The best ultra-portable laptops for your money?

By that, we mean the laptops that offer the best combination of performance and battery life at a given price, while being small and light enough to be carried around all day.

If you have the time to do research… but who does in this busy world?

Reading detailed ultra-portable laptop reviews and specs is a lot of fun. However, most of us don’t have the time to do that and just want the answers. In other words, what you want to know is what is the best ultra-portable laptop for your budget.

So if you don’t have the time to do the research, or just don’t care to do it, don’t worry. We’ll come to your help with this article.

Lenovo X220

The Lenovo X220, the best ultra-portable for $1250. Equipped with a powerful Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor, a 12.5″ IPS display with great viewing angles and color accuracy, a great keyboard and featuring an excellent battery life of up to 12 hours! Weights only 3.31lbs.

About Ultra-portable laptops:

Those laptops, also known as thin & light laptops or ultrabooks, generally have a screen that’s 14″ or smaller, a relatively thin profile and a weight under 4lbs. They usually have a better than average battery life.

They are ideal for road warriors and people who carry their laptop around all day long, without necessarily having access to a power source.

On the downside, some of the smaller/lighter laptops have lower CPU/video card performance and a smaller keyboard/trackpad due to their smaller dimensions.

Of course, this varies from one laptop to another. For example, some ultra-portables have great keyboards (e.g. Lenovo Thinkpad X220 series) and slightly larger/thicker ultra-portables have relatively powerful CPUs and video cards.

Other types of laptops:
If you’re looking for a different type of laptop, we have an article on The Best Gaming Laptops For Your Money and we’ll soon have articles on the Best Workstations and the Best General Computing/Family laptops.

A few reminders:

We’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices we’ve seen on April 23rd 2012. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read this article:

  1. This specific article on the best ultra-portable laptops have eight (8) price ceilings for the recommended laptops: Up to $450, $550, $650, $800, $1000, $1250, $1500 and $2000. We may also suggest some alternatives to our main recommendations, for reasons that we’ll explain.
  2. This list is based on the best U.S. prices from NewEgg, Amazon or the manufacturer’s website. Prices and availability change everyday. We can’t keep up with accurate pricing everyday, but we’ll suggest to you great laptops that you won’t regret buying at the price ranges that we list.
  3. All prices are based on new laptops prices, no refurbished or open box laptops are listed; they might be a good deal, but they come with trade offs, such as missing accessories, higher failure rate, limited return policy, limited warranty, limited availability, etc.
  4. When two laptops are being compared, we’ll use the brand name as indicators. When two laptops with the same brand name are being compared, we’ll use the model as indicators.
  5. Listed battery life represents real-life battery life when browsing the web with Wifi, based on websites and customers reviews.

Summary

Click on any of these links to jump to the price point that interests you. Alternatively, scroll down to see them all, in this order.

The Best Ultra-Portable Laptops For Your Money:

Personalize your laptop with a skin:

  1. Personalize your laptop with a skin

Upgrade the RAM, the hard drive or the sound card:

  1. Upgrade the RAM
  2. Upgrade the hard drive to a larger/faster hard drive or to a SSD
  3. Upgrade the sound quality with a dedicated USB sound card

Best Ultra-Portable laptop for up to $450

HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr Entertainment PC 11.6-Inch Laptop (Charcoal)$419 – HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr

About the HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr:

Pros:

  1. Fairly powerful AMD APU processor/video card setup at this price range, E-450 1.65 GHz Dual-Core/Radeon HD 6320 video card
  2. Higher resolution screen (1366 x 768) than the average Intel atom netbook (1024 x 600), making this laptop is a lot more useful/practical.
  3. 4GB RAM instead of average 2GB for this price range
  4. Open slot of RAM for easy and cheap RAM upgrade
  5. Supports up to 8GB of RAM
  6. Large 500GB hard drive for this price range
  7. Good battery life: About 6.5 hours
  8. HP ProtectSmart Hard Drive Protection (protects your hard drive from damage from impacts or sudden movements)
  9. Beats Audio: The audio quality and maximum volume is a lot better than the average netbook.
  10. Bluetooth 2.1

Cons:

  1. Limited processor performance: Faster than an Intel Atom dual-core or AMD C series CPUs, but considerably slower than a Core i3/5/7 processor.
  2. Limited video card performance that lacks dedicated memory.
  3. Glossy screen: Forget about using this laptop in direct sunlight
  4. Lacks an optical drive
  5. LAN speed limited to 100Mbps and not 1000Mbps

Ideal for:

  • Students, businessmen, anyone looking for a low cost laptop capable of running Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. along with many other popular software, while being highly portable along with a decent battery life.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants a large enough screen with a high resolution for viewing/comparing multiple documents.
  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who requires an optical drive. Then again, you can get an external one.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Specifications:

Components
HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU AMD E-450 Dual-Core 1.65GHz
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
11.6″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight
Yes: HD (720p) (1280 x 720)
Integrated AMD Radeon HD 6320M 
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 500GB Hard Drive running at 5,400RPM
Optical Drive None
Audio Beats Audio
Two stereo speakers

Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wifi
Bluetooth 2.1
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
3 x USB 2.0
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
11.49″ x 8.46″ x .83-1.26″
3.53lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-ion Battery
~6.5 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Alternatives:

Lower cost:
Acer Aspire One A0722-0369

If your budget is even lower than $400, with a similar screen and body size, this Acer is a great choice, though at the cost of performance.

Compared to many other single cored laptops at this price range, the Acer’s AMD C-60 1.00GHz-1.33GHz Turbo Dual-Core is actually quite powerful, even outperforming the Intel Atom N570 or N2600 processor.

Advantages of the Acer

  1. Costs less ($330 vs the HP $400)
  2. Weighs less (3.22lbs vs the HP 3.53lbs)

Disadvantages of the Acer

  1. Less powerful processor (AMD C-60 1.00GHz-1.33GHz Turbo Dual-Core vs the HP’s AMD E-450 Dual-Core 1.65GHz)
  2. Slightly less powerful video card (AMD Radeon HD 6290 vs the HP’s AMD Radeon HD 6320)
  3. Less RAM (2GB vs the HP’s 4GB)
  4. Less storage (320GB vs the HP’s 500GB)
  5. Lower battery life (~5.5 hours vs the HP at ~6.5 hours)

Spill-resistant keyboard, matte display and more solid build:
$498 – Lenovo ThinkPad X120e 0596A28

Spending more can get you a similar performing laptop with a noticeably better keyboard that’s spill-resistant and a tougher chassis.

Because of these reasons, I highly recommend this laptop for anyone looking for a highly portable inexpensive laptop that can take some abuse.

