Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Laptop
Lean and Mean
Team CHIP | 28 October 2011
Lean & Mean
Don’t underestimate the capabilities of these ultra-slim machines. Some are more powerful than your desktop PC. Would you want one as your travel companion?
Leaner manufacturing processes and new microarchitecture bring new features and improved performance to the table. In the case of laptops, it translates to better battery life and leaner designs. The latest generation Sandy Bridge and ultra-low voltage (ULV) processors require less cooling, due to which they can be incorporated into ultra-compact notebooks. And what you get is a mighty road warrior that won’t succumb to demanding applications.
Manufacturers have various approaches to formulating ultra-compact notebooks. The most cost effective models feature 12.1 or 13.3-inch displays and are based on the Intel Atom or the AMD Brazos platform. These are essentially netbooks with larger displays. Moving up the performance ladder, next come models based on ULV processors. These laptops are a lot more powerful than netbooks, but slightly weaker than most entry-level laptops powered by Intel Pentium P6200. ULV processors are clocked at lower speeds and compromise on performance to offer marathon battery life while not being too underpowered. The most powerful of the lot are models based on Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. They pack the performance of high-end laptops in unbelievably slim shells. These laptops cater to those who need tremendous performance and good battery life while on the move.
The incredible designs that some models sported dazzled us. The Sony Vaio SA26GG, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 and the Apple Macbook Pro were show-stoppers. The Vaio SA26GG weighs a little more than 1.5 kg, but it can easily outperform an average desktop PC with its superior feature set. The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 won’t go kaput if you accidentally spill any liquid over its keyboard. It features a spill-proof design that drains out liquid from the vents at the bottom. Last but not the least, who wouldn’t want to own a Macbook Pro? It exudes class in its very design, and doesn’t compromise on any aspect – it’s powerful, extremely comfortable to use and looks gorgeous.
In this roundup of slim laptops, we tested seven models by the top brands, each featuring a different design and catering to a different audience. Depending on your needs and budget, opt for the one that suits you best. But before you delve into our exhaustive table to base your decision, here’s a synopsis of how we tested each model.
Acer Timeline 5830TG
Verdict :Excellently crafted for portability with the comfort of a desktop PC.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 378 x 32 x 250 mm; Weight: 2.49 Kg; Processor: Intel Core i5-2410M; Memory: 3 GB DDR3; Storage: 640 GB; Graphics: Nvidia GT 540M; Display: 15.6-inch; Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium.
Contact Acer India
The Acer Timeline 5830TG took home the title of Best Value simply because it offers the greatest blend of features at the lowest retail price. The laptop is built using an Intel Core i5-2410M processor with 3 MB L3 Cache clocked at 2.3 GHz (factory overclocked with Turbo Boost up to 2.9 GHz). It also features 3 GB of DDR3 RAM, 640 GB of storage space, and a discrete Nvidia GT 540M graphics processor with 1 GB of video RAM. A full-sized keyboard with a numeric pad along with a fairly large 15.6-inch display screen promises a comfortable working environment while on the move. Other features include three USB 2.0 ports on the right side and one USB 3.0 port and an HDMI port on the left side. A DVD writer completes the hardware requirements and Windows 7 Home Premium is pre-installed on the laptop as the operating system.
The Timeline has great build quality and has durable and firm screen hinges, but the display doesn't fold out to a 180 degree angle. The keyboard has well-spaced tactile keys. The only two downsides are that though it is pretty slim, it still weighs 2.5 kg and the battery is not user-replaceable. On the ergonomic front, the Timeline does pretty well. The keyboard and numeric keypad along with large and highly tactile keys makes working on the laptop feel similar to working on a desktop PC. The USB ports, display interfaces, Ethernet port, optical drive and card reader are neatly placed around the shell and are easy to access.
When tested for its performance, The Acer Timeline scored the third best in the category, defeated by the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 by a miniscule two points. The battery life is pretty decent, with 6.5 hours of regular usage and almost two hours on a full load. If you are on a low budget and looking for a decent ultra-portable laptop that you would like to lug around, but also want the features and comfort of a desktop PC, then the Acer Timeline 5830TG would be an excellent option. But if you need a highly portable laptop with a sleek design and ferocious performance, the Sony VAIO SA26GG is a great laptop, but it will set you back a good Rs 1.3 lakh.
