There's light, then there's fast and light
Can ultraportable notebooks measure up in performance?
- By John Breeden II
- Sep 20, 2006
It's not easy staying slim and trim. For notebooks, it's even more difficult. In the GCN Lab we've found few companies that can combine high performance and low weight in a single package. There are always tradeoffs.
Today, there's no real standard for what an 'ultraportable' notebook looks and acts like. Vendors define it differently.
Heck, all notebooks are theoretically supposed to be ultraportable versions of something'namely the desktop PCs most of us use every day.
But as mobile professionals come to learn, there's a know-it-when-you-see-it threshold for a notebook you can toss in a shoulder bag and use almost anywhere at any time. It consumes less power so it runs longer and, naturally, it's light. For this review, that threshold was five pounds.
Historically, as notebooks got lighter, they also got slower. To cram more electronics into a smaller space while maximizing battery life, vendors turned to low-voltage, low-clock-speed chips that performed sluggishly compared with regular mobile processors. Intel's new family of Core Duo and Core Solo mobile CPUs could help bridge that gap.
The GCN Lab tested thin-and-light notebooks from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba with an eye toward getting the most out of the least: decent performance, wireless options and built-in security in a compact, long-running portable.
We were pretty sure we wouldn't see high-end notebook performance from these ultraportable systems, and we were right. But we did notice that lightweight systems aren't all as pokey as they used to be.
To that end we introduced an informal measure: a performance-to-weight ratio. Think of it as performance per ounce. Basically, we recognized that agencies shopping for notebooks like these have portability on their minds, and although top-notch speed isn't as critical, they don't want to shortchange their users on the performance.
How could we help them balance those criteria? We took our GCN/Alterion benchmark scores and divided them by the weight, in ounces, of the systems (sans external drives).
For example, the Lenovo ThinkPad X60s, with its low-voltage Core Duo processor, pulled down a 7,124 in our benchmarks, which is the neighborhood of mainstream notebooks we tested in May [GCN.com
At just 3 pounds, 8 ounces, that translates into a performance-to-weight ratio of 127 (7,124 over 56 ounces). Toss in the ThinkPad's 12-ounce external optical drive and the ratio is still 105. Those represent our gold standard for performance and portability.
On the flip side, there's the Sony Vaio VGN-TX750p, which eked out just 4,170 on our benchmark test but weighs a remarkable 2 pounds, 12 ounces'including a built-in optical drive. On first blush that performance number seems unacceptable (and we wouldn't recommend the system for certain high-end applications), but with a performance-to-weight ratio of 95, it's worth serious consideration for agencies that prize portability over performance more than most.