Review: Three Ultralight Laptops Get The Job Done - InformationWeek

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Review: Three Ultralight Laptops Get The Job Done

Can a laptop be small enough to carry easily yet big enough to do what you need it to? Absolutely -- although you'll need a heavier bank account.

Laptops have grown up. Once wimpy, they now come loaded with features that make them fully functional alternatives to desktop PCs. But even a modest six-pounder can feel like 60 pounds after lugging it around for a day. The solution: Grown-up laptops need to get smaller -- but not so small that you can't actually do work on them.

If you need a truly portable portable, there are a lot of really sweet ultralight laptops, three pounds or under, out there. There's also bad news: first, that they're expensive (half the size means twice the price); second, that with ultralight laptops, everything becomes a compromise.

Three Ultralights

•  Introduction

•  Fujitsu Lifebook Q

•  Lenovo X60

•  Sony VAIO TX

•  Conclusions & Info

Some of the trade-offs are obvious; for example, the screens are going to be smaller. (Like you hadn't thought of that, right?) Others are more subtle. Because weight is the critical design factor, some things you might take for granted on a bigger machine may be missing, like a CD-ROM/DVD drive. Batteries are smaller, which means processors are going to be less powerful, which means that for some demanding applications, like recording high-definition video, an ultralight laptop may not be a satisfactory choice.

And when a PC is that small, ergonomics becomes an issue. Not only is the keyboard likely to be constricted, but the mouse-equivalent device, a touchpad or a TrackPoint, gets less real estate as well, and become harder to use. If you do a lot of graphics work – photo editing, for example -- precise cursor control means you'll probably wind up carrying a USB mouse with you, which ups the size of your kit. Some ultralights are so thin there's no room for a VGA connector, so if you use your laptop for presentations and are constantly plugging it into a video projector, that could be a problem. As a result, the central question I brought to this review was: Can an ultralight laptop be small enough to take with me, and yet big enough to be functional?

I collected three ultralight laptops to work with for this roundup: the Fujitsu Lifebook Q2010, the Lenovo ThinkPad X60, and the Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P. The three machines have a lot in common: They all came with Windows XP Professional installed. All three run Intel's Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950 mobile graphics chipset, which provides 128 Mbutes of dedicated RAM and borrows another 96 Mbytes from the operating system. All three are equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and offer some sort of optional wireless wide area networking from a third-party service provider. All three also came equipped with fingerprint scanners for security (though it's not standard equipment on the ThinkPad).

But beyond that, each manufacturer has dealt with the trade-offs of getting big functionality out of a small package very differently. The Fujitsu Lifebook Q2010 is the thinnest and lightest, at a mere 2.2 pounds, yet has the biggest screen. The Sony VAIO VGN-TXN15P is the smallest, but it's big enough to include an optical disk drive (which is very important to me, because I install a lot of software, burn a lot of discs, and play a fair amount of music and DVDs). The Lenovo ThinkPad X60 has the most powerful processor and the best ergonomics, but the least satisfactory screen.

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