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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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    We're working on getting a Nile system. FWIW, SSDs, don't generally save on power, unless they're something like the SandForce controllers, but even then a lot of the time your HDD/SSD will power down because of inactivity. The SU9400 is also a higher clocked CULV, so it may not be the best representative of the platform. In fact, in our own test of the Adamo, we found battery life to be generally quite a bit worse than the other CULV laptops we've tested, even when looking at battery life relative to battery capacity:

    As for overall performance, the IGP in Nile is definitely better than GMA 4500MHD, but that's not saying much. It's still very slow, and typically inadequate for gaming at native resolution. HD 4200 is faster, but also quite slow -- about on par with the new Intel HD Graphics in the Arrandale processors.

    Anyway, Nile is looking more interesting than the old CULV and should be a lot better than Congo. The real selling point is likely to be price, and as long as the price is right and you don't mind the battery life loss, go for it. Just don't expect to be wowed by performance -- which we'd say of CULV as well.
  • matt b - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    Thanks very much for your response. I look forward to the review and I hope you can get the K625 chip for review as it seems to be the highest performer of the Nile parts (thought I would also welcome a review of the lowest TDP Nile part as well). What is encouraging for Nile is that its best performer, the K625, seems to be on par or better performance wise with the SU9400, the higher performing CULV part, but with better graphics, and very comparable battery life. The lower clocked and single core Nile parts have less power usage (as with the lower clocked and single core CULV parts.) It can play HD video with ease, and some reviews show that the 4225 IGP can play older video games at decent (playable) frame rates. For me, that's something that the 4500 can't do, and a nice feature for a netbookish size.
    I agree, in the end it comes down to price. I suspect that a K625 system is going to be cheaper than a SU9400 system. If it has equal or slightly better CPU performance, equal to slightly worse battery life, and much better GPU performance, at a lower price, that's a compelling solution.
  • Jmills - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    When can we expect a review on the ENVY 14?
  • TareX - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Best netbook to buy:

    ASUS Eee PC 1215N..... EASILY.

    1.8 dual core processor
    ION 2
    Chiclet keyboard
    Matte under keyboard
    less than $500
    Privacy webcam toggle

    Coming August 2010
    photos: http://gadgetmix.com/netbook/eeepc-1215n-pics/
  • NICOXIS - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    What about Samsung r480 ? one of the cheapest i3/i5 + Nvidia GT 330M 14" notebooks on the market.

    really can't see why this one didn't make it to this article...
  • therich - Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - link

    How about the Asus U43JC? For about the same price as the recommended U33JC, you also get an optical drive and a core i5 processor (although it's clocked similarly to the i3, it does have Turbo).
  • j.sanders - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    I've narrowed my choices down to these two machines and I'm the opinion of the commentariat and hopefully Vivek

    The thinkpad is a bit bigger a bit heavier and has resolution of: 1440 x 900 (11.95" x 7.4") vs 1600 x 900 (11.6 wide x 6.5) for the vaio.

    The Vaio Z is first choice but I have some reservations:

    Screen has great resolution but the dims, 11.6 wide x 6.5 high worry me just a tad.. thats a lot pixel data in not a a lot of space. To those who have used this machine, how do you like the screen? Do you have to zoom in much in your day to day use? I"m assuming that the sony screen is better in terms of color accuracy, white point and black point performance. Confirm or deny?

    The other concern I have with the Vaio is the palm rest / keyboard relationship. Palm rest / track pad look pretty small. Any feedback I'd appreciate.

    The thinkpad is a different animal. I like the pointy thing in the keys, I"m totally confident of durability and useability. Of course I'd like to have 1600 pixels wide vs 1440 but I won't die without with extra resolution so if the thinkpad is more usable I'd accept the lower resolution.

  • kakfjak - Thursday, May 5, 2011 - link


    All kinds of shoes + tide bag

    Free transport
  • computerupgradeking - Monday, February 10, 2014 - link

    MSI GE40 2OC-245US i7-4702MQ 2GB NVIDIA 760M 14"


    The latest 4th generation Intel Core-i7 processor in the MSI GE40 not only saves you battery life for a longer gaming experience, but also maintains the best visuals you can get for your games. Enjoy entertainment the way it was meant to be, smoother, faster, and more efficient than the previous generation.
    Performance isn't the only requirement for gamers. Designed with the professionally hardcore in mind, the brush aluminum interior and exterior of the thin and solid design would leave anyone in awe. Paired together with the red LED's, this portable gaming beast is professional yet aggressive.

    It's Main Features:
    2.20GHZ with a max speed of 3.20GHZ
    Graphics: NVIDIA® GEFORCE GTX 760M 2GB GDDR5
    Clock speed: 2.20-3.20 GHz
    RAM: 12GB upgrade-able to 16GB


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