandale ULV (trackpoint FTW) @ 2.5lbs
macbook air with arrandale ULV or LV (not waiting for this since apple is sold on having nvidia graphics)
the R700 is nice (ive used it), it should use a LV cpu, but still nice... too bad they spent the volume and weight on an optical drive, totally useless now days.
VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkArrandale ULV is still brand new, most of them (other than the one Acer TimelineX 1830T I'm struggling to think of one) haven't started shipping yet.
I'd love to see what Toshiba could do with the R705 if they took out the DVD drive. Can you imagine like a .8" thick 2.7lb notebook with those specs and a $749 pricetag? I really hope they think about that.
HHCosmin - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkthe article seems ok but i guess you do injustice to acer. i do not really know the acer models you mentioned but i have the 3820tg featuring i5 430m, 4gig of ram, hdd, 13,3", 1,8kilos, up to 6,5hours of REAL battery life, discrete ati 5460 graphics, 640gb of hdd. it has no optical drive and i do not think it is useful to have optical unit in a ultraportable. an ultraportable needs to be light, have lots of conectivity and be powerfull enough.
HHCosmin - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkand it has aluminum chasys and it is quite strong.
5150Joker - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkAnandtech made terrible choices in the entire article. What's the deal with all the Asus picks? They make cheap laptops with some of the worst build quality and displays around.