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back to article Mass Effect: Ten lightweight laptops that won’t bust your back

The arrival of Intel’s Haswell processors this year promised a new generation of ultraportable laptops that would be slimmer, lighter and provide better battery life than ever before. With that in mind, El Reg decided to round up 10 of the lightest laptops that we could find and see if they really delivered the goods. Not every …

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MoBo Blues

Are there any known bumps in the road to Linux-ing any of these laptops? Given the grief that Samsung caused are there any chipset woes that a person might find inside any of these boxes? Might be a question worth asking in future reviews.

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Len
Linux

Re: MoBo Blues

You might find this review helpful:

Macbook Air 11.6 (mid-2013) for Linux users. http://netrunner-mag.com/?p=3385

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Anonymous Coward

Re: MoBo Blues

I own a higher-specced version of the Vaio Pro 13 (i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, touchscreen), here's the so far list of Linux issues:

* An annoying EFI bug that requires putting the Grub bootloader files in a non-standard location (apparently a lot of distros won't boot at all without manually moving some files around, I'm running Gentoo so I had to do it manually anyway). Fortunately disabling secure boot didn't present any challenges.

* SD Card reader (Realtek RTS5209) works fine if there's a card in it at boot, otherwise you have to tell the kernel to re-scan for PCI devices or it never shows up.

* The touchscreen (eGalaxTouch EXC7910) works with the kernel drivers, I've tried the manufacturers ones (supposedly enables 10-finger touch and other features) but all they seem to do is consume 100% of one CPU until killed.

* The WiFi card had a bad habit of not working at all after waking the machine from sleep. That seems to be fixed as of about Linux 3.13-rc1.

* Also fixed as of 3.13-rc1, USB3 devices wouldn't work on a cold boot, only after a reboot.

* The lack of a real ethernet port is not ideal, but there isn't actually any part of the laptop which is thick enough to fit an ethernet port. I bought a cheap LevelOne branded USB3 gigabit adapter after I checked it was Linux-supported (Uses ax88179_178a module), aside from a bit of extra CPU usage it works fine.

On the list of things that do work, surprisingly the NFC receiver (NXP PN544) that's mounted under the touchpad is perfectly functional, although there's something of a lack of software to do anything with it.

Battery life is reasonable, 6-6.5 hours on a good day (versus maybe 7-7.5 in Windows 8), not all that bad considering the somewhat small 36Wh battery. The intel P-States CPU scaling driver seems to help a bit over the standard ones in the kernel.

I don't know if I'm meant to have granular control over the brightness of the keyboard backlight, there's at least an on/off switch.

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Re: MoBo Blues

Keyboard backlight is on or off in windows so you aren't losing anything in there.

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Bronze badge

Re: Asus X102BA Touch Laptop - £289?

A step up from that is the ASUS Vivobook S200e, 11.6" touchscreen, 4GB/500GB, 1.8GHz i3 for around 400 quid.

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Does Not Compute.

Something wrong here.

The only product that makes any sense is an HP ?

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Re: Does Not Compute.

I recently acquired a close relation of that HP. Usability is so poor, I'm on the lookout for a replacement.

Like other commentards, I'm disappointed to see no mention of that crucial question of whether I can expect to run *X without pain.

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Re: Does Not Compute.

"Like other commentards, I'm disappointed to see no mention of that crucial question of whether I can expect to run *X without pain."

Right. Other sites cover the lightweight round-up reviews well enough - I'd like the Reg to get more hands-on with doing the sort of things the readership is likely to want to do. Even if it was just the top and bottom end of these products (HP & Apple, I guess).

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The only downside to my 2013 MBA is the screen. Apple has used a TN panel, which at this price is unforgivable.

Apart from that it is bloody awesome, I don't bother carrying around the power brick anymore unless I'm going away for more than a day.

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2000 + ?

When did 'basic web browsing' suddenly need a computer that scores 2000+ on PC Mark 7 ? I don't know what the reviewer regards as 'basic web browsing' but I can pretty much get by with my work PC that I suspect scores about 3 or 4 on PC Mark 7.......

The truth is that the market for this type of fairly expensive (especially the £1k+ devices) is extremely limited as if all you do is web browsing, e-mail and office apps then you can quite happily get on with a much cheaper device (or, as is the case more and more, not need to upgrade your still operational 3 year old one). Sure, for people who need a genuinely powerful device for their work or play may want one, how many of them need one that weighs less and are willing to pay extra for the 1kg weight saving ?

The only real benefit I can see from these devices is the improved screen resolution but whilst 1900x1080 certainly looks better than 1366x768, I'm not sure that it's £1k better.

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Ethernet? Really?

Nice review, but please, leave the diatribe at home regarding ethernet adapters. As any fule kno, the majority of people have no want nor need for such devices. The 90s are calling: they want their requirements back...

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Re: Ethernet? Really?

You don't travel much, do you? In too many European hotels only wired in-room connectivity is available.

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gv

Re: Ethernet? Really?