From my personal experience of being a student, being able to toss around a laptop that has a comfortable keyboard for typing essays on is all a student really needs.

Advantages of the Lenovo

  1. Tougher chassis
  2. Spill-resistant keyboard with ThinkPad trackpoint, a small red “joystick” that can be used to control the mouse pointer. Some people swear by it.
  3. Anti-glare display

Disadvantages of the Lenovo

  1. Slightly less powerful processor (AMD E-350 Dual-Core 1.6GHzvs the HP’s AMD E-450 Dual-Core 1.65GHz)
  2. Slightly less powerful video card (AMD Radeon HD 6310 vs the HP’s AMD Radeon HD 6320)
  3. Costs more ($498 vs the HP at $419)
  4. Less RAM (2GB vs the HP’s 4GB)
  5. Less storage (320GB vs the HP’s 500GB)
  6. Lower battery life (~5.5 hours vs the HP at ~6.5 hours)
  7. Not the classical Thinkpad keyboard, but it’s still a very good keyboard.

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Ultra-Portable Laptop for $550

Dell Vostro V131 13.3 LED Notebook Intel Core i3-2330M 2.2 GHz 2GB DDR3 320GB HDD Intel HD Graphics 3000 802.11b/g/n Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Aberdeen silver$547 – Dell Vostro V131

About the Dell Vostro V131:

Pros:

  1. Fairly powerful Intel Core i3-2330M 2.2GHz Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor for a laptop this thin at this price point
  2. Faster 7200RPM hard drive compared to typical 5400RPM
  3. Thin, maximum thickness at .83″
  4. Anti-glare display
  5. Great battery life! ~7.5 hours of web browsing
  6. Open slot of RAM for easy and cheap RAM upgrade
  7. 2x USB 3.0
  8. Intel Widi compatible
  9. Integrated Bluetooth
  10. Fingerprint reader

Cons:

  1. Slightly heavy for a 13.3″ laptop, at 4.03lbs.
  2. A little longer build than most 13.3″ laptops
  3. Limited video card performance that lacks dedicated memory
  4. Only 2GB of RAM, although this can easily be upgraded to 4GB with another 2GB stick or to 8GB with a 8GB (2x4GB) memory kit.
  5. Lacks optical drive

Ideal for:

  • Anyone especially students, businessmen, etc. looking for a low cost laptop that’s powerful enough to running Microsoft Office along with some lightweight photo/video editing and many other popular software, while being portable along with a decent battery life.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents.
  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who requires an optical drive.

Click here to go back up to the summary
Specifications:

Components
Dell Vostro V131
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i3-2330M Dual-Core+ Hyper-Threading 2.2GHz 
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
13.3″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, anti-glare
Yes: HD (720p) (1280 x 720)
Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
2GB (1x2GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 7200RPM
Optical Drive None
Audio Two 2W stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel 1030-n
Bluetooth
Ports 8-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
2 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0

LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
12.96″ x 9.36″ x .63-.83″
4.03lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-ion Battery
~7.5 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Vs. the less than $500 Recommended Laptop (HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr)

The increase in price is certainly justified through the higher performance processor and video card. However, despite the lower price of the HP, it still has advantages over the Dell.

Advantages of the HP

  1. Costs less ($420 vs the Dell at $547)
  2. More RAM (4GB vs the Dell’s 2GB)
  3. More storage (500GB vs the Dell’s 320GB)
  4. Lighter (3.53lbs vs the Dell at 4.03lbs)
  5. More portable overall, thanks to smaller dimensions and lower weight

Disadvantages of the HP

  1. Much less powerful processor (AMD E-450 1.65GHz Dual-Core vs the Dell’s Intel Core i3-2330M 2.2GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Much less powerful video card (AMD Radeon HD 6320 vs the Dell’s Intel HD Graphics 3000)
  3. Smaller display (11.6″ vs the Dell’s 13.3″)
  4. Slower hard drive (5400RPM vs the Dell’s 7200RPM)
  5. Lower battery life (~6.5 hours vs the Dell at ~7.5 hours)

Alternatives

Less expensive, more storage, more RAM, lighter and smaller:
$490 – HP DM1-4170US

The HP DM1-4170US is basically the same laptop as the HP Pavilion dm1-4142nr, that’s recommended for up to $450, but with a faster processor.

Advantages of the HP DM1-4170US

  1. Costs less ($490 vs the V131 at $547)
  2. Half a pound lighter (3.53lbs vs the V131’s 4.03lbs)
  3. More portable thanks to smaller dimensions (11.49″ x 8.46″ x .83-1.26″ vs the V131 at 12.96″ x 9.36″ x .63-.83″)
  4. More installed RAM (4GB vs the V131 2GB)
  5. Larger storage capacity (500GB vs the V131 320GB)
  6. Superior sound quality, thanks to the HP Beats Audio

Disadvantages of the DM1-4170US

  1. Thicker (.83″-1.26″ vs the V131 at .63-.83″)
  2. Slower CPU (Intel Core i3-2367M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.4GHz vs the V131’s Intel Core i3-2330M Dual-Core+ Hyper-Threading 2.2GHz)
  3. Slower hard drive (5,400rpm vs the V131’s 7,200rpm)
  4. Only one RAM slot, limiting your upgrade options. The Dell V131 has two RAM slots, allowing for more upgrades.
  5. Slightly lower battery life (~7 hours vs the V131 at ~7.5 hours)

Less expensive, backlit keyboard and optical drive:
$489 – Dell Vostro 3350 (469-1470)

The 3350 is basically the same laptop as the V131, but with a larger and heavier chassis to fit an optical drive along with a back-lit keyboard, at a lower price.

Advantages of the 3350

  1. Costs less ($489 vs the V131 at $547)
  2. Equipped with an optical drive
  3. Back-lit keyboard

Disadvantages of the 3350

  1. Thicker (1.13″ vs the V131 at .63-.83″)
  2. Heavier (4.28lbs vs the V131 at 4.03lbs)
  3. Less storage (250GB vs the V131’s 320GB)
  4. Much lower battery life (~4.5 hours vs the V131 at ~7.5 hours)

Dedicated video card, more storage, more RAM and accidental damage warranty:
$540 – Asus U31SD-AH31

With the same processing power as the Dell, the Asus comes equipped with a more powerful dedicated video card with a couple drawbacks. While in games, the Nvidia GeForce GT 520m performs higher than the Intel HD Graphics 3000, don’t expect to play all recent games at playable frame rates, even at lower settings. Older games will be playable.

