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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  • matt b - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Given that numerous laptops 13.3 inchs and smaller are shipping with AMD nile dual core processors (K325 and K625), can we get a review of these? You must have some in your labs b/c you say that they still fall short of the Intel CULV processors on battery life. Can we see some actual reviews from Anandtech? I've seen mixed reviews on the internet. Toshiba has a 13.3 with the k625 that they claim gets over 6 hours of battery life. The k625 does not have bad performance, and in actual games (versus benchmarks like PC Vantage that Anandtech has shown that Intel's latest drivers have broken) the ATI 4225 cards are faster than Intel's. The price is right too. I'd like to see a i3 or CULV comparison using the same battery (one just not rated the same) versus the K625.
    My take from seeing the number of design wins was that Nile must be pretty impressive.
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Hi. I'd like to see you guys do more notebook reviews even if they aren't full reviews. We don't really need to see the same CPU benchmarks for the same CPU/RAM combo for example but the 'extras' in your reviews are extremely useful and what set your reviews apart. Build quality and keyboard/trackpad commentary and *especially* display quality measurements are very nice to read and the latter is not common on other sites. Even if you need to cut down from your full review suite (little point with the same hardware anyway) doing mini-reviews with the things you guys do special would be great.

    Hopefully AT will review some more of the models presented here? I'd be especially interested to see some of the models that don't get much attentino for whatever reason - for example, do the pricey Sony models have any advantage in build quality or screen quality?
    Reply
  • Akv - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    I would be very interested in a Sony VAIO EA for my work, but alas I won't buy it because of the glaring inscription VAIO on the cover.

    When I go to a meeting I don't want to be the intrusive advertisement panel for an off-topic company. And if I buy something that price I expect more discretion. I would feel ridiculous using it in front of other people.
    Reply
  • naalex - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Exactly the kind of round-up that i needed. I'm personally thinking that the Asus U43JC is the laptop that I'm going to get. USB 3.0 and WiDi are great extra features to have, although perfection would be reached if they came with more powerful GPUs

    Considering that Fall and back to school deals are just around the corner, might it be recommended to hold tight for a month or so, to see what improved models are just around the corner?
    Reply
  • DaKaptin - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    My first post!! (I think). great site, great reviews - thanks to all at Anadtech!

    aaanywaaaay... I bought an Asus Ul80Vt after reading Anandtech's initial review on it (last year sometime). It was my first laptop purchase ever & I have been very pleased with it to the extent that I got one for my sister too! A good mix of performance & battery life leaves me "never really running out of power" in both senses of the word typical for the tasks I use it for (ie movies & internet largely with gaming & business sometimes)

    anyway, without souding too much like a commercial, I'd really like to impress upon the type of setup those laptops present & wonder - "why hasn't anyone else been able to at least imitate them?" the range of tasks you can perform on them (and battery life) make them to me what a laptop is all about! (otherwise seriously, buy a desktop or netbook for the other end of the spectrums)
    Reply
  • descendency - Thursday, July 22, 2010 - link

    I love my X201 Thinkpad.

    If you are in the ultraportable market and have some money to spend, it's by far the nicest laptop available. I got mine for 900 (before tax) through the EPP program and some luck. Well, I added an old Vertex 120gb SSD that I have had since they launched.
    Reply
  • rgathright - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    I wish I had read this before buying my ASUS 1201N. A 55nm Radeon HD 4225 would have made a big difference over the power hungry NVIDIA Ion that I am struggling with.

    You can see more about the failed ASUS 1201N here:
    http://www.epinions.com/review/ASUS_EPC1201N_Intel...
    Reply
  • forumreader45 - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    This review doesn't cover the Dell offerings well - I just went through this same trade before this came out and also wanted to buy something with a US name on it - still easy to do in the computer world Annandtech - must you kill off our last remaining industry?

    Anyways I got a Studio 14 with an i5 - though you can get i3 or i7. It's a great machine and should have been part of this comparo. (And I'm an Apple fanboy - but the person who wanted this wanted a PC.)
    Reply
  • halcyon - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    SZ12 looks to pack a real punch: lots of features, very fast, very light, full-HD display.

    How about a review and comparison?
    Reply
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    In this article, you wrote, "The new Nile platform, based on the Phenom II architecture, is faster, about on par with the original CULV platform, but even with improved power consumption, battery life still falls short of Intel’s high standard."

    Have you actually tested a computer with the AMD Nile platform?

    I just read a review of the Dell M301z with the AMD K626 processor (Nile). It's got a terrible battery (44Wh, 3740mAh). The battery life wasn't great, but as Notebookcheck.net points out in their review, the battery life on the AMD system is at least equal to the Dell Adamo with an Intel SU9400. The Dell Adamo has a similar battery (44Wh, 3600mAh). It achieves slightly longer surfing times (213 minutes) compared to 187, but less idle time than the AMD chipset (5:40 to 5:19). This despite the fact that the Adamo has a energy saving SSD drive.
    Also, the K625 CPU is at least as fast as the Intel SU9400 on certain CPU benchmarks, like Cinebench R10 (dual core) and faster on single core benchmarks like Cinebech R10. It's graphics performance with the intergrated 4200 series is much faster than the GMA4500 on the Intel platform. So even with a much faster video card and on par CPU performance, the battery life is very close.
    I hate to be particular on this point, but I would like to know if Anandtech really tested an AMD Nile computer or are you just posting what you've heard?
    Link to the Nile review:
    http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Dell-Inspiron-...
    Reply

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