Top ultraportable laptops
Ideal for the users who value portability while demanding more performance than you'd get from a netbook, these notebooks stand out for their low weight and small footprint
Dell Inspiron M101z
Dell Inspiron M101z Review, by Patrick Joynt August 26, 2010
Great keyboard and touchpad
Powerful for its class
Somewhat pricey for its size
Rather short battery life
Bottom Line: Worth the cost if you want a small machine with a great keyboard.
The $580 Dell Inspiron M101z is just big enough for me to use comfortably (my gigantic hands are like bear paws); and yet at 11.5 by 8.1 by 1.4 inches, it's small enough to slip into most bags.
My review unit, accented with a rich blue lid, weighed just 3.4 pounds. The frame felt sturdier than it looked, too, with virtually no flex. The M101z's hinge positions the 11-inch widescreen a little closer to the user than most laptops do, putting it neatly on top of the body of the machine itself. The interior is a clean gray with a black keypad--easy to look at and not too flashy.
Both the keyboard and the touchpad were a pleasure to use, with quiet, comfortably spaced Chiclet-style keys that offered smooth responsiveness. The touchpad is great, too--a single neatly placed pad with two distinct and quiet keys beneath it. I rarely enjoy typing for long on an 11-inch keyboard, but the M101z felt great.
The frame holds three USB jacks, a VGA output, headphone and microphone jacks, an ethernet port, and an SD card reader. Inside the frame are a lightweight 1.3GHz AMD Athlon II Neo K325 dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, 802.11n wireless, and integrated Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics. The machine is reasonably powerful for the price, but not outstandingly so.
Don't plan on running games that put a lot of pressure on the graphics chip; if you dial the graphics down, however, you can play games that rely largely on the CPU for their juice. The M101z earned a WorldBench 6 score of 60, and it managed an unplayable frame rate of 13.3 frames per second running our Unreal Tournament 3 at high quality levels and 1024 by 768 resolution. On the other hand, 1080p video played fine, and audio from the speakers was surprisingly robust.
One serious shortcoming of this laptop is its 4.5-hour battery life, which is subpar for such a small machine. The dual-core AMD CPU is no doubt responsible, at least in part; Intel's ultra-low voltage CPUs tend to be more power-efficient these days.
But battery life aside, I liked the M101z a lot. Decent video playback and enough power to run essential apps without flinching make it useful; and the wonderful keyboard and touchpad make it easy to use. Though it could use a little more muscle and a lot more juice, I'd be happy to take it adventuring.