Advantages of the Asus

  1. Equipped with a dedicated video card (Nvidia GeForce GT 520m 1GB)
  2. More RAM (4GB vs the Dell’s 2GB)
  3. More storage (500GB vs the V131’s 320GB)
  4. ASUS accidental 1 year damage warranty covers damage due to accidental spills, drops, electrical surges, or fire

Disadvantages of the Asus

  1. Thicker (1.1″ vs the V131 at .63-.83″)
  2. Lower resolution webcam (480p vs the V131’s 720p)
  3. Glossy display
  4. Slightly lower battery life (~7 hours vs the V131 at ~7.5 hours)

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Ultra-Portable Laptop for $650

Toshiba Portege R835-P83 (Intel i5-2435M Processor, 4GB RAM, 640GB Hard drive, USB 3.0, HDMI, Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit)$660 – Toshiba Portege R835-P83

About the Toshiba Portege R835-P83:

Pros:

  1. Powerful Intel Core i5-2435M 2.4-3.0GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor
  2. Equipped with an optical drive
  3. Light, 3.2lbs despite a 13.3″ display + optical drive
  4. 1x USB 3.0
    2x USB 2.0, including one that’s an E-SATA/USB 2.0 combo port.
  5. Toshiba Hard Drive Impact Sensor (protects your hard drive from damage from impacts or sudden movements)
  6. Intel Widi compatible!
  7. Great battery life! ~8 hours of web browsing

Cons:

  1. Limited video card performance that lacks dedicated memory
  2. Glossy screen: Forget about using this laptop in direct sunlight
  3. Low webcam resolution, 480p (640×480)
  4. Both RAM slots are occupied, making an upgrade more expensive

Ideal for:

  • Anyone look for a general use light and portable laptop full of features and capable of doing nearly everything perfectly fine with the exception of mainstream gaming.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents.

Click here to go back up to the summary
Specifications:

Components
Toshiba Portege R835-P83
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i5-2435M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.4-3.0GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
13.3″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, glossy
Yes: VGA (480p) (640 x 480)
Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 640GB Hard Drive running at 5400RPM
Optical Drive DVD Super Multi (8xDVD+/-RW)
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Ports 4-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
1 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0 (One with E-SATA)
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
12.44″ x 8.94″ x .72-1.05″
3.2lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6-cell Li-ion Battery
~8 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Vs. ~$550 Recommended Laptop (Dell Vostro V131)

Compared to the Dell, the Toshiba only performs around %10 higher. The reason to get the Toshiba over the Dell is the addition of features the Dell may lack, and the much lighter build.

Advantages of the Dell

  1. Costs less ($550 vs the Toshiba at $660)
  2. Higher resolution webcam (720p vs the Toshiba’s 480p)
  3. Faster hard drive (7200RPM vs the Toshiba’s 5400RPM)
  4. Overall thinner (.63-.83″ vs the Toshiba at .72-1.05″)
  5. Open RAM slot, making upgrades cheaper

Disadvantages of the Dell

  1. Slightly less powerful processor (Intel Core i3-2330M 2.2GHz Dual-Core vs the Toshiba’s Intel Core i5-2435M 2.4-3.0GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Less RAM (2GB vs the Toshiba’s 4GB)
  3. Less storage (320GB vs the Toshiba’s 500GB)
  4. Slightly lower battery life (~7.5 hours vs the Toshiba at ~8 hours)
  5. Much heavier (4.03lbs vs the Toshiba at 3.2lbs)
  6. No eSATA
  7. No optical drive

Alternatives:

Lighter, thinner, backlit keyboard, matte display and longer warranty:
$650 – Samsung Series 9 NP900X1B-A02

Though both the Toshiba and the Samsung are portable laptops, they are designed each for a different crowed. The Samsung while being much more portable loses some features of the Toshiba along with performance.
Advantages of the Samsung

  1. Much thinner (.6″ vs the Toshiba at .72-1.05″)
  2. Much faster hard drive (SSD vs the Toshiba’s HDD)
  3. Bluetooth 3.0
  4. Higher resolution webcam (720p vs the Toshiba’s 480p)
  5. Much lighter (2.34lbs vs the Toshiba at 3.2lbs)
  6. Anti-Glare display
  7. Included 25GB cloud space via Windows Live
  8. Longer warranty: 3 years vs the Toshiba 1 year
    Backlit keyboard

Disadvantages of the Samsung

  1. Much less powerful processor (Intel Core i3-2357M 1.3GHz Dual-Core vs the Toshiba’s Intel Core i5-2435M 2.4-3.0GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Much less storage (64GB vs the Toshiba’s 500GB). Upgradable, but it’s a mSATA form factor SSD.
  3. Smaller display (11.6″ vs the Toshiba’s 13.3″)
  4. Less RAM (2GB vs the Toshiba’s 4GB), which is not upgradable.
  5. 1 less USB 2.0
  6. No ethernet
  7. No optical drive
  8. No eSATA

Click here to go back up to the summary

Best Ultra-Portable Laptop for $800

Acer Aspire S3-951-6646 13.3-Inch UltrabookAcer Aspire S3-951-6646

About the Acer Aspire S3-951-6646:

Pros:

  1. Fairly powerful Intel Core i5-2467M 1.6-2.3GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor for a laptop this thin
  2. SSD+HDD Hybrid design resulting in great performance and high storage capacity
  3. Integrated Bluetooth 4.0
  4. Very thin, maximum thickness at .68″
  5. Light, slightly under 3.0lbs

Cons:

  1. Non-removable battery
  2. Non-upgradable RAM
  3. SSD is 20GB and serves only as an hibernation cache for quicker resume from hibernation, so cold boot time isn’t improved vs a stand-alone HDD.
  4. Limited video card performance and lacks dedicated memory
  5. Limited processor performance for more demanding software
  6. Poor battery performance, ~4.5 hours
  7. No ethernet
  8. No VGA
  9. No USB 3.0

Ideal for:

  • Anyone look for a very portable laptop capable of handling the majority of computer tasks not including mainstream gaming.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents.
  • Someone who needs a long life battery

Click here to go back up to the summary
Specifications:

Components
Acer Aspire S3-951-6646
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i5-2467M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.6-2.3GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
13.3″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, glossy
Yes: 1.3MP (1280 x 1024)
Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (on-board) DDR3 1333MHz
Not upgradable
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 5400RPM
20GB SSD (Hibernation Cache for quick resume)
Optical Drive None
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking 802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports 2-in-1 Card Reader
Headphone/Microphone 3.5mm combo jack
2 x USB 2.0
HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
12.59″ x 8.52″ x .51-.68″
2.98lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
3-cell Li-ion Battery
~4.5 hours

Click here to go back up to the summary

Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$650 Recommended Laptop (Toshiba Portege R835-P83)

While certainly the Toshiba performs much higher along with possessing many more features than the Acer, the Acer is all about simplicity and portability.

