We’re planning to start a regular revolving list of recommended products at AnandTech—sort of like a mini buyer’s guide focused on a single product or component. Anand has asked me to kick things off with a look at the notebook market. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I could find anything I was really comfortable recommending, considering Haswell is right around the corner and Richland APUs have been announced by AMD and should start showing up in laptops in the next month or two. But then I took a look around and found that there are some decent laptops that appear to be on clearance, making way for the next round of new products.

With that in mind, I tried to find what I felt was the most compelling offering right now, and somewhat surprisingly I ended up with an Ultrabook. To be clear, Ultrabooks and ultraportables aren’t the be-all, end-all of laptops; they’re great for portability and performance for general use applications is usually adequate, but they’re generally not gaming powerhouses and even battery life often gets compromised in pursuit of a small size. I’ll have some other recommendations for laptops over the coming weeks, but for now I’m specifically looking at the ultrathin class of offerings. The key things I like to see in an Ultrabook are pure solid state storage, a good LCD, and the lower the price the better; that brings me to VIZIO.

Last month, Vivek posted his thoughts on the VIZIO CT15 “Thin+Light” laptop. Note that the Windows 8 variants updated the touchpad and that they’re better than the original release, but they’re still not perfect. However, a good price can go a long ways towards making a product acceptable, and right now the CT14 with 128GB SSD is available for $680 at Amazon.com. (Note that this is basically a discontinued product, and even VIZIO has a list price of $599 on their store—except they’re sold out. [Update: Now back in stock at $849]) Not only does that make this one of the least expensive Intel-based ultraportable around right now, but for the price you still get a 128GB SSD, Core i5-3317U processor, and best yet: a 1600x900 high quality IPS display.

Does that make this the best current ultraportable? For the money, I would say yes, though I don’t know how long supplies will last. There are other issues that need to be mentioned as well: the keyboard still flexes a fair amount when you type (and lacks backlighting), the RAM can’t be upgraded, opening the lid can be a bit more difficult that I’d like, and battery life is merely so-so. However, when you look at competing offerings you often end up with other compromises (poor quality LCDs being a major one), and most of those cost more than the CT14 and come with a hard drive and caching SSD.

Bottom line: if you have to buy a laptop today and you want an Ultrabook or ultraportable, unless you’re willing to pay substantially more money (like $1100+), this is the one I’d recommend. Otherwise, wait and see what Haswell and Richland bring to the table in terms of Ultrabook/ultraportable options; they’ll likely cost more than the VIZIO’s sub-$700 price, but they’re likely to make up for that with higher performance, improved battery life, and better build quality. VIZIO will likewise be offering touchscreen updates of the CT14 and CT15 with the new CPUs/APUs and they also fix the keyboard complaints; we just need to see where they’re priced when they launch. Interestingly, I believe VIZIO is forgoing the Ultrabook aspect on the refresh, as they're switching to standard voltage CPUs. [Update: VIZIO just posted the updated specs and MSRPs for the touchscreen models. Hopefully street pricing is quite a bit lower.]

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  • Zhuk86 - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    This article is a great idea, but I was wondering if for the next article you guys could add an alternative ultrabook for international readers if you choose a Vizio ultrabook? sadly you can't get these laptops in most parts of the world, though it might be different one day! Reply
  • nagi603 - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    I second this. Nice for the US readers, but Anandtech has (AFAIK) quite an international readership. Reply
  • meacupla - Sunday, March 31, 2013 - link

    If you're in canada, probably the best ones you can buy are either $500 for asus X202E, $750 for acer iconia W700 or $800? for asus zenbook prime Reply
  • raywin - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    I love the topic, but I want some more detail! Give me your top three budget ultrabooks, and tell me why vizio wins out. As it is, this seems like the most begrudging recommendation I have read in ages. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    The idea is to pick just one good offering in each of these. We'll have plenty more over the coming weeks and months. Most of my Ultrabook alternatives aren't in the budget category, and they have other idiosyncrasies. I still think the Dell XPS 12 is really interesting, but I would rather have a dockable tablet -- either tends to be over $1000. If you don't mind the keyboard, the Microsoft Surface Pro gets a strong recommendation as well, but it's a better tablet than a laptop.

    Looking just at budget Ultrabooks, everything else is pretty much HDD + SSD cache with a lousy 1366x768 LCD. Personally, I can't recommend ANY of those at the current prices...they would need to be more like $500 to be worthwhile compared to the Vizio.
    Reply
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    > Looking just at budget Ultrabooks, everything else is pretty much HDD + SSD cache with a lousy 1366x768 LCD. Personally, I can't recommend ANY of those at the current prices...they would need to be more like $500 to be worthwhile compared to the Vizio.

    The Acer S3/ASUS Vivobook/Fujitsu UH572/Lenovo U310/U410 have all been that low during sales. You can even get an older Folio 13 and get a 128GB SSD with that, but you're stuck with a Sandy i3.

    Question about the Vizio - it's got 4GB of soldered DDR3, but is it set up as single-channel or dual?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Should be dual-channel; no reason for it not to be since they don't have an SO-DIMM slot for a second channel. As for other sales hitting $500-$600, it's true that happens, but again most have Core i3 and a worse display. Reply
  • Anonymous Blowhard - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Both of the Lenovo U-series and the Folio are single-channel; the latter has soldered RAM as well. Shame to leave that performance on the table, it really hurts the GPU which is otherwise in the "good enough" category for 768p gaming. Reply
  • raywin - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Thanks Jarred! I appreciate the follow up. Reply
  • bleh0 - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    I would recommend that you add a few alternatives for the next article. Personally I prefer a traditional notebook/laptop and eagerly await that piece. Reply

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