The Sony Vaio P is a weird device. It’s much smaller than a netbook, but much better-equipped. It has wireless broadband access from Verizon, onboard GPS, a ThinkPad-style pointing stick, and an eye-straining high-resolution screen. It’s also incredibly expensive. So who exactly is the Vaio P for?
At just 9.8 inches across, 0.8 inches thick, and 4.8 inches deep, and weighing just one pound, five ounces, the Vaio P is made for mobility—it makes a 10-inch netbook look like a desktop replacement. Into those tiny dimensions Sony crams parts that—on paper—put your old Atom netbook to shame. The Vaio P uses a 2GHz Atom Z550 paired with the US15W chipset and GMA500 integrated graphics. By comparison, last year’s typical netbook used a 1.6GHz N280 on an Intel GSE945 chipset with GMA950 graphics. The Vaio P also ships with 2GB of DDR2/533 and a whopping 256GB Samsung MLC SSD, which itself is responsible for $700 of the Vaio P’s price tag. The full Windows 7 Professional OS is a welcome change from Windows XP—or worse, Windows 7 Starter.
The Vaio P’s eight-inch screen offers an eye-watering 1600x768 resolution. This is the first time we’ve ever seen a screen that was too sharp; reading text on it for more than a few minutes hurt our eyes.
First things first: This is not a revolution. Although the Acer Aspire One AO532h boasts Intel’s new Pine Trail processor, the Atom N450, it’s no game changer. Instead, think of it as a highly polished evolution of the standard netbook.
Intel’s first Atom CPU, the N270, was the processor that launched a thousand netbooks, among them the 8.9-inch Aspire One, which was our favorite first-generation netbook, as well as one of the most popular. It’s fitting, then, that an Acer Aspire One is one of the first netbooks to arrive with Intel’s much-anticipated Atom N450, which consumes roughly 20 percent less power, and moves the chipset and graphics functionality into the CPU.
Other than the CPU, not much else is new about the AO532h—it has 1GB of DDR2; a 10.1-inch, 1024x600, LED-backlit LCD; and a glossy, fingerprint-magnet chassis. The hard drive is 250GB, which is nice, and both hard drive and RAM are easily upgradeable. It’s the first netbook we’ve tested with Windows 7 preinstalled, albeit the needlessly crippled Starter edition. The track pad, which supports multitouch, is a textured area that’s flush with the chassis; the chiclet-style keyboard is nearly full-size and easy to type on, although the keys depress lower than the chassis, which can be annoying when hitting the keys on the bottom row, where the sharp edge of the frame can dig into your thumbs.
HP touts the $900 ProBook 5310m as being the world's thinnest full-performance notebook, but its slim form factor doesn't mean limited functionality. The 5310m ultra-portable is burly enough to satisfy demanding business users, and it boasts a price tag that won't blow out your IT department's budget.
The 5310m, which is just .93 inches thick, was built specifically for small- to medium-sized businesses, but it breaks the mold of the blandly colored, chunky business notebooks your employees are probably accustomed to. This HP features a beautiful, black, anodized, brushed-aluminum finish with glossy black accents, augmented by a magnesium base for additional protection. It’s outfitted with a spacious, spill-resistant keyboard that remains comfortable even after entended typing sessions. The multi-touch trackpad offered a little too much resistance to our finger swipes and gestures, but this is far from being a a deal breaker.
Gone are the Atom processor’s days of monopolizing the low-cost mobile-computing market. This should come as welcome news to folks who want the price and portability benefits of a netbook but more robust performance.
Take Toshiba’s Satellite T115 as an example. To say that it has an 11.6-inch diagonal screen, weighs 3.6 pounds, and is coated in a high-gloss black finish inlaid with a subtle geometric pattern is to describe any number of netbooks on the market today. The fact that the T115 costs $480 only drives home the similarity.
And yet, the T115 is different from netbooks in one very significant way. It houses a traditional notebook processor. It’s just a single-core, single-threaded, 45mn, 1.3GHz Pentium M, but that proved plenty sufficient for making mincemeat of our zero-point netbook’s benchmark scores. That machine’s Atom N270 is clocked 23 percent higher at 1.6GHz, but the Pentium beat it by massive margins—from 27.4 percent in MainConcept all the way up to 128.7 percent in 3DMark 03.
To say that netbooks have historically been hobbled by Intel’s integrated graphics is to unfairly ignore their slow single-core CPUs, 1GB RAM maximum, miniscule keyboards, and awkward screen resolutions. It’s an unfair assertion, of course—netbooks came into existence to be cheap, portable, low-powered machines. But the definition of netbook has been stretched, to the point where HP’s new Mini 311, while still considered a netbook, has an 11.6-inch 1366x768 screen, Nvidia integrated graphics, a large keyboard, and can support up to 3GB of DDR3 RAM, for less than $500.
At first, the Mini 311 looks a lot like any other 11.6-inch netbook on the market: Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 3 USB ports, and a somewhat squashed keyboard. But the RAM is DDR3/1333, not the typical DDR2/667, and it’s soldered to the mainboard, leaving a SODIMM slot free for an additional 2GB of RAM. The screen has a maximum resolution of 1366x768, significantly better than the standard 1024x600—for one thing, websites and programs built for 1024x768 won’t break. And thanks to the Ion platform, the Mini 311 can display 720p HD video, and output 1080p over the HDMI port—that’s right, a netbook with an HDMI port.