Advantages of the Toshiba

  1. Much more powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2435M 2.4-3.0GHz Dual-Core vs the Acer’s Intel Core i3-2467M 1.6-2.3GHz Dual-Core)
  2. More storage (640GB vs the Acer’s 320GB)
  3. Upgradable RAM
  4. Equipped with an optical drive
  5. Much longer battery life  (~8 hours vs the Acer at ~4.5hours)
  6. Ethernet port
  7. 1x USB 3.0
  8. VGA port
  9. Hard Drive Impact Sensor

Disadvantages of the Toshiba

  1. Lower resolution webcam (480p vs the Acer’s 720p)
  2. Much slower hard drive (HDD vs the Acer’s SSD)
  3. Heavier (3.2lbs vs the Acer at 2.98lbs)
  4. Much thicker (.72-1.05” vs the Acer at .51-.68“)

Fairly powerful video card, optical drive and higher resolution display:
$900 – Sony Vaio SA VPCSA3AFX/SI

If you like the type of package the ~$650 recommended laptop (Toshiba Portege R835-P83) offers over the Acer’s, but want a laptop at this price range with more features such as gaming capabilities, consider this Sony with a fairly powerful AMD Radeon HD 6630m 1GB capable of playing even the most demanding games (Battlefield 3, Crysis 2, etc.) at lower settings. All this within a fairly portable chassis.

Advantages of the Sony

  1. Equipped with a fairly powerful dedicated video card (AMD Radeon HD 6630m 1GB)
  2. More storage (500GB vs the Acer’s 320GB)
  3. Upgradable RAM
  4. Equipped with an optical drive
  5. Battery life (~4.5 hours) can be extended with a separately sold battery sheet.
  6. Higher display resolution (1600×900 vs the Acer at 1366×768)
  7. Ethernet port
  8. 1x USB 3.0
  9. VGA port

Disadvantages of the Sony

  1. Slightly heavier (3.65lbs vs the Acer at 2.98lbs)
  2. Much thicker (.92” vs the Acer at .51-.68“)
  3. Potentially much louder with video card + fan
  4. Costs more ($900 vs the Acer at $800)

Mathieu: I love the SONY VAIO SA Series VPCSA3AFX/SI, that would be my ideal laptop if I was shopping for a laptop at the moment. It’s fairly light, has a 1600 x 900 resolution screen (I cannot stand 1366 x 768 urgh 1920 x 1080 would be tough to read on a 13.3″ screen), the RAM/HDD can be upgraded, it has an optical drive (which I’d replace with a hard drive caddy and would put the HDD in there (There would be a SSD in place of the HDD) and fairly powerful video card!

Powerful CPU, 2x USB 3.0 and accidental damage warranty:
Asus U24E-XS71

For ~$825, you can get one of the most powerful 11.6″ laptops available. The Asus is equipped with an Intel Core i7-2640m 2.8-3.5GHz processor performing much higher than the majority of ultraportable laptops.

Advantages of the Asus

  1. Much more powerful processor (Intel Core i7-2640M 2.8-3.5GHz Dual-Core + HT vs the Acer’s Intel Core i5-2467M 1.6-2.3GHz Dual-Core + HT)
  2. More storage (500GB vs the Acer’s 320GB)
  3. Upgradable RAM
  4. Longer battery life (~5 hours vs the Acer at ~4.5hours)
  5. Ethernet port
  6. 2x USB 3.0
  7. VGA port
  8. ASUS accidental 1 year damage warranty covers damage due to accidental spills, drops, electrical surges, or fire

Disadvantages of the Asus

  1. Costs more ($826 vs the Acer at $800)
  2. Heavier (3.31lbs vs the Acer at 2.98lbs)
  3. Much thicker (1.09” vs the Acer at .51-.68“)
  4. Smaller display (11.6″ vs the Acer’s 13.3″)

Very light, 128GB SSD, great display and trackpad:
Apple MacBook Air MC506LL/A

If you prefer OS X over Windows, though already “out dated,” this is the lowest costing laptop on Apple’s lineup of MacBooks.

Because the way each operating system utilizes hardware (processor, RAM, video card, etc.) are unique, comparing these two laptops’ overall performance becomes difficult, however since the MacBook is equipped with an older generation Core 2 Duo with no turbo functions, it allows us to give the upper hand to the Acer.

On the other hand, thanks to Apple’s more efficient software, the difference in performance should only be noticeable in demanding programs/video games.

Other features however, can be fairly compared. With the thickness of both laptops nearly the same, here is the comparison.

Advantages of the MacBook

  1. Equipped with a dedicated video card (Nvidia GeForce GT 320m)
  2. Much lighter (2.3lbs vs the Acer at 2.98lbs)
  3. Longer battery life (~5.5 hours vs the Acer at ~4.5hours)
  4. Much more SSD storage that’s more practical (128GB SSD vs the Acer’s 20GB SSD used for hibernation cache)
  5. Higher quality display with more accurate colors
  6. Great warranty/support
  7. Capable of running Windows through BootCamp
  8. Arguably one of the best trackpad available on a laptop

Disadvantages of the MacBook

  1. Slower processor (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz vs the Acer’s Intel Core i3-2467M 1.6-2.3GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Smaller display (11.6″ vs the Acer’s 13.3″)
  3. Costs more ($830 vs the Acer at $800)
  4. No additional storage outside of the SSD
  5. No HDMI
  6. No card reader
  7. Limited access to games (mainstream and older games)

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Best Portable Laptop for $1000

ASUS Zenbook UX31E-DH52 13.3-Inch Thin and Light Ultrabook (Silver Aluminum)Asus Zenbok Ux31E-DH52

About the Asus Zenbook Ux31E-DH52:

Pros:

  1. Fairly powerful Intel Core i5-2557M 1.6-2.7GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor for a laptop this thin
  2. Fairly large 128GB SSD
  3. Integrated Bluetooth 4.0
  4. Very thin, maximum thickness at .71″
  5. Light, 2.87lbs
  6. Good battery life, ~6.5 hours
  7. 1600 x 900 resolution screen
  8. ASUS accidental 1 year damage warranty covers damage due to accidental spills, drops, electrical surges, or fire

Cons:

  1. Non-removable battery
  2. Non-upgradable RAM
  3. Limited video card performance that lacks dedicated memory
  4. No ethernet
  5. No VGA
  6. mSATA SSD, leaving you with less choices if you want to upgrade.

Ideal for:

  • Anyone look for a very portable laptop capable of handling the majority of computer tasks not including mainstream gaming while having a decent battery life.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents.