You clearly need to upgrade to a better class of hotel.

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Devil

How about some cheapies?

"Ten lightweight laptops that won’t bust your back"

Here's an idea for an article - 'Ten half-decent laptops that won’t bust your bank'.

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Re: How about some cheapies?

..and that allow you install a distro of your choice with the minimum of fuss

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Re: How about some cheapies?

Or 'Ten ways to make a Mac look reasonably priced'.

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Devil

Well...

For MacBook Air prices - you buy a mac book air. The HP for £299 is a hard act to follow though, as long as you can replace Windows with something useful, that could be a winner, although its lack of specs could be an issue to some.

Also, massive kudos for looking individual and not looking like an Air copy.

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missing Thinkpad?

Ok so where was the Thinkpad X-series hiding?

Bomb proof (ok not literally), good size, good battery life, and plenty of processing grunt. Admittedly you get what you pay for.

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Asus Transformer?

I know it's not Windows/Linux, but I've just acquired a new Asus TF701T Transformer - 10.1 inch touch screen with clip on keyboard - £430. Lightweight, excellent battery (17 hrs?), and a real keyboard so it can be used for real work.

I was after a replacement for the old AA1 netbook, and something that was a bit more than the Nexus 7. It's not a full laptop replacement (I wouldn't like to use it all day), but I can easily take it out and about and, with a combination of basic apps for editing, FTP etc and Teamviewer to connect to the system at home, I can do just about do anything I want to do with it while I'm away from my desk.

Horses for courses, though. It works for my particular needs, maybe not yours.

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Re: Asus Transformer?

I've sung the praises of the asus transformer range before now. Bloody marvelous idea.

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Im seriously tempted by:

http://h20386.www2.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=F1W29EA&opt=ABU&sel=PCNB

Haswell based so fantastic battery life. Screen crappy but built in 3G. Linux is fairly easy to get onto one of these puppies bearing in mind that they are running on a *nix based os anyway. Slot in 32gb SD card...

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No nVidia = no CUDA = No deal

For me at least, though for many others it is no problem.

My battered old VAIO SZ series machine came with an nVidia card, and weighed in at onl 1.67 kg. I seriously need to replace it, but this crop of machines does not fit the bill. Pity, because there are some nice screens out there that finally push beyond the poor 1366x768 that plagued so many 13.X" screens (and beyond).

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Re: No nVidia = no CUDA = No deal

The Toshiba KiraBook and Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 also have very high res screens, but don't offer a dedicated graphics card. The Intel graphics aren't as shabby as they used to be, but obviously don't do CUDA.

The 15" Macbook Pro Retina with the pricey component package (faster CPU, 16GB RAM, 500GB SSD and nVidia GT 750m) might fulfil your needs but it costs over £2,000. Maybe a solution based on a cheaper Macbook and an nVidia card housed in a Thunderbolt chassis might be suitable for you.

Also, does your software scale properly on a high res display? Applications one might expect to behave (such as Photoshop) don't.

Are there any other nVidia high res laptops out there?

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Re: No nVidia = no CUDA = No deal

The samsung ativ book 9 plus (3200x1800, only 4Gb ram though) and toshiba kirabook (2560x1440) both run off the intel graphics - plenty good enough for anything other than recent games.

I got my girlfriend the latter (she's into photography) and the kira's display is just gorgeous. But yes, photo-bloody-shop's interface does not scale well at all... which is just what you want when you have a high res laptop for the express purpose of editing photos. Anyone whose survived this far into my ramble and has an interesting in photography, check out LightZone - open source and damn impressive based on the limited time I've had to play with it so far.

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Re: No nVidia = no CUDA = No deal

Cheers for the heads-up, Silent_count!

I haven't used RAW much in the past, but my new camera is speedier at saving files than my last one, so I really should get into the habit.

The quick n dirty mini-review of LightZone is very positive:

http://www.dpreview.com/articles/5637768529/a-quick-review-of-the-lightzone-photo-editor

All the focus seems to be on making laptops slimmer and more power efficient - no bad thing. Gaming laptops often have quite modest display resolutions, since it lowers the demand on their GPUs. I've been impressed with the more recent Intel graphics, but fooling my CAD software into thinking my GeForce is a Quadro results in more useful display graphics for quick animation output.

Personally, I'm not after 'Retina'-level resolution, but just a laptop with a 1920 x 1200 16:10 screen.

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Re: No nVidia = no CUDA = No deal

The new Dell XPS 15 9530 (aka Precision M3800) has a QHD+ (3200x1800) touchscreen and optional Nvidia GT 750M.

2013 seems to be the year for high DPI on Windows. See http://forum.notebookreview.com/hardware-components-aftermarket-upgrades/735500-list-very-high-res-high-ppi-laptops-1080p-screens.html

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Dell Latittude

Nice to see the 6240 in this list... I have the 6230 and its a great little machine - i7 and 16gb ram - its the only machine in the line up that has a real docking connector too so a nice desktop replacement when docked with real displays and keyboard.

