Small, FAST, portable laptop (not for gaming)?
March 15, 2010 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Small, FAST, portable laptop (not for gaming)? Looking for a "netbook" but I need way more than an Intel Atom. Any ideas?

I am soon to be in the market for a laptop for some heavy number crunching (read heavy statistical computations). It will need to be able to handle large (MB, up to GB size) text files without hanging up and should also crunch numbers without catching on fire...

Graphics rendering is not a big concern, nor is screen size.

My priority list is as follows:

1)CPU speed (faster=better)
2)RAM (probably not necessary to mention...)
3)Weight (less=better)
4)Size (smaller=better)
5)everything else.

I think what would be ideal would be a Intel netbook with a decent processor, but I don't think these exist (I can only find Atoms). So I'm left looking at more-ordinary laptops, but I really need portability to go along with the horsepower...

Any ideas on a computer that would fit the bill?

(Oh, and I don't want to spend over $1000...)

Thanks :)
posted by DavidandConquer to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered having a headless computation system (i.e. a desktop) and using a weak netbook as a console? $1k is enough for a netbook and a pretty beefy desktop if you don't need a monitor.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:40 PM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my view, netbook means cheap, low resolution screens, limited ram, and crappy processors. They sure are small and light though. In my mind, the best small and light laptops on the market are unquestionably the Thinkpad X series. Unfortunately new ones are 1200-1800.

There are a variety of x200 models under $1000 at the
Lenovo Outlet.
posted by fief at 6:44 PM on March 15, 2010

I was also going to recommend the x200. It's about the closest you're going to find to {small, cheap, fast}.

Adding to what TheNewWazoo was saying: You might also look into a rented virtual machine for your serving needs. Less than $1/hour will rent you a hell of a virtual machine through Amazon EC2, especially if you go for the spot (off-peak) pricing.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:50 PM on March 15, 2010

I also recommend ThinkPad X series.
posted by astrochimp at 6:52 PM on March 15, 2010

Refurb macbook air? Any refurb x series thinkpad?

Be warned on the thinkpad, the extra large battery (which you'll probably end up with, as the standard "3 hour" battery tends to diminish to around 2 after 12 mos) adds nearly an extra pound to the total weight.
posted by shownomercy at 7:03 PM on March 15, 2010

I have the HP EliteBook 2530p and it's great. It has a 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. It is very portable, with a 12.1 inch screen.

It cost about $900 but to get it to that price I had to forego things like an optical drive (no loss to me, as I have absolutely no use for one.)

If you really want a ton of horsepower, you're not going to find it in a sub-$1000, ultra-portable system.
posted by massysett at 7:04 PM on March 15, 2010

Another possibility, a small cheap netbook then VPN into a more powerful desktop at home for the number crunching.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:09 PM on March 15, 2010

If editing large files is a task you regularly perform then getting the right editor is 1000 times more important than the CPU speed or amount of RAM. A decent editor will not try to load the entire file into memory but will instead memory map the file so that only the pages needed for editing are actually loaded. This allows you to edit files that are many times larger than the total available memory with near-instant startup, whereas a naive editor like Notepad will just dumbly try to load the whole thing and cause the system to swap hard.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:10 PM on March 15, 2010

The new Alienware M11x looks pretty awesome, and there is an available Core 2 Duo. 11" screen. It's oriented towards gaming but that doesn't mean you'd have to use it for gaming. But it's a bit heavy for a small laptop (4.4 lbs).
posted by 6550 at 7:12 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I asked this last month and ended up going the route of the beefy workstation, thin client.
posted by shothotbot at 7:35 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thinkpad X-series.

At conferences (10-12hr days, walking around tons), I carry it in my manbag and it has never been a problem. Day-to-day, it has a great keyboard for a v. small laptop, and attaching an external monitor via VGA out or a docking station obviates any downside to having a 10/11" screen.

The i5 processor is great and at a good price; I have a i7 desktop at home and a coworker recently got a Lenovo (non-X-series, though) with an i5 and it's a fine computation device.

Sign up for the Lenovo newletter - I keep getting news on 20-30% off sales. RedFlagDeals recently had a 30% off deal, too, so maybe keep an eye out there.

Said coworker got his for just about a grand, all-told.
posted by porpoise at 8:35 PM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, after looking at some other suggestions - go for the i5 processor. Doesn't really matter which; there's a "sweet spot" but I can't remember the model number right now and iirc it's not a huge price/performance difference.

It kicks the living crap out of Core2Duos - again, said coworker does heavy computational stuff. Things that used to take 10+ minutes takes 2-or-so, sometimes even less.

RAMs usefull, but depending on how your stats software works, getting an SSD drive might give you better performance. Again, it depends on how big your data sets are and how your software is written, extra RAM might not be better than an SSD drive.
posted by porpoise at 8:42 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: Wow. Awesome responses guys!

The Thinkpad looks like what I had "in mind" but I now want to weigh my options on having a remote desktop server. At first, I'm not sure this idea sits well with me since WiFi is not universally available, but I really, really like the potential there...

Thanks again.
posted by DavidandConquer at 9:03 PM on March 15, 2010

Check out the Asus UL20A at Amazon. 12.1", 2gb RAM, 250gb, 1.3GHz Intel SU7300 Core 2 Duo Processor, Wireless-N, Windows 7 64bit, 3.3lbs, 7+ hour battery, all for $549.

Don't have one myself, but I've been eyeballing it for a while now.
posted by insect at 9:12 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

You should be able to get a refurb or used x60 for under $500. It's not much compared to a desktop, but still 3-4 times faster than a netbook.
posted by miyabo at 10:04 PM on March 15, 2010

WiFi is not universally available, but depending on where you live, decent 3G might be.... you can probably get pretty well universal wireless coverage, and how much computation are you *really* going to be doing on the spot?

Maybe consider going both ways - go for the i5 and then get things set up so you can harness some wicked computing power through your own on-demand Amazon EC2 setup or something like that.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:21 AM on March 16, 2010

I am in the market for a similar laptop/notebook in the next few months. I don't need a ton of computing power, so not exactly the same, but I need more than a netbook but portability, battery life and size are very important to me.

I am between the x200 (and impending x201) and the Asus UL30A. Both are highly reviewed systems. The x200/201 is more durable and geared toward the business set, while the Asus is a consumer line. The x200 can be had for around $800 and the Asus can be had for less than $700 every once in a while.

Good luck!
posted by jckll at 8:02 AM on March 16, 2010

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