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Specifications:

Components
Asus Zenbook UX31E-DH52
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i5-2557M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 1.7-2.7GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
13.3″ 1600 x 900 LED backlight
Yes: 480p (640 x 480)
Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (on-board) DDR3 1333MHz
Not Upgradable
Storage mSATA 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
Optical Drive None
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking 802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Bluetooth 4.0
Ports SD Card reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
1 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Micro HDMI Output
Dimensions
Weight
12.8″ x 8.78″ x .12-.71″
2.87lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
6 cell
~6.5 hours

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$800 Recommended Laptop (Acer Aspire S3-951-6646)

While there is an increase in processing performing by around 20% by going from the Acer to the Asus along with other areas of improvement, the real benefit of the Asus is its battery life.

Advantages of the Asus

  1. More powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2557M 1.7-2.7GHz Dual-Core vs the Acer’s Intel Core i3-2467M 1.6-2.3GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Slightly lighter (2.87lbs vs the Acer at 2.98lbs)
  3. Much longer battery life (~6.5 hours vs the Acer at ~4.5hours)
  4. Much more SSD storage that’s more useful/practical (128GB vs the Acer’s 20GB Hibernation Cache)
  5. Higher display resolution (1600×900 vs the Acer at 1366×768)
  6. 1x USB 3.0
  7. ASUS accidental 1 year damage warranty covers damage due to accidental spills, drops, electrical surges, or fire

Disadvantages of the Asus

  1. Costs more ($1050 vs the Acer at $780)
  2. Micro HDMI instead of HDMI (no difference in image quality, disadvantage because many people don’t already own a micro HDMI cable)
  3. Lower resolution webcam (480p vs the Acer’s 720p)
  4. No addition storage outside of SSD

Great keyboard, solid chassis, more powerful CPU, longer battery life:
Lenovo ThinkPad X220

With its renowned keyboard, tough chassis, and overall professional look, the Lenovo, while not as portable as the Acer, is highly recommended for anyone looking for performance, reliability and comfort over portability. With that said, the Lenovo itself is still quite a portable laptop.

Advantages of the Lenovo

  1. More powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3-2.9GHz Dual-Core vs the Acer’s Intel Core i5-2557M 1.7-2.7GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Longer battery life (~8 hours vs the Asus at ~6.5hours), which can be enhanced further more with a Battery Sheet. The tradeoff being increased dimensions and weight with the battery sheet though.
  3. More storage (320GB vs the Asus’s 128GB) that’s easily upgradable
  4. Upgradable RAM
  5. Comes with Windows 7 Professional
  6. Superior keyboard
  7. Tougher chassis
  8. Far less expensive: ($833 vs $1050 for the ASUS)

Disadvantages of the Lenovo

  1. Much slower hard drive (HDD vs the Asus’s SSD)
  2. Hard Drive/SSD height is limited to 7mm.
  3. Smaller display (12.5″vs the Asus at 13.3″)
  4. Lower resolution display (1366×768 vs the Asus at 1600×900)
  5. Much thicker (1.36″ vs the Asus at .12-.71″)
  6. Slightly heavier (3.3lbs vs the Asus at 2.87lbs)
  7. No HDMI out, but you get Displayport out

Lighter, backlit keyboard, great display/trackpad and Thunderbolt:
Apple MacBook Air MC968LL/A

If you prefer OS X over Windows, the MacBook air is a great alternative at this price range. Because the way each operating system utilizes hardware (processor, RAM, video card, etc.) are unique, comparing these two laptops’ overall performance is difficult. Other features however, can be fairly compared. With the thickness of both laptops nearly the same, here is the comparison.
Advantages of the MacBook

  1. Lighter (2.38lbs vs the Asus at 2.87lbs)
  2. Costs less ($940 vs the Asus at $1000)
  3. Backlit keyboard
  4. Accurate color display
  5. Great warranty/support
  6. Thunderbolt port
  7. Capable of running Windows through BootCamp

Disadvantages of the MacBook

  1. Less storage (64GB vs the Asus’s 128GB)
  2. Smaller display (11.6″vs the Asus at 13.3″)
  3. Lower display resolution (1366×768 vs the Asus at 1600×900)
  4. Much less battery life (~3.5 hours vs the Asus at ~6.5 hours)
  5. Only USB 2.0

Best Ultra-Portable laptop for $1250

Thinkpad X220 Laptop Lenovo, i7-2640M 2.8GHz, IPS, 12.5" Premium HD LED backlit Display, 4Gb DDR3, FingerReader, Bluetooth, 320Gb 5400rpm, 9cell, 720p webcam, windows 7 home premium 64 EnglishLenovo ThinkPad X220

About the Lenovo ThinkPad X220:

Pros:

  1. Very powerful Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor
  2. IPS display, better viewing angles and color production
  3. Superb battery life, ~12.5 hours
  4. Fingerprint reader
  5. Great keyboard
  6. Tough chassis
  7. Bluetooth 3.0
  8. USB 3.0

Cons:

  1. Large battery, sticks out the back slightly
  2. Lacks SSD
  3. Limited video card performance and lacks dedicated memory
  4. No optical drive
  5. No HDMI

Ideal for:

  • Someone who wants one of the most powerful, portable, non-gaming laptop available on the planet also having critical features such as a superb battery life, tough chassis, and a great keyboard.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants to play recent games at playable frame rates. (Older games should, however be playable)
  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents.

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Specifications:

Components
Lenovo ThinkPad X220
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i7-2640M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.8-3.5 GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
12.5″ 1366 x 768 LED backlight, Anti-glare
Yes: 720p (1280 x 720)
Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB (1x4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
2 Slots, maximum 8GB
Storage 320GB Hard Drive running at 5,400RPM
Optical Drive None
Audio Two 2W stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking Built-in Gigabit Ethernet LAN
802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
Bluetooth 3.0
Ports 4-in-1 Card reader
Headphone and Microphone 3.5mm jacks
1 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
LAN
VGA Output
DisplayPort
Dimensions
Weight
12.0″ x 8.13″ x .75-1.36″
3.31lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
9 cell
~12.5 hours

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$1000 Recommended Laptop (Asus Zenbook UX31E-DH52)

Though both the Lenovo and the Asus are portable laptops, they are designed each for a different crowed. The Asus while being much more portable loses some features of the Lenovo along with performance.

