Netbook / Ultrabook Recommendations?
March 27, 2012 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to replace my 2 or 3 year-old Acer 12-inch netbook with something that has more horsepower. But I still want something that's small and light with at least 6 hours of battery life. I also want a netbook or laptop that's sturdy and doesn't get hot or have a loud fan. It looks like the Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabook meets my needs and it gets very good reviews. Although I'm nervous about it having only a 3-cell battery. I also like the specs for Lenovo's $750 Thinkpad Edge e220s but there are no customer reviews for it on Newegg or Amazon. I'd like your input and to know if I've overlooked any other good choices. I'd rather spend $500 than $800, but I might be willing to pay even more for a truly great machine.

I don't play games, I usually use a wireless mouse and I don't need a DVD/CD-ROM drive. I tend to have lots of files open and I primarily do writing, web design, web surfing and some light graphics/CAD work. BTW, I won't even consider a Dell or Fujitsu.

Any recommendations?
posted by 14580 to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
MacBook Air?
posted by pharm at 7:48 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, seconding MacBook Air here. Unless you absolutely need Windows, you're not going to match the speed or battery life of a MBA.
posted by Oktober at 7:49 AM on March 27, 2012

Well, since money is an issue, a Macbook air is out of the question, but the best portable laptop ive ever used is the Dell Inspiron 14z. That thing looks great, and meets all your requirements. It can do anything a big laptop can do, except this one doesent require a brace to lug around ;)
posted by sizzil34 at 7:51 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I absolutely needed windows and went with this Acer MBA clone which is pretty sweet. You will need to turn the screen down a ton to get six hours out of it I think.
posted by shothotbot at 7:52 AM on March 27, 2012

But im on a Macbook air, and when i bit the bullet and spent $1700 on an ultraportable (wow!) ive never looked back. Worth every penny
posted by sizzil34 at 7:53 AM on March 27, 2012

HP Folio 13?
posted by pharm at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2012

TechRadar has a nice list of most (all?) of the currently available UltraBooks. You could do worse than trawl through that.
posted by pharm at 7:59 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Refurb, used, or 1 gen behind MBA.
posted by gramcracker at 8:29 AM on March 27, 2012

I'd rather spend $500 than $800, but I might be willing to pay even more for a truly great machine.
Pay $200 more (i.e. 18c/day over 3 years) for the MacBook Air. The other ones are cheaper if your time is of no value.
posted by caek at 8:48 AM on March 27, 2012

Ugh, no.

Do not get anything older than the "late 2010" MBA. The older models were dogs.
posted by Oktober at 9:00 AM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: A MacBook Air won't work for me. I use some specialized software, including some for work, that won't run on it. It's also a lot more than I'd like to pay.
posted by 14580 at 9:14 AM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: I've crossed the Acer S3 off my list. It doesn't have an Ethernet port which is occasionally a necessity.

I've started researching the HP Folio 13. I'm intrigued but it only has a small SSD and I've read a number of complaints about the quality of its screen.
posted by 14580 at 9:57 AM on March 27, 2012

It's also a lot more than I'd like to pay.

Then you're going to have to pick where you'll compromise.

Looking beyond the Air clones, there's the X220, which is a bit over 3lbs with the 6-cell battery that gets you well past 6 hours of life. It does mean that you're following Cory Doctorow, which may or may not be to your taste, but it places you in the Thinkpad ecosystem, which probably serves you better for long-term support. And it has onboard ethernet.
posted by holgate at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2012

Mod note: smalltext snark is still snark and turns threads about computers into holy wars. Please don't do that here. Feel free to repost comments without snarky asides. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2012

A buddy of mine just got a shiny new Asus Ultrabook (Zenbook) with a i5 processor, 240G SSD, and 6G of RAM.

It looks good, is very small but with a nice big bright 1600x(something) screen, runs cool, 6+ hours of real-life battery, and the build quality is excellent.

I'm a big Lenovo fan, but I'd be happy with a Zenbook at about $1200. There is a cheaper and a more expensive build. Basically just a processor/SSD difference.

Some downsides; wired ethernet requires an adaptor dongle (included). VGA out also (included). But it's got a mini-HDMI out and a USB3.0 (but only one other USB2.x). Also, there's no dock for it.
posted by porpoise at 10:38 AM on March 27, 2012

For what it's worth, there are a zillion USB ethernet adapters available for $10-20.
posted by rhizome at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2012

I have the Asus ux21 zenbook (mine has the i7, but there's an i5 variant). I'm running linux on it, so some of my complaints may be due to that. It's a beautiful, beautiful, sleek machine, excellent in many ways, but... 1) the touchpad is *terrible* easily the worst touchpad I've ever come across. I disable it and use a usb wireless mouse instead. 2) Battery life is not great (maybe due to the i7? Maybe due to linux? I suspect it would be better with Windows) 3) Wireless seems kind of weak -- flakes out and disconnects more often than my other 7 year old Asus laptop in the same environment. 4) Doesn't have a "real" wired network, but some weird USB ethernet thing with a little adapter plug which I haven't even tried. Probably not an issue on Windows, but it's an extra thing to carry around if you want a wired connection.

Despite all that, I'm actually quite happy with it. Wasn't cheap though.
posted by smcameron at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2012

Netbooks with AMD fusion APU's will have slightly performance that Intel netbooks. And should be much faster than the old single core Atom that is in your netbook.
posted by wongcorgi at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2012

Response by poster: I am torn a little about price. I've got Acer's first 11.6-inch netbook and it's been a great machine except that it's a little too slow. I could fix that by buying something very similar but quite a bit faster for less than $500.