For: Large keyboard, big display, good audio quality, decent performance,
Verdict :An extremely powerful laptop for power users who are always on the move.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 332 x 25 x 225 mm; Weight: 1.6 Kg; Processor: Intel Core i7-2620M; Memory: 8 GB DDR3; Storage: 256 GB SSD; Graphics: AMD HD 6630M; Display: 13.3-inch; Operating system: Windows 7 Pro.
Contact Sony India
Intel Core i7 CPU, 8 GB of RAM, four 64 GB SSDs in RAID and 1 GB dedicated graphics. It sounds like a configuration of a powerful desktop PC, but everything is squeezed into a slick ultra-portable form weighing only 1.6 kg. Many ultra-portable laptops exclude an optical drive due to the limitation of the form factor, but the Sony Vaio VPC-SA26GG also manages to accommodate a DVD writer. With four high-speed SSDs striped together, the read and write speeds are blazingly fast. At over 500 MB/s, it took less than 10 seconds to read and write 4 GB of data. Applications launch almost instantly and Windows 7 boots up in less than 15 seconds. The 13.3-inch display is not the standard 1366x768 pixel panel. It sports a native resolution of 1440x900 pixels. While the images and text look crisp, users with farsightedness might find reading fine text difficult unless the text size is changed in Windows Display Settings.
The Vaio scores high on aesthetics, but at the same time, it feels quite delicate. The island-type keyboard is backlit and the keys are large, with good tactile feel. There is no hotkey or key combination to toggle backlight – you have to use the Vaio Control Center app accessible via a hotkey. Similarly, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can be toggled only via an app in the system tray. The trackpad and buttons are comfortably large, but the buttons need to be pressed slightly hard.
The performance of this laptop is beyond excellent. With AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics, you can even play games at the native resolution with visual effects slightly lowered. There’s a switch above the keyboard for switching between the on-die Intel HD graphics and discrete graphics. On a full charge, the laptop survived for 7 hours with light load (Web browsing and word processing) and slightly more than an hour under heavy load.
If you don’t have the budget to own this baby, you can look at the Vaio SB, which features similar design but a less powerful configuration (Core i3, 4 GB RAM, AMD HD 5470 graphics and 500 GB hard disk) and costs just Rs 47,990.
For: Powerful configuration, optical drive, excellent design, high resolution display.
AGAINST: Feels delicate.
I wouldn’t want to blow all my money on a laptop, but spending a few thousand extra for portability is acceptable. My personal favorite in this roundup is the slim and svelte Asus U36s. Intel Core i3-2310M along with 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB hard drive should pack adequate power for my needs. The only drawback is the lack of an optical drive, plus at 1.9 kg, it’s a tad heavy, considering other models weigh less than 1.5 kg. If I had the money, I would settle for the Macbook Pro. It’s built solidly, looks awesome and performs brilliantly. The Sony Vaio SA26GG tops the performance chart with its unbelievable feature set, but it feels very light and feeble. We handled it with extreme care, fearing something would go wrong with it. If you’re an extremely careful user, who likes pampering delicate gadgets, go for it.
Opting for an ultra-portable laptop is certainly dicey, as everyone would like a laptop that is as slim and light as possible. But since the manufacturers find it very difficult to integrate all the features in the smallest space available, there are bound to be compromises. For example, a smaller form factor and smaller display sometimes comes at the cost of the optical drive, which is not cool. Also, there are often issues with the integrated (non user-replaceable) battery. Finally, the slick design makes these laptops expensive for the specs they pack in. The Sony Vaio SA26GG is definitely a laptop to drool over. It proved to be the best performer in the group (thanks to the SSD storage clubbed in RAID) and it’s almost the lightest too, but it is simply too expensive. If price is a concern, and you don’t mind a 2.5 kg PC on your lap, the third best performer, the Acer Timeline 5830TG, should definitely be the first on your list.