Advantages of the Asus

  1. Much thinner (.12.71″ vs the Lenovo at .75-1.36″)
  2. Much faster hard drive (SSD vs the Lenovo’s HDD)
  3. Much lighter (2.87lbs vs the Lenovo at 3.31lbs)
  4. Higher resolution display (1600×900 vs the Lenovo at 1366×768)
  5. Larger display (13.3″ vs the Lenovo’s 12.5″)

Disadvantages of the Asus

  1. Much less powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2557M 1.6-2.7GHz Dual-Core vs the Lenovo’s Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Much less storage (128GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Much less battery life (6.5 hours vs the Lenovo at 12.5 hours)
  4. Glossy display vs the Lenovo’s anti-glare
  5. 1 less USB 2.0
  6. No ethernet
  7. Less tough chassis
  8. Less comfortable keyboard

Thinner, faster hard drive, quick battery charging:
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (129126U)

Being in the same family as the X220, the X1 retains a similar build design and look however being more portable without losing too much performance.

Advantages of the X1

  1. Much thinner (.65.84″ vs the Lenovo X220 at .75-1.36″)
  2. Faster hard drive (7200RPM vs the Lenovo X220 at 5400RPM)
  3. Larger display (13.3″ vs the Lenovo X220 12.5″)
  4. Costs less ($1180 vs the Lenovo X220 at $1240)
  5. Gorrila Glass protecting display
  6. HDMI and DisplayPort
  7. Battery charges from 0 to 80% in 30 minutes

Disadvantages of the X1

  1. Less powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2520M 2.5-3.2GHz Dual-Core vs the Lenovo’s Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Much shorter battery life (5.5 hours vs the Lenovo at 12.5 hours)
  3. Glossy display vs the Lenovo’s anti-glare
  4. 1 less USB 2.0
  5. Not the classical Thinkpad keyboard, but it’s still a very good keyboard.

Thinner, lighter, 240GB SSD and lower cost:
Acer Aspire S3-951-6432

Though both the Lenovo and the Acer are portable laptops, they are designed each for a different crowd. The Acer while being much more portable loses some features of the Lenovo along with performance.

Advantages of the Acer

  1. Much thinner (.51-.68″ vs the Lenovo X220 at .75-1.36″)
  2. Much faster hard drive (SSD vs the Lenovo X220 HDD)
  3. Lighter (2.93lbs vs the Lenovo X220 at 3.31lbs)
  4. Larger display (13.3″ vs the Lenovo X220 12.5″)
  5. Large 240GB SSD
  6. Costs significantly less ($1100 vs the Lenovo X220 at $1240)

Disadvantages of the Acer

  1. Much less powerful processor (Intel Core i7-2637M 1.7-2.8GHz Dual-Core vs the Lenovo’s Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Less storage (240GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Much less battery life (3.5 hours vs the Lenovo at 12.5 hours)
  4. Glossy display vs the Lenovo’s anti-glare
  5. Lower quality display panel type (TN vs the Lenovo X220 IPS panel)
  6. No USB 3.0
  7. No ethernet
  8. Less tough chassis
  9. Less comfortable keyboard

Thinner, lighter, higher resolution display, SSD, backlit keyboard, great display/trackpad:
Apple MacBook Air MC965LL/A

If you prefer OS X over Windows, the MacBook air is a great alternative at this price range.

Because the way each operating system utilizes hardware (processor, RAM, video card, etc.) are unique, comparing these two laptops’ overall performance is difficult. However, in this situation no one will argue against the Lenovo clearly outperforming the MacBook. Other features however, can be compared relatively straight forward.

Advantages of the MacBook

  1. Much thinner (.11-.68″ vs the Lenovo at .75-1.36″)
  2. Lighter (2.96lbs vs the Lenovo at 3.31lbs)
  3. Higher display resolution (1440×900 vs the Lenovo at 1366×768)
  4. Much faster hard drive (SSD vs the Lenovo’s HDD)
  5. Costs less ($1200 vs the Lenovo at $1240)
  6. Backlit keyboard
  7. Accurate color display
  8. Great warranty/support
  9. Thunderbolt port
  10. Capable of running Windows through BootCamp
  11. Arguably one of the best trackpad available on a laptop

Disadvantages of the MacBook

  1. Much less powerful processor (Intel Core i5-2557M 1.7-2.7GHz Dual-Core vs the Lenovo’s Intel Core i7-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Less storage (128GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Smaller display (11.6″vs the Lenovo at 12.5″)
  4. Much less battery life (~6 hours vs the Lenovo at ~12.5 hours)
  5. No HDMI
  6. No USB 3.0

Thinner, optical drive, backlit keyboard, great display/trackpad:
Apple MacBook Pro MD313LL/A

If you prefer OS X over Windows, the MacBook Pro is a great alternative at this price range. Because the way each operating system utilizes hardware (processor, RAM, video card, etc.) are unique, comparing these two laptops’ overall performance is difficult. Other features however, can be fairly compared.

Advantages of the MacBook

  1. Thinner (.95″ vs the Lenovo at .75-1.36″)
  2. More storage (500GB vs the Lenovo’s 320GB)
  3. Larger display (13.3″vs the Lenovo at 12.5″)
  4. Equipped with optical drive
  5. Costs less ($1120 vs the Lenovo at $1240)
  6. Backlit keyboard
  7. Accurate color display
  8. Great warranty/support
  9. Thunderbolt port
  10. Capable of running Windows through BootCamp
  11. Arguably one of the best trackpad available on a laptop

Disadvantages of the MacBook

  1. Much heavier (4.5lbs vs the Lenovo at 3.31lbs)
  2. Much less battery life (~6 hours vs the Lenovo at ~12.5 hours)
  3. Glossy screen vs the Lenovo’s anti-glare
  4. No HDMI
  5. No USB 3.0

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Best Ultra-Portable Laptop for $1500

None. I don’t recommend any portable laptops for around $1500 because there are no laptop at this price range that significantly improves from ~$1250 enough for an additional $250 to be justified.

With that said, if you have a maximum budget of $1500 and want to spend no more or less, then I recommend purchasing the recommended laptop for ~$1250 along with an SSD and/or RAM upgrade (recommendations for upgrading hard drive and RAM found at the bottom of the page).

