Notebook Guide: Ultraportables and Desktop Replacements

OK, My laptop died, time to get another. Here are some reviews that led me to the Sony VAIO TF3AP2. Its 3 pounds, has a CD-RW/DVD and runs on batteries for five hours. Tiny, its just what I need on the road. I’ll have to get a big desktop at home, but I still need to do slides on the road. There are a bunch of choices, but they come down to two for me. Note that one of these is a so called “whitebook”:http://www6.tomshardware.com/mobile/20031202/index.html.

h2. Ultraportables

These are machines that you can buy online and then customize to your hearts content:

* Sony VAIO “TR3AP2”:http://hometheaterspot.pricegrabber.com/search_getprod.php?masterid=2173188&blsrt=1. This is a 1GB machine that is only 3 pounds. Includes DVD, 1GB, 40GB disk and 10 inch widescreen 3-5 hour battery life. $2500 or so from newegg.com. Best thing are that it is super small. Biggest negative is that it uses the older Banias 130nm 1GHz Pentium M so it isn’t fast. Its about $2500. The screen is kinda tiny which is the biggest drawback.
* ASUS “M5N”:http://proportable.g2.cc/detail.aspx?ID=5. An alternative is the M5N which has a 12″ LCD screen but weights just 1.55kg (3.5 lb). JCNS also carries this as well. There is also an S5N that doesn’t have an on-board optical drive. Main drawback is the screen is only 1024×768 as most 12″ screens are. “Digit-Life”:http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/asus-m5n/ seemed to like it OK. You can also get them from “Top Micro”:http://store.topmic.com/asm5nmincela.html, but they don’t have the latest Intel chips yet.

There are also quite a few ultraportables that don’t have a DVD drive. For me, this kind of defeats the purpose on those long airplane rides. If you don’t need a DVD drive, the IBM “X31”:http://www.anandtech.com/mobile/showdoc.html?i=1809 seems to be the big winner in the reviews I’ve read.

h2. Desktop Replacement

If you don’t quite want ultraportable, there are the 5 pound ones. I actually got the M3N, but think the M6N is probably the later and better deal, although both a big to go on an airplane and are more desktop replacements

* “M6Ne”:http://usa.asus.com/products/notebook/m6series/m6000n/m6000n_overview.htm. There is a whole family, but it weights 5.6 pounds, so about the same as the M3N. Best model right now looks like the M6Ne which has a 1400×1050 screen. Main issue of course is that on an airplane, it won’t really open in economy class, but it is a great desktop replacement particularly at Proportable.com where you can give is a 1.8GHz Dothan (Pentium M 745). And the 7200 rpm 60GB “Hitachi”:http://www.hitachigst.com/portal/site/hgst/?epi_menuItemID=72dec1c7bd2c113aa5a8f2b6aac4f0a0&epi_menuID=0f34be57a7adb6fd25ad4e8060e4f0a0&epi_baseMenuID=22f0deefa8f3967dafa0466460e4f0a0 is a screamer. “Tom’s Hardware”:http://www6.tomshardware.com/mobile/20040407/index.html also liked this big boy as a desktop replacement. Its huge with a gigantic 15″ screen, so it won’t fit on an airplane.
* ASUS “M3Np”:http://proportable.g2.cc/detail.aspx?ID=8. Available from proportable.com, this is a white box ASUS M3N and it isn’t exactly an ultraportable. Has 2GHz 755, 14″ TFT, 1GB, 60GB drive, internal CD-RW/DVD-RW drive, 802.11bg and is a about 2.2kg (5lb)l. It’s about $2500, with the main drawback that it will have lower battery life than the Sony. you can also get this from “JNCS”:http://www.jncs.com/index.asp?page=M3N.htm in a build it yourself format. Kind of like a shuttle where they do the assembly. The big advantage of JNCS is that they have the M3Np which has the 1400×1050 screen rather than the lower resolution 1024×768 that protable.com has. BTW, the DVD writer isn’t really worth it, only writes at 1x (so a 45 minute movie takes 45 minutes!).

Here are some other reviews I looked at:

* “Notebookreview”:http://www.notebookreview.com/default.aspx?newsID=1859. A great site BTW, this article is about the new Dothan powered notebooks coming out. Best standard laptop is the Acer TravelMate 8000 at 6.6lb. Best ultrathin is the ASUS M5N or M3NP.
* “TechTV”:http://www.techtv.com/screensavers/products/story/0,24330,3550386,00.html. They like the Fujitsu LifeBook P5000. Has an optical drive and widescreen format so you can watch DVDs. Battery life was pretty good too. It’s pretty slow at 143 MobileMark, but has a 4:22 hr MobileMark 2002 battery life. Runs on a Pentium M 1.0 GHz
* “CNet”:http://reviews.cnet.com/4521-6527_7-5021302-4.html. Their top picks are the IBM ThinkPad X31, but it doesn’t have an optical drive. They like the Sony VAIO TR2A which rob shurtleff loves. They didn’t review the newer TR3AP2 which Bruce Ryan loves. They also likes the Panasonic ToughBook CF-W2 which does have an optical drive, 6 hour battery life,

h2. Decoder Ring

“Intel processor comparison:http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=320039. There is much confusion about the various types of processors Intel now sells. An amazing hash of names and architectures. Here’s the decoder ring that also comes from the Intel “Annual Report”:http://www.intel.com/intel/annual03/ar03.pdf

* Centrino. This is not a processor at all. It means that you have a Pentium M with their glue logic for chips and things, so it basically means more Intel chips than otherwise.
* Pentium M. These are optimized for low power adn have a completely different architecture than desktop chips (Northwood and Prescott). They have lower clock speeds, but higher performance at a given clock speed because they don’t have the huge pipeline, so a 1.7GHz Pentium M could be faster than a 3GHz Pentium 4. The other variants are the voltages, so you have 1.3GHz-1.7GHz Pentium M, then low-voltage Pentium M in 1.1 and 1.2 GHz and finally ultra low voltage 900 MHz and 1GHz.
* Pentium M (Dothan). These are the new 90nm chips. About 10% faster for the same battery life. They’ve only announced the standard voltage ones at 2GHz (755), 1.8 (753) and 1.7 (735).
* Mobile Pentium 4. These are the high burn rate version of the desktop Pentium 4. Mainly used for desktop replacement systems where heat and power consumption don’t matter.
* mobile Celeron. Intel’s low-end desktop line tuned for mobile uses