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Ultra-Portable Laptop

The coolness factor outweighs the sacrifices

View This Month's Buyers Guide

Are you constantly on the move? Do you spend a lot of your valuable time traveling, your fingers flying across your keyboard even as you race across the country from meeting to conference to satellite office? We bet one of the banes of your existence is that darn bulky laptop—at least, the heft of it, as you lug it through the airport and up and down hallways.

The ultra-portable laptop is exactly what you've been needing, and it's high time you gave these machines a gander. So light you'll believe they can float, these nifty, powerful little systems probably have all the muscle you need for typical business processing, along with a few enticing extras that can make your travel hours much less of a burden. In this month's Buyer's Guide, we take a look at some of the key players in the ultra-portable laptop arena.

The Good Stuff
The moment you pick up one of these diminutive marvels, the advantages become clear. These things practically defy gravity. While researching this market, I had the pleasure of using one for a few days, and everyone around me coveted the sleek little machine. Opening it up in a meeting was an invitation for my coworkers to begin drooling. The relatively bright, wide-screen display led some to imagine movie-watching possibilities, and the keyboard provoked others to remark that, really, not much keyboard real estate needed to be sacrificed to fit the form factor.

People are equally impressed when they learn that ultra-portable laptops boast power levels and storage capacities that equal or exceed those of the typical desktop machine. Processor speeds of the machines in this Buyer's Guide hover between 1.1GHz and 1.73GHz, hard-disk sizes range from 30GB to 80GB, and the spectrum of RAM goes from 256MB to 2GB, giving you the oomph you need for some pretty intensive tasks. All the laptops herein offer 802.11b/g wireless functionality. Clearly, these computers are designed for the road warrior.

Battery life is respectable if not extraordinary. You'll get anywhere from 3 to 7 hours of battery life on the default battery, and some models include an optional backup battery that doubles that lifespan.

The Sacrifices
If you take the plunge into the ultra-portable market, you're going to make some sacrifices. The necessarily smaller screen will probably strike some users—particularly power users or systems administrators who need to view multiple desktops or applications—as problematic. You'll find far brighter displays in the more bulky computers on the market, but the ultra-portable displays get the job done—unless you crave crystal-clear picture quality.

To weigh in at less than 4 pounds, many of these machines have had to sacrifice their internal optical drive. If you're like most systems administrators I know, you're frequently accessing DVD-based content, whether that's stored data or installation files. You'll likely object to the necessity of plugging in the DVD drive every time you need to access such data.

I did test-drive the external DVD drive that was included with my test system, popping in a favorite film to check out movie-watching capability, and although DVD playback performed without a hitch, the onboard speakers were laughably tinny, requiring a headset. In the end, these probably aren't the most ideal devices on which to catch a flick, considering the image and sound sacrifices of the small size, but they remain a good option for road warriors, boasting a larger screen than most portable DVD players have.

Finally, although the keyboard itself doesn't feel overly cramped, typing over long periods leads to mild discomfort: This is a small work area. It's worth mentioning, however, that most ultra-portable laptops include a docking station as an add-on option, so you can use your usual keyboard, mouse, and monitor at the office.

The Coolness Factor
I can't deny the extreme portability and coolness of these dandy little powerhouses. Carrying my test machine between office and home was a pleasure, and keep in mind that the inherent technology just keeps improving. Although some vendors have relegated the CD/DVD drive to external functionality, others are finding ways to integrate that vital component.

All that being said, is portability worth the price tag for you? You'll need to make sure that you can handle the sacrifices made to image size and keyboard. It's time to do some soul-searching, and really think about what features are important to you in a laptop. It might simply come down to how often you need to carry the thing, rather than trivial concerns such as processor, hard disk, and RAM.

The Buyer's Guide presents vendor-submitted information. To find out about future Buyer's Guide topics or to learn how to include your product in an upcoming Buyer's Guide, go to

Jason Bovberg ([email protected] is a senior editor for Windows IT Pro. He has more than 10 years of experience as a writer and editor in magazine, book, and special-interest publishing.

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