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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  • neothe0ne - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I feel like you did the Envy 14 an injustice by not even mentioning switchable graphics. And I don't believe the opening page with "NVIDIA dominates the portable market" - all Dells, most Sonys, all HPs, and then some are using ATI cards now. Reply
  • ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Also, I'd like to note that from the users that have gotten their Envy 14s already, they have stated that it does not get uncomfortably hot (like the Envy 15 was known to). It apparently stays relatively cool, even while gaming (not sure about something super intensive like 3DMark or Furmark). Reply
  • KZ0 - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    In very many of the reviews I've read here, it has been commented on how the screen sucks, as usual. When there finally is an affordable notebook with a great 1600x900 14" screen, it's not even commented on? Why? I know some models (non US-factory, the Amazon model, etc) have a 1366x768 display, but the HD+ screen is even included in the base 1099 USD factory price!

    When there's no review model available, at least use what info there is (user reviews) instead of speculation! And the i7 quad option isn't even a reasonable upgrade for most people, killing battery life (not having an integrated GPU to use the switchable graphics, and higher power consumption), making more heat / noise, and not providing much of a performance increase for most people.

    A review or analysis on Anandtech is generally very good, and I've been following the site for quite some time now (though not posting), but this disappoints me.
    Reply
  • JPForums - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Don't be disappointed. This is Anandtech. They don't claim to be perfect, but they do accept feedback. If you bring up legitimate concerns, they are pretty good about fixing it for future articles. You may even get an update to a current article.

    That said I'd like to voice my opinion that 1600x900 or better resolution screens in a 14" or smaller notebook is a very compelling feature. Such a screen may be worth the trade off in battery life and/or cost as there are cases where the increased desktop real estate results in a significant increase in productivity. This productivity boost is not easy to measure, but at least warrants a word.
    Reply
  • TareX - Friday, March 04, 2011 - link

    My Envy 14 has a Radiance 900p screen that simply blows away every other 14" Laptop screen in the market.

    It is NOT plagued by the older generation Envy laptops' issues with heat.

    I am quite perplexed by this Anadtech article. If they didn't review it, they could have at least read the impressions of other sites whose editors actually used the new Envy 14.
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    By "the portable market" I was meaning laptops smaller than 14" (which this buyer's guide was focusing on) as distinct from the more mainstream and desktop replacement markets.

    How many 12" and 13" non-AMD laptops can you name with ATI graphics? Off the top of my head, the Sony S series has an optional ATI HD 5470 card, and the Lenovo U450p that had an HD 4330 switched to Nvidia when it got bumped to Arrandale. Other than that, a lot of the really portable notebooks tend to use Nvidia GPUs. Cases in point: the entire Asus portable lineup, the M11x, the VAIO Z, the Lenovo U460, etc etc etc. So I think it was a fair term.

    Once you start getting to 14" and larger notebooks, you start seeing a lot of ATI GPUs, yes, but not in notebooks smaller than that.
    Reply
  • ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I should have stated I don't necessarily agree with neothe0ne. I replied to his comment as it was related to the Envy 14. I have to agree with you, actually, that NVIDIA has dominance with their mobile parts. From what I understand, AMD is gaining ground, in that market segment though, are they not?

    I mainly wanted to question the Envy 14 getting hot-- from everything I've read, it really doesn't get that hot (maybe in a lap, if the vents are covered? I figure anyone using the dGPU will be gaming, and therefore plugged into an outlet and on a desk).

    Most importantly, Vivek, is AnandTech planning a review? Last I heard it was hard to get a review unit, but I'm really curious if AT has heard anything from HP about it. The Envy 14 seems to be gaining a lot of popularity as a MBP-alternative, as many people have an anti-Apple stigma.
    Reply
  • ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Oh, and one last thing, the Envy 14's battery may be sealed in, but it's easily removable by flipping a simple switch. I know it's a minor thing, but when I read the article, it seemed to suggest the battery was non-removable, like the MBP.

    :)
    Reply
  • ExodusC - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    Well, after a second look some users report it getting hot, others say it doesn't get hot. I guess it depends what kind of load it's under. Reply
  • Visual - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    The HP tm2 uses ATI 4550, and it being a tablet convertible has better portability than any of the ones included in this "guide", while not being far in performance too. I'm actually surprised it was not mentioned. Reply

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