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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Johnmcl7 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkMacbooks at similar prices get entire articles regularly as do top of the range graphics card and computer parts which would also be out of most people's price category so a page or even article on the Z on a site like this doesn't seem too much.
GTaudiophile - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI just bought one...sort of like a cheaper Z...
Intel Core i3 330 UM (1.2GHz)
ATI HD 4550 w/ 512MB VRAM
4GB DDR3 RAM
5+ hours battery with WiFi
Less than 4 lbs.
darunium - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkThe M11x is an impressive notebook, despite the undervolting of the CPU, but why is there no mention of the Asus N82Jq? With a standard clock of the i7-720QM and GT335M, plus a solid screen in a 5lb package, I think that as a gaming portable notebook it really stands strong, even if it isn't specifically marketed in that segment.
VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkRead more carefully, it's there. Try the page with the Envy 14.
Shadowmaster625 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkWhat new Puma platform? What the heck are you guys smoking. Puma is 2 years old WWWWTTTTTFFFFF? This whole thing reads like a big stinking pile of intel advertising.
VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkMy bad, that was supposed to read Nile, dunno why I said Puma (fixed now). But the rest of that is accurate: the new AMD-based ultraportables still don't have the battery life to touch the Intel portables, simple as that, but performance is starting to catch up, benchmarking similarly to the equivalent Core 2 CULV parts, and the HD 4225 is obviously a ways faster than GMA.
Where AMD is really winning right now, both in desktop and mobile, is in environments where power requirements don't matter so much and they can provide tri- and quad-core processors for dirt cheap. Honestly, if you don't care about battery life in a 15" machine, you'd rather have an AMD quad than an Intel dual core, right?
Shadowmaster625 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI had the unfortunate displeasure of using a N450 netbook this weekend. The things are just not usable for anyone with a pulse. Of course AMD cant beat that battery life, because those things dont even do anything except sit there frozen half the time. Everything I've read about the K125 suggests usable performance with respectable battery life.
Chloiber - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkIs it even available in Europe?
jtsarnak - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkAs an owner of Sony's Z-series laptop, I want to chime in and discourage anyone seriously considering an ultraportable from looking at Vaio machines.
There is a known problem with Sony's newer laptops and battery drain. The battery loses life at an appreciable rate when completely shutdown. The only way to prevent loss is to physically remove the battery. Some have speculated the battery care function, some the hinged design common to the lines experiencing the problem, but Sony has done nothing and in fact call it a "feature".
The Z would be perfect (although expensive) if not for the drain. Now I have to remove the battery whenever I'm not using it or keep it plugged in. The 7+ hours of battery life in a machine this powerful mean nothing if I have to keep it constantly plugged in.
No review site has mentioned this issue which just goes to show you should head to notebookreview's forums before making any decisions on a laptop.
Mr. Gowri, you'd be doing the buying public a great service by looking a little deeper into this problem with Sony's laptops and making the problem more public. Maybe Sony will finally be forced to make a change...
GTaudiophile - Monday, July 19, 2010 - linkI have no such drain issue with my Y-series.