Top 10 ultraportable laptops

With screen sizes under 14 inches and weight under 4 pounds, ultraportable laptops strike an appealing balance between portability and performance

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Rating:

rating_icon_3_stars.gif

Pros:
Decent battery life
Great performance and features for the money

Cons:
Mediocre touchpad
Flimsy ethernet jack cover

Bottom Line: Viewed as an ultraportable laptop, the Pavilion dm1z is mediocre though inexpensive; but as a netbook, it's fantastic and avoids the usual netbook compromises.

REVIEW:
We've been hearing about AMD's new Fusion line of processors for what seems like ages, so I dove eagerly into testing the first Fusion-powered laptop to cross my doorstep--the HP Pavilion dm1z (frequently called the "dm1"). It's based on the highest-performing member of the new Brazos platform from AMD, the E-350 CPU. At a very reasonable starting price of $450, this 11.6-inch laptop straddles the line between budget ultraportable laptop and netbook.

HP clearly defines the Pavilion dm1 as an ultraportable laptop, and company reps have reiterated to me several times that it is not to be considered part of its netbook lineup, whose models carry the brand HP Mini. Okay...but it blows the doors off virtually every other netbook we've reviewed, and its price is in the same ballpark as (and in some instances lower than) those of many premium netbooks. Judged in the ultraportable category, however, it looks puny, as more-expensive laptops equipped with Intel's ultra-low-voltage CPUs run circles around it. As a result, the final performance score (a weighted combination of all our benchmarks and the system's battery life) is a measly 59. And this score knocks the system's overall score down to 3 stars. If we had evaluated the system as a netbook, its favorable performance against other netbooks would have boosted its performance score to 84 and its overall score to 4 stars. Still, if HP's marketing department insists that this isn't a netbook, we won't insist that it is.

The dm1z earned a mark of 55 on our WorldBench 6 tests. Most Atom-based netbooks (including the HP MIni 5103, which we reviewed last fall) can't do better than WorldBench 6 score of 35 to 40. Though AMD's past processors have had problems with battery life, the Pavilion dm1z ran for a creditable 6 hours, 40 minutes in our battery rundown test. That figure doesn't reflect idle time, either: Our test alternates between playing full-screen video and performing simulated typing to drain a laptop's battery.

The integrated Radeon HD 6310M graphics performs quite well, offering full DirectX 11 compatibility and outperforming the integrated graphics on Intel's Atom CPUs by a factor of 3 or more. I could play Torchlight with all its settings cranked up, and Left 4 Dead 2 ran amazingly well. Admittedly, I had to reduce the settings on more-processor-intensive titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to keep things running smoothly, but this small $450 laptop's ability to play such games at all is impressive. The fan got a bit loud during gaming sessions, but it never spun at maximum speed when we used the Pavilion dm1z for other tasks. Test clips of 1080p Web video played without jitters and looked great. I even tried the $130 external USB Blu-ray drive option, and high-def Blu-ray movies looked smooth, sharp, and flawless. The system itself lacks an optical drive.

For the $450 entry price, HP's 11.6-inch not-a-netbook delivers quite a lot. The system resembles other Pavilion dm-series laptops, with a fairly sleek profile when closed, a subtly designed black lid, and a cover over the bottom that gives it a clean, smooth look. It's fairly easy to carry around, measuring 1.4 inches thick at its bulkiest part and tapering down to about 1 inch thick, and it weighs only 3.4 pounds. The construction feels reasonably sturdy for such an inexpensive machine. The entry price covers 3GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), and a 320GB 7200-rpm hard drive. The built-in Altec Lansing speakers sounded much better than we'd expected from so small and inexpensive a system.

The laptop's dimensions are large enough to accommodate HP's "island Chiclet"-style keyboard with full-size keys that have a nice gap between them, and no wasted bezel space around the keyboard on the deck. I found the keyboard quite easy to type on. In contrast, the multitouch trackpad is on the small side and offers middle-of-the-road tracking performance. You get three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and HDMI video outputs, an SD/MMC memory card reader, and a single combination headphone/mic jack. The gigabit ethernet jack hides behind a seemingly unnecessary (and flimsy-feeling) little door on the right side. The display is quite good for a laptop of this class and price. The 1366 by 768 resolution is just right for the 11.6-inch size, and though off-axis viewing was predictably limited, colors looked bright, vibrant, and accurate. Though limited to video capture at 640 by 480, the integrated Webcam worked well in various lighting conditions.

My first impression of AMD's new Fusion processors is quite positive. The one in this system is small, cool, and power-efficient enough to enable a $450 machine to offer surprisingly strong performance: The Pavilion dm1z, in its base configuration, is lightweight, attractive, and easy to work on, and it offers better CPU, graphics, and video performance than similarly priced Atom-based netbooks. The 3-star rating of the Pavilion dm1z might lead you to think it's run-of-the-mill. It's not--except when measured against more-expensive and more-capable laptops. What HP has built here isn't an inexpensive, mediocre ultraportable laptop, but a killer netbook that chips away at compromises that netbook owners have had to put up with for too long.

Lenovo IdeaPad U260
Lenovo IdeaPad U260 Review, by Jon L. Jacobi January 21, 2011

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