We’ve been waiting a long time for this. We first heard about Nvidia’s next-generation Ion chip way back in the first months of 2010. They were supposed to ship with Nvidia’s Optimus graphics-switching technology back in April. Okay, June. July at the latest. It didn’t quite happen—those few next-gen Ion netbooks that did launch earlier this year did so without Optimus. At long last, however, Asus’ next-gen Ion netbook—with Optimus and a dual-core netbook Atom chip—has hit American shores, just one day before September.
The Eee 1215N, one of Asus’ innumerable Eee PC Seashell netbooks, is the first netbook we’ve seen with Intel’s new mobile dual-core Atom chips—it ships with the 1.8GHz Atom D525, 2GB of DDR3/800 RAM, and most importantly, Nvidia’s next-generation Ion graphics chipset and Optimus technology, which enables Ion when required and switches to Intel’s integrated UMA graphics when Ion isn’t necessary.
The $900 Acer Aspire 5745PG-3882 is an attractive-looking, moderately priced notebook with some nifty multitouch features, a high-quality display, and audio attributes that make it a very capable multimedia system. But with middling 3D graphics performance, it’s not going to make anyone’s top-10 list of portable gaming rigs.
Sporting a 15.6-inch, multitouch-capable, capacitive screen, the 5745PG-3882 is not unlike the iBuypower Armada Touch MT20X we reviewed a few months ago. But while the MT20X includes a useful application that lets you map common mouse and keyboard gaming commands to the screen’s multitouch interface, the 5745PG-3882 lacks any sort of 3D-gaming-specific features for its touch display. It does, however, include some cool multitouch software for more everyday usages, such as apps for watching photos and videos, listening to music, and surfing the web. A couple of touch-enabled casual games are also included, but these titles aren’t exactly the sort of games that make a GPU sweat.
Neither the MSI GX640-098US’s specs nor its $1,200 price tag necessarily scream “mobile gaming rig,” but the notebook’s highlighted W, A, S, and D keys say otherwise. So when the GX480 showed up on our doorstep, we wondered if the moderately powered notebook could muster up enough moxie to satisfy mobile gamers on a budget.
The 15.4-inch display is certainly not the largest-size screen you’re going to find on a gaming notebook; but when you’re making concessions to save some dough, screen size is one of the easiest areas to cut costs. The display’s 1680x1050 native resolution is a pleasant surprise, though, which is higher than the 1366x768 native res of Asus’s 16-inch N61J desktop-replacement.
Other than screen size, the GX640 and N61J share very similar specs. They are both powered by a 2.26GHz Core i5-430M processor and 4GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and both come with 7,200rpm 500GB hard drives. The N61J has at least two distinct advantages over the GX640, however, with USB 3.0 support and a price tag that’s $300 lower.
Veteran gaming-PC company iBuypower is offering the first multitouch gaming laptop, along with a workaround for the complete dearth of multitouch games.
The 15.6-inch MT20X features a capacitive screen with glass overlay to take full advantage of Win7’s multitouch support. All the neat features we’ve come to associate with multitouch—finger-based dragging, scrolling, zooming, rotating—are performed with smoothness and precision on the MT20X’s screen. But neat as this is, it felt a bit unnatural to use on a conventional laptop. For instance, we resented that the trackpad’s lack of a scroll feature forced us to move our fingers from the keyboard to the screen to scroll through web pages and documents.
By now, if you’re buying a netbook, you know what you’re getting: All the models of a given generation are the same on the inside. So with the internals out of the decision tree, how do you choose which of dozens of near-identical netbooks is worthy of your purchase? Sure, the old standby differentiator of battery life still applies. But how about aesthetics? Can you actually choose a netbook based on design?
We think so. The Samsung N210’s internals could be those of any current-gen non-Ion netbook—a 1.66GHz Atom N450 Pine Trail processor, 1GB RAM, a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive—but it’s what’s on the outside that counts. The device has an embossed cream-color lid covered with a clear plastic coating. The interior is all matte white; and with its chrome edge trim and crisp gray lettering, it’s almost retro-futuristic. The keyboard puts every other netbook keyboard to shame—the chiclet-style keys aren’t cramped at all and the keyboard doesn’t feel mushy. We could type on it all day. The track pad’s multitouch capabilities help make up for its small size, and the LED-backlit screen is readable even at low brightness levels. Cranked up, the backlighting is quite bright for an office environment.