The next step up is around $800 which is more than I'd like to pay but I can afford it. At this point I wouldn't hesitate to buy the HP Folio 13 if it weren't for reoccuring complaints about it fan noise. It's 120GB SSD can be augmented with a large SD card and the colors of its "washed" out screen can be adjusted. It gets absolutely great reviews and I've been heavily influenced by this one. It has by far the best battery life (9.5 hours) of any of machines I've researched. And it has a keyboard back light which I think I would be nice.

I also wouldn't mind getting into the "Thinkpad ecosystem" but the X220 that holgate suggested is at least $1000 (which is still doable). The e220s looks like a great machine for about $750 but as I mentioned before there almost no customer reviews are available for it. Just some professional ones that are very good. The 11.6-inch Thinkpad x120e is $550 and it's what I'll probably buy if decide to go cheap. I won't consider Acer's 11.6-inch notebook because they molded a stupid looking "wave" on its cover.

Thanks for all your input. I think I need research the Lenovo Thinkpads a little more and then sleep on it.

BTW, I forgot I already have a Ethernet to USB adapter. But I'm starting to think there are better choices than the Acer S3.
posted by 14580 at 11:34 AM on March 27, 2012

I am torn a little about price.

And that's understandable. Put it this way: a 120GB SSD is $150-$200 retail, so if that's essential to your spec, you're necessarily heading towards the upper limit of your budget, because laptop-makers don't put solid-state drives into their lowest-end machines.

The X220 has a big following among open-source hackers, and "ecosystem" is really just short for "you can take them to bits easily, and replacement or upgrade parts are easy to find". (There are also refurbs.) Again, that's a compromise compared to the sealed-unit approach of ultrabooks.
posted by holgate at 12:08 PM on March 27, 2012

For what it's worth, I recently switched to a thinkpad x220. It's far and away the best laptop I've ever used - fantastic keyboard, great display, beautifully solid construction, and great battery life. You'll pay a premium for the brand compared to other options, but what you get is well designed and easy to repair.

If you wait for a sale (~15% off seems to happen every other month or so, better a few times a year) or keep an eye on the Lenovo outlet store for scratch-and-dent units, you can probably get one of the cheaper models for less than $800 total.

You could also pick up a used x120 or similar on Craig's list for $300 that would outperform your current machine by a wide margin. But, doing any sort of CAD in windows on that machine might prove frustrating, depending on what you have in mind.
posted by eotvos at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2012

I have an HPmini and I'm really happy with it - long battery life, really nice sreen resolution, has an ethernet port. I really only use it for internet and writing though, so you want to check that it will run the programs you need. Nicely designed keyboard, too, easy to keep clean (for those of us who eat a lot of lunches in the company of metafilter)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:30 PM on March 27, 2012

I have a Toshiba Portege R705-p25 that I found used (and relatively cheap!) when I was searching for a larger, more powerful replacement for my netbook, and I love it. It's small, very lightweight, powerful, and has a good long battery life, too. I think the newer models have improved performance over mine, but I would recommend checking out that line for sure.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2012

FWIW, the new macbook air makes an amazing windows laptop... but maybe you should hold off for a little bit for the new "Ivy Bridge" Intel processors to trickle into ultrabooks...
posted by stratastar at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2012

I'm a big fan of my Lenovo X121e - worth considering!
posted by prentiz at 3:32 PM on March 27, 2012

The x220 is occasionally available for as little as $600 on the Lenovo Outlet website, in various conditions of new/refurbished/scratched.

I have an x100e, one of Lenovo's first deviations from true Thinkpad style, and it is a horrible little creature which I deeply loathe. I understand that they've corrected some of its shortcomings in the x121e, but I for one will never buy another Thinkpad unless it's a true x or t model. So my advice is: Go for the x220 if you want---they are excellent---but avoid all of the Thinkpad mimics.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:26 PM on March 27, 2012

Don't rule out refurbished models!! This can save you $100 or more and usually comes with the same (or at least, and adequate) warranty. I'd start there first.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:36 AM on March 28, 2012

Response by poster: After a lot of thought and your input I came to these realizations:

1) I was considering pricier ($800-$1100) machines mainly because I wanted one that was still lightweight but with a slightly bigger screen (12.5 or 13.3-inch) than I what have now. And that bigger screen was going to cost me at least $250-$500.

2) I've never had any problems using the 11.6-inch screen on my Acer and I noticed that some of the best and most expensive "ultra" netbooks only have a 11.6-inch screen.

3) Almost any netbook that didn't use an Atom processor was going to have more than enough speed and power for my needs.

So I decided to focus on finding the best 11.6-inch netbook near my original budget of $500. I still wanted one with a very long battery life, that didn't get excessively hot and that had a good screen and keyboard.

It was almost an even toss up between the Lenovo Thinkpad X120E ($480 at Newegg), the HP DM1-4010 ($429 at HP) and the HP DM1-4142nr ($376 at Amazon). The two HPs are nearly identical except for their hard drives. The 4142's 5400 RPM drive was slower but I chose it. I saved enough to easily justify putting a SSD in it and it'll be lot easier to return to Amazon than HP if it arrives DOA, which sometimes happens. (I read horror stories about HP).

I've read dozens of reviews and I think Lenovo makes significantly better laptops that most, including HP. But the HPs had much better performance scores at even with the same processors and amount of memory. Their audio also seems like it's much better, although it sounds like I'll be spending a considerable amount of time getting rid of HP's bloatware. It appears the ThinkPad may have a better keyboard and it has a "stay-on" USB port for charging cellphones but they didn't win me over.

I also considered that I really like the Lenovo PC I bought not long ago but I also like the HP laptaps I use at work and they've been very reliable.

Thank you.
posted by 14580 at 10:59 AM on March 28, 2012

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