Not sure about the 6240, but the 6230 runs real laptop CPUs, not the ulv ultrabook jobs, so running a bunch of VM's is a breeze

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these look somehow familiar...

ah yes, they all look exactly the same as my 4 year old MacBook air :-)

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Re: these look somehow familiar...

I cant remember the last time I saw a black MacBook air built from carbonfibre with an edge to edge glass display... ;)

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Re: these look somehow familiar...

This is true. However they also look the same as the Vaio I bought in 2005. Think it was called the X505 but I may be wrong. It didn't come with the "re-write history so Apple invented everything" button the MBA comes with, but otherwise it was a fantastic machine.

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Re: these look somehow familiar...

"these look somehow familiar...

ah yes, they all look exactly the same as my 4 year old MacBook air :-)"

No they don't.

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No Chromebook?

Since I've had my Samsung a year the 13" Windows laptop I have gets very little use anymore.

Won't find Windows or OSX in my travel bag these days.

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Nexus 7

And a bluetooth keyboard here. Ditched laptops ages ago.

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Screen Size for these prices is absolutely disgusting.

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Windows

I'm resorting to stopgap measures

I've been waiting for a successful Windows 2-in1 solution for about 2 years now... they are still too expensive and/or have major problems. Dell XPS 11 (which doesn't really exist yet), Sony flip 13 or Yoga 2 are the closest, but I'm not really interested in £1100+.

To my delight I recently discovered that the new Bay Trail Atom processors are much improved over the previous generation (3-5x faster), and are now able to run full Windows 8.1 without any noticeable slowness, play basic games, battery lasts 10+ hours, and machines with them generally come with Office 2013 for free. I'll probably be getting an Asus Transformer Book T100 this Christmas for £349 (if I can find one).

It will do me at least until vendors sort out the problems with the big expensive machines.

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Help!

Does anyone know of a 1920 x 1200 Windows laptop, 15" - 17", with (mid range) dedicated graphics?

Sorry for being a tad off topic.

Thanks.

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Re: Help!

Not cheap, but indestructible(ish)...

http://www.panasonic.com/business/toughbook/semi-rugged-laptop-toughbook-52.asp?cm_mmc=PSCNA-_-Vanities-_-toughbook-52-_-tb-52-page

Packs a Radeon HD7750, I believe. Not bad at 15.4 inch.

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Re: Help!

I'm looking for something similar - my wishlist includes a backlit keyboard with a numpad - but the closest I've found is 1920x1080.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834131487

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Old end of line Yoga

Funny they sent you the old yoga and not the yoga pro 2.

I'm tempted by the new model which does indeed have a Haswell CPU.

They seemed to sell out straight after announcing them - maybe they didn't keep any demo units.

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Im with the chap who posted above, where are the Thinkpad X series in this review? Small, lightweight and idiot proof.

I require idiot proof. Im a PHB. Who says I need a laptop case? Fuck that!

I tend to get 2/3 years out of a Thinkpad X series, thankfully second hand ones are cheap on fleabay.

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Price/practicallity

OK - maybe this doesn't matter to everybody out there - but recently I've been looking to buy a light and small laptop - but with as much practicality as possible. I need my connectivity - I don't want to carry a bucket of adapters around. Of everything that I looked at 11 inch, only two seem to fit the bill: the Lenovo E130 and the Acer Travelmate B113. They have:

1. 3 x USB ports

2. Full size VGA

3. Full size HDMI

4. Ethernet

5. Full SD card slot

Oh, and I like AMD as the underdog, but in spite of that, I have to go with Intel on a laptop. In terms of performance versus heat versus battery life, they are still lagging too far behind. I keep on checking their offerings every year, and like the progress they have made, but I'm sorry, it is still not good enough. Good prices though.

In the end I went with the Lenovo, as it had double the (theoretical) battery life and it seemed stronger built. I've had my Thinkpad E130 for almost two weeks now. Aside from the usual initial EFI bumbling, Slackware went on it without any major problems. I've added another 4GB of ram and pretty much everything flies. I couldn't be happier. The keyboard is fantastic, but the trackpad should really have been bigger - as they could have moved the keyboard to make some space. The speakers are strong, but unfortunately underneath (WTF?). The whole thing is rock solid. But I can't stand the "ribbed" feel of the trackpad - don't understand why Lenovo keeps on insisting on it.

Haswell sounds marvellous for laptops, but it is taking an absolute age to arrive. They still haven't released the ULV versions of the planned Haswell processors. Oh, and my E130 might have just an Ivy Bridge i3-3227U, but it set me back only £492 - I'm not going to pay £1500 for a laptop - sorry. (I've noticed it has dropped further to about £470 at some e-tailers)

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4GB

4GB of RAM is simply not good enough in a laptop costing around or, in a few cases, way above £1000. I know the Sony can be configured with 8GB (I have one) so I don't know about the others but really this should be a standard feature.

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