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Welcome! I am Jason Nguyen, a graduate student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington, and this blog is where I make observations about music, culture, and academic life.

Ultra-Thin laptop comparisons

Asus UL30A

Asus UL30A

Update 2010-12-27: Added optical drive comparison.  Also listed a few other laptops that might be worth looking at, the Toshiba Portege line and the HP DM3T (neither added to the table though).

I’ve been thinking about buying a new ultra-thin laptop to replace my netbook (if I see a good deal I might do it soon, but I’m not in a rush).  I love my Asus 1201HA netbook — for $400, I got a solid, lightweight machine that runs for 8 hours at a time — but ultimately, it’s still a netbook.  Netbooks run on energy-efficient but slower processors (like the Intel Atom) and sometimes can’t handle the multi-tasking workload of the modern scholar (or the modern anything).

New netbooks (like Asus’ dual-Atom 1215 netbook) are doing way better, and straddle the line between netbooks and notebooks even more, but they are starting to converge with “ultrathin” laptops, so I’ve been looking in that direction instead.  Why not go for a full Intel Dual Core or equivalent for a similar price?

The most famous ultrathin of the moment is Apple’s Macbook Air, but it’s pretty expensive.  I’m including it in the table below for comparison purposes, but its price is a bit of a turnoff (starting at $1,299 for the 13inch), so what are the other options?  I started to look for laptops with a few criteria important to me:

  1. Ultra-thin w/ aluminum casing: Starting in mid-2009, cheap ultra-thins started appearing on the market, but folks quickly noticed that they were prone to cracking.  I want something with an aluminum case like the Macbook Air, but still skinny and sexy.  I know, I have a negative laptop body image.
  2. Cheap (<$900): Since I got my first netbook, I’ve been working on a basic computer-purchasing paradigm: buy cheap laptops and replace them more often.  It allows me to get the latest features, and gives me the opportunity to replace my computer every year or two without feeling bad about it.  I don’t need to use my laptop for gaming, so if the most intensive thing I’m going to do is to watch a YouTube video in 1080p, then there’s absolutely no reason why I should pay more than this.
  3. 13inch or better screen: My netbook is 12inches, which is good enough, but I previously used 10inch and 11inch models and they drove me crazy.  Too big and they start weighing a lot, too small and I can’t see.  13inches is a good median.
  4. Decent Hardware: No less than an Intel Dual Core.  At least 2Gb RAM.
  5. Good Battery Life: At least 5 hour battery.

There are some things other people might think about too:

  1. Optical Drives (CD/DVD): Honestly, I have little use for an optical drive in my daily work, and that list grows smaller when I think of things that USB flash drives could do faster and better, like transferring files.  So I prefer no optical drive.

Based on that, here’s a comparison of the laptops I like the most + Macbook Air.  It’ll probably be updated as I get closer to buying one.  Each laptop has multiple options–I list the cheapest one that match my criteria.

Dell Vostro V13 Dell Adamo 13 Asus UL30A-X7 MacBook Air
Price $529 $899 $599 (on Buy.com) $1299
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo 1.3GHz / 800Mhz FSB / 3MB cache Intel Core 2 Duo 2.1GHz / 800Mhz FSB / 3MB cache Core 2 Duo 1.30 GHz / 800Mhz FSB 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo / 6MB on-chip shared L2 cache
Memory 2GB DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz 4GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 800MHz 4GB of DDR3 2GB memory
Graphics Integrated Intel® 4500MHD GMA Integrated  Intel GS45 GMA Intel GMA 4500MHD NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics
Operating System Windows 7 Professional 32bit Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit Windows 7 Home Premium Mac OS X
Screen 13.3 inch Wide Display HD (1366 x 768) with Anti-glare 13.4 inch display (1366×768) 13.3″ HD LED Display 13.3 inch display
Optical Drive no no no no
Thickness 0.65inch 0.65inch 0.97inch 0.76in
Weight 3.5lbs 3.97lbs 3.31lbs 2.9lbs
Battery Life 6-cell, 4-5 hours 6-cell, 5hrs+ 12hrs 50-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, 7hrs+

At this point, kinda looks like the Asus is winning, eh?  I’ll probably update as I make a decision.  This should help folks start to decide though.

P.S. In my continuing research, there are a few more models that I haven’t had a chance to add, but people might be interested in looking at: HP DM3T and the Toshiba Portege series.  I’ll add them if I get a chance.

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