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.

All-rounder: Asus U30Jc/U33Jc/U35Jc
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  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Really? Because I've owned and reviewed my share of Asus laptops and all of them have done very well. The only one I owned that wound up getting FUBARed was because a friend of mine dropped it on the floor. Thing still works, but the screen is being held together by alligator clips and prayer.

    Asus makes inexpensive laptops. There's a difference between inexpensive and cheap. If you want to see awful build quality and displays, I'm sure we could recommend a few vendors.
    Reply
  • riku0116 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I'm looking to purchase a portable tablet PC (read: NOT iPad) to take notes and record lectures on.

    I've heard good things about the tm2 and would love to see an AnandTech review of this or other tablet PCs as most of them do fall in the ultraportable range.
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Part of the problem is that, in my experience writing for a few different sites, HP can be incredibly cagey with their review hardware. Asus, Acer, and Dell tend to be much cooler about it (and we have excellent relationships with them, to be fair). Reply
  • seanleeforever - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    or take a look at X201 Tablet. it is on the pricey side (got my for around 1600 dollar), but well worth it. Reply
  • attila16881 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    check out the new TM2-2000, i think it would be added to the article ;)
    Size and Weight: 326 x 230 x 24/30 mm, 1,89 kg
    Display: 12,1 wide (1280x800)
    Touchscreen: Wacom digitalizer multitouch
    CPU:Intel Core i3-330UM (1.2 GHz, 3 MB, 800 MHz)
    Chipset: Intel HM55
    GPU: SATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 plus Intel HD (cpu integrated)
    RAM: 4 GB DDR3
    HD: 320 GB (2,5"; 7200 gpm)
    Battery: 6 cells Li-Ion
    Digital fingerprint reader, Trackpad Multi-Touch, USB (3 x 2.0),VGA, HDMI, vga webcam
    LAN: Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000
    WI-FI: 802.11 b/g/n
    Card reader: SD/MMC/MS/MSpro/XD
    OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit
    Reply
  • jabber - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Fantastic laptop. One of the best devices I've ever bought.

    Always gets missed here over the bloody 11Z which isnt nearly as good.

    Oh and it has trackpad buttons!
    Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Why so little love for the Z? I know it's madly expensive, but after all the complaining about poor screen quality, that thing has an absolutely lavish screen (and a cheap upgrade to 1080p!) on top of a powerful GPU. It also has a DVD drive, backlit keyboard, some pretty powerful non-CULV processors, RAID 0 SSDs and it packages all of that in 3.1 pounds...

    I know it's expensive, but if price is not a limiting factor, it's probably one of the best ultraportables out there.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    It is incredible that Sony have managed to pack more hardware than most 13in machines have but in a chassis that's smaller and lighter. It is an expensive and relatively niche machine but on the other hand this is a technology website and the Z series is an extremely interesting machine from a technological point of view, particularly the quad SSDs.

    The screen resolution is the main reason I'm considering a Z series, I currently have an XPS M1330 which has been a superb machine but the low 1280x800 screen resolution is irritating and about the only feature I'd really like to change. The Z series is one of the few machines to go much above this, as is one Lenovo I believe but that's it?

    John
    Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Not just resolution. From what I gathered (I'm looking into buying one soon), the screen is also matte and extremely high-contrast. Of course, that goes with the fact that Sony also happens to be making HDTVs :)

    I only wish there was an Optimus option. Despite the hacking some people have done that appears to enable it in part, I'd rather see a fully support solution. Best would be a manual switch with Auto enabling Optimus.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Mostly because at $1950 it's well out of most people's price category. But I agree, as an overall machine, the Z is pretty awesome. It still got a mention, but at $1950, it wasn't worth a full page. Reply

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