Ultralight Notebooks

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

The choices for portable computing have never been greater. And the choice for which PC you buy and support, as always, comes down to price versus performance. Netbooks and MacBook Air look convenient, but do they have the power? Ultralights have features, but are they light enough? And what are we paying for? Here’s a look at today's choices for mobile computing.

Ultralight Notebooks
Today, notebooks come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the 17-inch screen, 15-pound behemoth desktop replacement to the ultra-mini 8-inch screen, 1-pound handheld. Somewhere in between is the ideal form factor for a mobile worker. The only problem is, that form factor may not be the same from worker to worker, so picking a notebook computer for the corporate work force is bound to be an exercise in compromise.

Some would choose Toshiba’s Portege as a fine portable to carry around, but those counting the bucks may choke on the $3,000 price tag. Some may go to the other extreme and choose a consumer-grade notebook for under $1,000 and sacrifice some business capabilities and a lot of portability.

Perhaps, the best way to go about selecting what would be the best compromise is to put a dollar value on the unit, say around $1,400. That leads to a value proposition that beats the MacBook Air, but to be fair, the system should have a 13.3-inch or larger screen, weigh in at around 4 pounds, sport a dual-core processor and include numerous ports, along with an internal optical drive.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few notebooks that fit, including the Lenovo ThinkPad T400, Toshiba Satellite U305 and Tecra R10, Dell Vostro 1310, and Fujitsu LifeBook S6520. Some may wonder why Hewlett-Packard didn’t make the cut here. Simply put: HP’s thin and light systems come in at 5.1 pounds, a little heavy for the market segment that we are shooting for.

While each of those systems has plenty of merit, the Fujitsu LifeBook S6520, the latest model of the bunch to enter the market, offers a great deal of features for the $1,429 sticker price.

The system offers a 14.1-inch display, a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a DVD writer, 802.11a/b/g/n, a 120GB SATA hard drive, integrated Webcam, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, three bootable USB 2.0 ports, and audio and video out ports, and it weighs in at just 4 pounds. The system comes with Windows Vista Business Edition preinstalled and offers a downgrade to Windows XP Pro.

Simply put, the mobile worker can get all of the functionality needed to work almost anywhere for about $1,400. Of course, the unit won’t perform like a high-performance workstation, but it does offer plenty of performance to run office suites, presentations, videoconferencing solutions and pretty much anything else a user can throw at it.

The general idea here was to show three distinct paths to mobile productivity and to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each path. Summing it up, the only viable mobile PC solution comes down to the traditional notebook computer, where there is plenty of variety and options to meet anyone’s needs or budget.

Netbooks are just simply too low end to take on the chores of the typical mobile worker, but can be an inexpensive solution for those who only need to do the minimum of Web-based work.

The MacBook Air proves to be too limited and too expensive to hand out in mass to a mobile work force, and its shortcomings quickly rear their ugly heads once someone tries to expand on the capabilities.

The lesson learned here is that this is not the time for solution providers to abandon thin and light notebook computers for the latest fad PCs or trendy devices. 

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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