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Best Ultra-Portable Laptop for $2000

Sony VAIO VPC-Z216GX/L 13.1-Inch Laptop (Blue)Sony VAIO VPC-Z216GX/L

About the Sony VAIO VPC-Z216GX/L:

Pros:

  1. Powerful Intel Core i7-2620M 2.7-3.4GHz Turbo Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading processor
  2. Included dock with AMD Radeon HD 6650M with 1GB dedicated VRAM video card: Not a powerhouse, but superior to the Intel HD 3000 for gaming and allows the laptop to handle up to four monitors.
  3. Dock also has a Blu-Ray Reader, that can burn DVDs and CDs and an USB 3.0 port
  4. Light: 2.57lbs
  5. Backlit keyboard
  6. Dual SSD setup (2 x 128GB in RAID 0), for a total of 256GB of storage space
  7. 1600 x 900 display resolution
  8. Widi compatible
  9. Bluetooth 2.1

Cons:

  1. Average battery life: ~5.5hours, but it can be extended to 12-15 hours with a Sony Sheet Battery.
  2. Very expensive: $2000
  3. Glossy screen: Forget about using this laptop in direct sunlight
  4. Non-upgradable RAM

Ideal for:

  • Anyone who wants a very powerful portable laptop without the cost of style, weight, and many features of larger laptops.
  • Anyone who wants a very light laptop that can handle some gaming when connecting it to the dock.

To avoid for:

  • Someone who wants a large enough screen for viewing/comparing multiple documents. However, the large resolution does mean more screen estate making working with multiple documents on one screen possible at the cost of visually smaller fonts.

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Specifications:

Components
Sony Vaio VPC-Z216GX/L
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU Intel Core i7-2620M Dual-Core + Hyper-Threading 2.7-3.4 GHz Turbo
Screen
Webcam
Video Card
13.1″ 1600 x 1900 LED backlight
Yes: 720p (1280 x 720)
Intel HD Graphics 3000 / AMD Radeon HD 6650M 1GB (dock)
RAM
Slots/Max RAM
4GB DDR3 1600MHz
Onboard – Not upgradable
Storage 256GB Solid State Drive (SSD): 2 x 128GB SSDs in RAID 0
Optical Drive Blu-Ray Reader that can burn CDs/DVDs, on the dock
Audio Two stereo speakers
Integrated microphone
Networking LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps
Intel® Centrino® Advanced-N 6230
Bluetooth 2.1
Ports 2-in-1 Media Card reader
1 x USB 3.0 (via dock)
3 x USB 2.0 (1 + 2 via dock)
LAN
VGA Output
HDMI
On the dock:
HDMI output
VGA output
1 x USB 3.0
2 x USB 2.0
LAN
Dimensions
Weight
13″ x 8.27 x .66″
2.57lbs
Battery Size
Battery Life
Battery Sheet
Internal Lithium Ion
~5.5 hours

Can be extended with a $137 Sony Sheet Battery.

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Compared to similar laptops:

Vs. ~$1250 Recommended Laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad X220)

Both laptops’ performance are virtually even, however the Lenovo inches ahead thanks to a slightly higher clocked processor. The main reason to spend $750 more for the Sony is for its higher display resolution, large SSD, and much lighter build.

Advantages of the Lenovo

  1. Slightly more powerful processor (Intel Core i7-2640M 2.8-3.5GHz Dual-Core vs the Sony’s Intel Core i5-2640M 2.7-3.4GHz Dual-Core)
  2. Longer battery life (~12.5 hours vs the Sony at ~5.5hours)
  3. More storage (320GB vs the Sony’s 256GB)
  4. Upgradable RAM
  5. IPS display, for greater viewing angles and color accuracy.
  6. Superior keyboard
  7. Tougher chassis

Disadvantages of the Lenovo

  1. Much slower hard drive (HDD vs the Sony’s Dual SSDs in RAID 0)
  2. Much less powerful video card (Intel HD 3000 vs the Sony’s Radeon HD 6650M 1GB)
  3. No Optical Drive (None vs the Sony’s Blu-Ray Reader and DVDs/CDs burner).
  4. Smaller display (12.5″vs the Sony at 13.1″)
  5. Lower resolution display (1366 x 768 vs the Sony at 1680 x 1050)
  6. Much thicker (1.36″ vs the Sony at .66″)
  7. Much heavier (3.31lbs vs the Sony at 2.57lbs)

Vs. the Competition

While Apple does offer a very powerful MacBook Pro 15.4″ at this price range, being well over 5lbs, we did not consider it to be ultra-portable.

At this price range, as of Windows based laptops, there are no other offering a package as powerful and portable as the Sony.

Portable Laptops to Avoid

These are laptops we recommend to avoid. This website is targeted for any anyone at any level of computer understanding, therefore some of the following may be obvious to some.

Toshiba Portege Z835
(Not to be confused with the Toshiba Portege R835, which we do recommend at the $650 price point)
While it offers one of the sleekest bodies with some impressive hardware, many customer reviews point to a similar build issue issue. The display is simply too flimsy and a cracked screen is the result of many consumers’ typical uses.

Chromebooks
Chromebooks are very simply laptops capable of running mainly Google’s online suite of programs. While Google is certainly a respectable name, it is very difficult to recommend a Chromebook over even our lowest cost ($330) recommended laptop (Acer Aspire One A0722-0369). A Windows laptop is capable of doing nearly everything a Chromebook can and much more.

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Personalize your laptop with a skin!


Make it Yours

If you want to personalize your laptop, get a laptop skin from Skinit.com.

They even make it easy for you to upload your own photos and to create a truly one-of-a-kind custom made skin.

Upgrade your RAM, Hard Drive and/or Sound Card

Upgrade your RAM:

RAM can easily be upgraded on most laptops. I recommend the most reliable sticks that I can find.

Pick one of the following recommendations below, depending on if your laptop comes with a single stick of RAM or two, or if you can have up to 4 sticks.

My recommendations should be compatible with all the laptops recommended in this guide, assuming that the laptop’s RAM can be upgraded, which is not the case of all of them. You can find this information in the specifications for each laptop above. If you’re not sure, feel free to ask us in the comments section at the end of the article.

Add a single 2GB stick:

Kingston 2GB DDR3 1333MHz SODIMM Notebook Memory

Add a single 4GB stick:

Kingston 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SODIMM Notebook Memory

Upgrade to a 2x4GB (8GB) kit:

Kingston 8GB (2x4GB) 1333MHz DDR3 SODIMM Notebook Memory Kit

For laptops with four RAM slots: 16GB (4x4GB) memory kit:

Get two of these kits: Kingston 8GB (2x4GB) 1333MHz DDR3 SODIMM Notebook Memory Kit

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Upgrade your hard drive:

With some ultra-portable laptops, you can upgrade your hard drive to a faster and/or a larger hard drive. Alternatively, you can also replace it with a tremendously faster SSD (Solid State Drive), which also consume a tad less power than laptop hard drive, so replacing a hard drive by a SSD will slightly boost your laptop’s battery life.

Do note that not all ultra-portable laptops accept standard hard drives with a 9.5mm height, some require a 7mm thick drive while others demand a mSATA SSD. This is indicated for the laptops that are recommended above. If we didn’t indicate it, you can simply ask us by leaving a comment at the end of the article.