What differentiates one netbook model from any other of the same size? There are only a few flavors, after all: last-gen netbooks, with Atom N270 or N280 processors and Windows XP; current-gen netbooks, with Pine Trail Atom processors and Windows 7; and Ion-based netbooks, with Nvidia mobile graphics and middlin’ battery life. Well, you could wait for second-gen Ion netbooks, which promise excellent gaming power and 10-hour battery life. Or you could go for the Asus Eee 1201N, which offers first-gen Ion performance and—get this—a friggin’ dual-core processor.
The 12-inch 1201N is the first netbook we’ve tested with an honest-to-goodness dual-core processor inside—Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom N330, which you may remember from bare-bones Ion boards and nettops. Paired with the N330 is Nvidia’s first-gen Ion platform, which turns a 12-inch netbook into something approaching a gaming platform (if 7-year-old titles fit your idea of games). The last Ion device we reviewed, the HP Mini 311 (February 2010), used a single-core N280, while upcoming second-gen Ion netbooks will use single-core Atom N450s. So is there a niche for a dual-core Atom netbook with Ion?
It's called the Envy 13 for a reason. From its magnesium alloy frame, to its beautiful display and its laser etched hand-rest, HP's Envy 13 is sure to turn a few of your friends green. The only setback to this ultraportable? It's going to cost you a lot of green, too. The system starts out at $1,450, and as configured here, costs $1725.
The Envy 13 looks a lot like a MacBook Pro. It has a beautiful and large island-style keyboard that was easy to type on almost immediately. Below it is a multitouch trackpad that worked well for zooming in and out of websites and photos. If you've never used a multitouch trackpad, think of it like an iPhone screen: Simply pinch to zoom in and pull your two fingers apart to zoom out.
The terms petite and gaming notebook are about as incongruous as self-restraint and Wall Street, so our curiosity about Alienware’s M11x was naturally mixed with skepticism. Could this sub–five pound, 11-inch rig do much more than play aged or anemic titles?
Small as it is, the M11x indeed has substance. The first sign of hope was the GeForce GT 335M graphics card—a slightly faster kin to the GT 325M we found in Asus’s N61J 16-inch notebook (reviewed in May). Also stuffed into the wee chassis: a 1.3GHz Core 2 Duo overclocked to 1.73GHz (which can be turned off in the BIOS), 4GB of DDR2/1066 RAM, and a 7,200rpm 500GB hard drive. That’s a lot of gear to cram into an 11.25x8.25x1.25-inch body—so much, in fact, that there’s no room left for an optical drive.
In September 2009, we saw AVADirect push the boundaries of portable computing with its honkin’ Core i7-975 Extreme Edition–equipped D900F desktop replacement. That behemoth was both a back breaker (at 15 pounds) and a benchmark buster (at least in our applications tests).
This month, we’re presented with AVA-Direct’s X8100—a rig that’s similarly monstrous but boasts a completely different character. The X8100 features a Core i7-820QM, a true mobile quad-core part. Intel’s Clarksfield chips have obvious advantages in a mobile platform, including a lower price and a much lower TDP (thermal design point)—45W max vs. 130W—than the desktop Nehalems. There’s also more emphasis on Turbo Boost. So, although the i7-820QM has a base clock of 1.73GHz, it can theoretically reach 3.06GHz in single-threaded apps. Photoshop is our only mostly single-threaded application benchmark, and you can see from the numbers that the X8100 performed 20 percent better in that test than our 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo zero-point rig did. But in the multithreaded tests, where the X8100 didn’t have the full advantage of Turbo Boost, the applications scores were even more punishing—with the X8100 achieving leads in excess of 50 percent—such is the power of those two extra cores, plus HyperThreading, plus a superior microarchitecture.
Let’s talk about love. When you love something, you love it for what it is, not what it isn’t. We love netbooks; we don’t care that they can’t really do games, or HD Flash video, or any media encoding to speak of. We know what we want—all-day computing in a formfactor small enough to toss into a knapsack or messenger bag and barely know it’s there, and cheap enough to be viable as a secondary PC. Toshiba’s first netbook, the NB205, came out in the latter half of 2009, but was immediately lauded as a shining exemplar of netbook craft. So, can the NB305, its Atom N450–toting successor, replicate the NB205’s success?
With the NB305, Toshiba has opted for a gentle refinement of the 205 rather than an all-out reimagining. Aside from the new Pine Trail N450 CPU and the Windows 7 Starter OS, the NB305 is virtually identical to its predecessor. Both share standard netbook specs: 1GB DDR2 RAM, a 250GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and a 10.1-inch 1024x600 screen. And the 305 replicates the NB205’s styling almost identically, from the matte-silver plastic chassis, textured lid, and matching bezel to the striped touch pad and chiclet keyboard.