One of the more notable moments at CES this year for me wasn't a flashy new notebook announcement or a weird concept device demonstration. It was a quiet reveal at the Acer/Gateway suite of the upcoming Gateway EC14D, an 11.6-inch dual-core ULV mininotebook that has a DVD drive. It's a big deal, for several reasons.
Many readers have written in regarding laptop purchases they'd like to make, and it seems that the capability to play DVDs still ranks high on many lists. A laptop is often an entertainment purchase, and DVDs are still more widespread than any other video medium. On ultraportable devices such as Netbooks, DVD drives have been left off, mainly because of size and cost concerns. And, to those who value saving some money and having a smaller laptop, it's worth the compromise.
However, omitting DVD drives in larger "thin-and-light" machines may be a bit of a mistake. First off, nobody technically needs a thinner laptop. More compact is always nice, but cosmetics are secondary to value for a lot of people. Regardless, a trend seems to have been emerging in recent months: while early thin-and-lights such as the MSI Wind and MacBook Air were truly too thin for an optical drive, recent entries to the midrange category are getting a little bulkier, and clearly could have made room for one. The ThinkPad Edge 13-inch, for instance, is nearly the same size as the Acer Aspire 3935, which has a DVD burner. The Edge, however, does not. The best example of all is the MacBook Pro 13-inch, which is thinner than some thin-and-lights and yet manages a slot-loading drive.
While some claim that going disc-free is easy in an age of Wi-Fi and downloadable/streaming video, downloading still consumes massive chunks of hard-drive space, and streaming requires a good wireless signal. For business users, having a DVD drive can often be useful for accessing press releases, data discs, or other information handed off on-site that may not be in USB stick form or on a Web site.
The EC14D comes with an Intel SU4100 ULV processor, a 500GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, and has a 1,366x768-pixel resolution 11.6-inch display. It weighs about 3.5 pounds and is less than 1.2 inches thick, and will sell for around $629 when it's available later this month. Does that sound thin, compact, and affordable enough for you? If so, would you prefer that compact laptops re-introduce DVD drive options, or are you happier without an optical drive?