Keep your old hard drive for external storage via an USB 3.0 enclosure:

USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0, if your laptop does not have USB 3.0.

When you replace the hard drive that your laptop came with, I recommend putting in this Kingwin 2.5-Inch USB 3.0 External Hard Drive Enclosure – Aluminum and using it for external storage, such as backups.

750GB, 7,200rpm 9.5mm thick hard drive:

As fast as it gets for a laptop hard drive:
Western Digital Scorpio Black 750 GB SATA 3 GB/s 7200 RPM 2.5-Inch Mobile Hard Drive

1TB, 5,400rpm 9.5mm thick hard drive:

As large as it gets for a laptop hard drive capacity. Not as fast as the 750GB hard drive above, due to its slower rotation speed (5,400rpm vs 7,200 rpm) and smaller cache.
Western Digital 1 TB Scorpio Blue SATA II 5400 RPM 2.5-Inch Notebook Hard Drive

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Upgrade to a SSD

If you want to upgrade your hard drive to a SSD, we recommend to you the Crucial M4 line-up of SSDs, which offers a great balance of reliability and performance, at a great price.

Furthermore, I recommend these particular Crucial M4 SSDs, for they include a CD with cloning software and a SATA to USB adapter, to help you transfer the content of your current hard drive to the SSD, in order to minimize downtime and make your life easier.

7mm thick SSDs:
If you need a 7mm thick SSD or if you want an even faster SSD, we recommend to you the Samsung 830 line-up of SSDs, which offers class-leading performance and reliability.

Furthermore, I recommend these particular Samsung 830 SSDs, for they include a CD with cloning software and a SATA to USB adapter, to help you transfer the content of your current hard drive to the SSD, in order to minimize downtime and make your life easier.

Alternatively, I invite you to read The Best SSDs and HDDs For Your Money article, to decide yourself which SSD is right for you.

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Upgrade the sound quality

While integrated audio on laptops has improved a lot in the last few years, it’s still no match for a dedicated sound chip if you care about sound quality.

The $42 – ASUS Xonar U3 is a USB-stick based dedicated sound chip that will greatly improve sound quality, with its built-in headphones amplifier, Dolby surround support, S/PDIF optical output ASUS GX2.5 and much more.

I highly recommend it if you enjoy high-quality sound, whether it’s for music, movies, games or anything else.

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Get an external Blu-ray or DVD Drive:

If your laptop isn’t equipped with an optical drive and that you want one, here are my recommendations:

Get a monitor:

If you want a monitor to attach to your laptop, we invite you to read our “The Best Monitors For Your Money” article.

Laptops to Look Forward to

Not planning to buy a laptop anytime soon? Here is an overlook to what is to come in the near future.

Intel Ivy Bridge and Intel HD 4000 equipped laptops

Intel’s upcoming CPU, Ivy Bridge, will be equipped with the Intel HD 4000 integrated video card is set to be released along with a large lineup of currently unnamed laptops in 2012. Compared to the currently most popular video card for portable laptops (HD 3000), the HD 4000 will improve graphics performance by an average of 50%: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5772/mobile-ivy-bridge-and-asus-n56vm-preview/6

As for the CPU part, we’re talking about a ~20% improvement in CPU performance vs the 2nd generation of Intel ix mobile CPUs. Battery life should in theory improve too, thanks to the lower power consumption of Ivy Bridge vs Sandy Bridge.

Finally, we should start seeing quad-core CPUs in ultra-portable laptops that are currently equipped with standard voltage Sandy Bridge dual-core CPUs, with the new Intel i7-3612QM 2.1-3.1Ghz Turbo Quad-Core + Hyper-Threading having a 35W TDP, low enough to fit in laptops described above.

AMD Trinity:
Expected anytime now, AMD is about to launch Llano’s successor, Trinity, which will bring higher CPU performance and just as importantly, higher video card performance, for low-end gaming laptops and ultra-portable laptops capable of some decent gaming performance.

Touchscreen

If you are a fan of touchscreen devices, look forward to Ultrabooks equipped with touchscreens. From what it looks like, this will go greatly in hand with the upcoming Windows 8.

http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/07/intel-ivy-bridge-touchscreen-ultrabook-hands-on/

Fujitsu Lifebook Ultrabook

If you haven’t seen it already, Fujitsu’s 14″ Ultrabook looks fantastic with its near edge to edge display on a sleek .63″ thick body. My only concern on this laptop is, whether the screen is sturdy enough. Look forward to this laptop shipping in Summer 2012: http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/05/fujitsu-lifebook-ultrabook-hands-on-video/

Gigabyte U2442

Gigabyte, not known for manufacturing laptops, are releasing a thin (up to .8″ thick) Ultrabooks equipped with a powerful Nvidia GeForce GT 640M for around $1000. Hopefully, the hardware won’t be cut back and we can finally have “affordable” thin gaming laptops: http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/06/gigabyte-u2442-ultrabook-hands-on/

Successors to Asus Zenbooks

Like the Asus Zenbooks but don’t have to buy a laptop now? Rumors suggest a new set up Zenbooks equipped with IPS 1080p displays, backlit keyboards, and an upgrade to Intel’s Ivy Bridge along with Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 to be coming soon: http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/12/2864340/asus-ux31a-ux21a-ivy-bridge-ultrabook-specs-exclusive

$700 Ultrabooks and $500 “Ultrabooks”

Intel expects the market for Ultrabooks to push the lowest prices down to $700 before the end of summer. This is certainly good news to hear as consumers: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-notebook-ultrabook-price-drop-laptops,15291.html

Keep in mind that the term “Ultrabook” is a trademark of Intel, which reserves to laptops that meets specific specifications. We should also see “Ultrabooks” type of laptops equipped with a low voltage AMD Trinity chip, starting around $500 from what I heard.

Conclusion

Overall, 2012 looks to expand the market for portable laptops. We will begin to see higher performing laptops thanks to Intel’s Ivy Bridge, AMD’s Trinity as well as AMD’s and Nvidia’s new line of video cards. We also expect to see manufactures lower prices on low end portable laptops to expand their marketing.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this first edition of the Best Portable Laptops For Your Money, written by Xai Her (Ichigeki), our new “Best Laptops For Your Money” collaborator and edited by Mathieu Bourgie, the editor-in-chief and founder of Hardware Revolution.

Of course, with this being the first edition of the article and this being such a large article (over 8000 words!) with many recommendations and alternatives, you may find some typos.

Alternatively, you may believe that there’s a better option than our recommendation.

If that happens, feel free to leave a comment below and remember, you can join us on our forums to discuss with everyone else the laptop that you’re planning to buy, ask your questions and join our helpful community.