GammaTech’s Durabook D14RM is the antidote for folks who are really rough on their hardware. The notebook’s gray and black magnesium-alloy case, complete with black rubberized corners, not only makes the rig look burly, but also serves to protect it from aggressive manhandling.
GammaTech says the notebook complies with MIL-STD-810F guidelines for ruggedness, so we put those claims to the test. We “accidentally” knocked the D14RM off a desk when the machine was open and running a program, dropped it from a standing position onto a concrete floor (a few times, because it gave us such a thrill), and spilled a full 16-ounce cup of liquid across its keyboard. The D14RM withstood all that abuse without any apparent damage to its structure or functionality. And mind you, the D14RM uses a mechanical hard drive. Yes, an SSD seems like a more obvious choice for a notebook that’s meant to be tossed about, but then it wouldn’t be nearly so affordable.
If there’s one thing that might take your mind off your financial woes, it’s some good old-fashioned fragging. And Asus is happy to oblige by offering the most affordable full-fledged gaming notebook that we’ve ever tested. The G51Vx-RX05, sold exclusively through Best Buy, costs less than a grand—OK, at $999, that’s a technicality, but still, this 15-inch notebook is cheap. It’s half the cost of the 15-inch iBuypower M865TU gaming rig we reviewed in November.
Of course, Asus had to cut some corners to get there. The notebook’s Core 2 Duo P7350 CPU, for example, boasts a mere 2GHz clock speed—that’s 33 percent slower than the iBuypower’s proc. And true to form, the G51Vx-RX05 performed about 30 percent slower than the iBuypower (our new zero-point rig) in our Premiere, Photoshop, ProShow, and MainConcept benchmarks.
A Power Control Panel option in the G51Vx-RX05 lets you overclock the CPU by up to 150MHz. That’s a 7.5 percent boost, which amounted to around five percent of additional performance in our CPU-centric benchmarks: Using the so-called “Extreme turbo” mode, we shaved 11 seconds off our original Photoshop time and a minute off of Premiere Pro. That doesn’t do much to bridge the gap between the G51Vx-RX05 and its higher-clocked competition, but it does add some value to the package.
Toshiba waited a long time to enter the netbook market, but as the NB205 proves, taking some time to learn from your competitors can be a good thing. The NB205 offers everything we expect from a netbook, as well as some unexpected bonus features, and does so for less than $400. We liked the NB205 when we used it in our netbook upgrading feature (October); here we give it a full review.
The NB205 has a matte-silver plastic chassis and a textured matte lid, available in blue, pink, black, white, or brown. We appreciate that Toshiba has bucked the glossy fingerprint-magnet trend here. The netbook is solidly constructed, with a color-matched glossy bezel and hinge. The included six-cell battery protrudes about a half an inch beyond the back of the netbook, and is slightly wobbly to the touch, but given the 6:45 (hr:min) battery life, a little wobble doesn’t bother us.
From the looks of it, you probably wouldn’t figure iBuypower’s M865TU for a gaming notebook. Its aesthetic is much more subdued than typical representatives of that class. The chassis is covered in a subtly textured black plastic, with tasteful silver trim around the edges and the touch pad. Unlike other gaming notebooks, backlighting is limited to the power button and an unobtrusive iBuypower logo on the notebook’s lid. Furthermore, the 15-inch M865TU is smaller than many gaming rigs and has a more streamlined formfactor.
But despite its smaller stature and no-nonsense appearance, the M865TU’s got game. That’s courtesy of the Nvidia GTX 260M GPU under its hood. Based on a reworked G92 chip, which uses a smaller, faster process (55nm vs. 65nm) and features slightly higher clocks, the GTX 260M proves more capable than previous-generation G92 mobile parts. For example, the M865TU performed almost 30 percent better in Far Cry 2 and Call of Duty 4 than the 9800M GTX-equipped Qosmio X305 we reviewed in June, with scores of 31.3fps and 58.3fps, respectively, at the notebook’s 1680x1050 native res and the highest quality settings. (This month, we jettisoned the games we have previously used for notebooks reviews in favor of FC2 and CoD4, which are far more indicative of a GPU’s prowess—expect to see these titles integrated into our benchmark chart going forward.)
The guts of the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 are virtually identical to the IdeaPad S10 that we reviewed back in 2008—1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 160GB HDD, and integrated Intel GMA950 graphics. The difference is the body. At 11.4 inches wide, this is one of the largest “netbooks” we’ve ever tested. The S12 has a 12.1-inch WXGA screen with a 1280x800 native resolution—far superior to the netbook-standard 1024x600, and much more usable. The glossy screen is impressively bright even at low LED-backlight levels.
The S12’s keyboard features large, comfortable keys and is a joy to type on, although as usual, Lenovo has mixed up where the Ctrl and Fn keys should be. The glossy black patterned lid and matte-black ABS frame make the S12 one of the best-looking and best-constructed netbooks we’ve ever tested, although the battery is a little wobbly and the lid is a fingerprint magnet. Both RAM and hard drive are easily accessible and upgradeable.