The world of laptops is getting a bit of a refresh in 2011, with some of the newest of what vendors have to offer trickling out from the Consumer Electronic Show (CES).
Faced with competition from smartphones and tablets, we'll no doubt see some interesting solutions and odd hybrids in coming times; but for now it's standard stuff with new processors from Intel and AMD, particularly the Sandy Bridge and Fusion chips which include a GPU within the CPU die.
We expect the netbook to start its decline this year, overtaken by significantly faster, slightly larger, yet almost as cheap ultraportables around the 11.6-inch size.
Feel free to browse the image gallery, or use the quick jump list below to go to the brand of your choice. If/when more models are announced, we'll post them here.
They may not be shocking, but they're certainly sleek. Lenovo's new 10- and 11-inch IdeaPads feel like a side-by-side comparison of where ultraportable laptops are heading in 2011. 11.6-inch is the new 10, and we'd better get used to it.
The IdeaPad S100 is an update to last year's IdeaPad S10-3. It's a standard netbook: Atom CPUs up to N570, up to 2GB of RAM/320GB hard drive, and an attractive design. It's marked at a US$329 starting price.
The IdeaPad S205 is yet another 11.6-inch laptop using AMD's Fusion CPU series. The design looks a bit like a ThinkPad, with a 98 per cent full-size "Accu Type" keyboard that's new to Lenovo this year. An AMD dual-core E-350 CPU comes with integrated graphics and promises more of that upgraded performance we've been hearing about with the AMD Fusion processors. Its specs are more laptop than netbook: up to a 750GB hard drive and 8GB of DDR3 RAM, HDMI and optional 3G.
HP's Pavilion dm1 joins Lenovo's ThinkPad X120e as the first devices to sport AMD's Fusion APU. By adding the GPU processor to the CPU, the chip maker claims that its new platform offers improved performance along with longer battery life.
The Palo Alto company has also upgraded its Pavilion dv6, Pavilion dv7 and Envy 17 to Intel's latest Sandy Bridge platform. The premium Envy machine will sport switchable AMD Radeon 6850M graphics with HP CoolSense technology. A motion sensor in the notebook detects whether the laptop is being used on the lap at an angle or flat on a desk and determines how hard the cooling fan should run.
HP's popular line of Mini 210 netbooks is expanding, at least visually. Two new plaid designs are joining the collection, named iceberry and raspberry. Existing colours include charcoal, lavender frost, luminous rose, and ocean drive.
The actual internal components of the Mini 210 are unchanged, anchored by the Intel Atom CPU. In a way, that's not surprising, as PC makers have been trying to move consumers up from low-cost netbooks to more expensive 11-inch ultraportables, so there's little motivation to radically overhaul the basic netbook spec sheet.
Instead, HP (and other netbook makers) are emphasising design, colours and matching accessories. For these two new colours, HP is also producing colour-coordinated nylon clutch sleeves (with faux fur linings) and matching USB mice, both for under US$30. It's expected to sell for US$349.99.
Usually, when we hear of bargain laptops around the holidays, we tend to imagine 15.6-inch laptops wedded to Intel Celeron or Pentium processors. The new AMD e-series CPUs might be nudging into the same territory, if we're to guess from the newly-announced Toshiba Satellite C655D.
The 15.6-inch laptop uses an AMD E240 CPU, part of the new AMD Fusion line of processors, helping keep the cost down. Up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM/320GB hard drive, a DVD burner and 802.11n Wi-Fi in a 2.49kg package for a starting price of US$398 doesn't sound too shabby at all, come to think of it.
While some manufacturers, such as Asus, seem to be shifting focus away from netbooks completely, Toshiba appears to be giving it another go with the NB505, a more affordable netbook that matches its stiffest competition at US$299.
Its specs are baseline: Windows 7 Starter OS, 10.1-inch display, 250GB hard drive, 1GB RAM and an unspecified Atom processor that we assume is single core. At these prices, though, who can complain? It comes in a spectrum of colours — turquoise, blue, lime green, brown, orange — and drops popular features such as USB sleep-and-charge, but it feels nice and comes with a comfortable keyboard.
Toshiba's venerable NB305 is back in a refresh as well, offering a "premium aluminium finish in blue" and a dual-core N550 Atom processor along with the useful sleep-and-charge USB port and a hard-drive impact sensor, but otherwise similar specs. At US$379, it costs about the same as last year's NB305, but right now, if we were considering buying a netbook, we'd go with the cheaper NB505. The question is, are you still considering buying a netbook?
The Qosmio X505 adds the same Core i7-2630QM or Core i5-2410M CPUs into its massive 18.4-inch-screened chassis, along with an impressive Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M GPU with 1.5GB of DDR5 memory. A dual-hard-drive option can add up to 1TB of 7200rpm storage. Prices range from US$1299 to US$1899.
The Satellite A665 3D Edition adds an integrated 3D emitter to last year's Satellite A660, removing the plug-in dongle that went with the included active-shutter 3D Vision glasses. A new Intel Core i7-2630QM or Core i5-2410M CPU is paired with Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics, up to 8GB DDR3 RAM and up to a 640GB hard drive. Other notables: Blu-ray disc drive, integrated 4G WiMax, and a USB 3.0 port. Prices range from US$1249 to US$1599.
The A665 (non 3D) comes either with a Core i3-2310M, Core i5-2410M or Core i7-2630QM, or alternately with AMD Phenom II dual- or quad-core CPUs, with graphics ranging from the GeForce 310M to GT535M, and will cost between US$684 and US$1049.
The Satellite M645 is representative of Toshiba's mid-range laptops, a 14-inch laptop with a Core i5-2410M CPU. Graphics range from an Nvidia GeForce 310M up to a GeForce GT525M, with Nvidia Optimus; USB 3.0 and a slot-loading optical drive. While the US will get WiMax and WiDi support, we doubt we'll see that in Australia. The prie for the M645 ranges from US$749 to US$1099.
The budget Satellite L600 series comes with either last-gen Intel Core i3-380M/Core i5-480M CPUs or second-gen Core i3-2310M/Core i5-2410M CPUs on the Intel side, or AMD Athlon II/Turion II dual-core/Phenom II dual-core/Phenom II quad-core CPU options. The L series has laptops in all screen sizes from 13.3-inch up to 17.3-inch, and prices range from a reasonable US$469 up to US$849.
Samsung laptops have caught our eye for more than a year now, with an increasingly impressive design aesthetic and fairly good prices to boot. Today, its announcement of a thin, 13-inch laptop aimed squarely at the MacBook Air-loving crowd seems to indicate a direction in higher-end products, too, and we certainly can't complain.
The 9 Series comes with a second-generation Intel Core i5-2537M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive, along with Windows 7 Professional. The design looks great so far: its metal finish has beautiful curved edges, and Samsung boasts it's the thinnest 13-inch laptop in existence. While specific dimensions weren't provided, it weighs 1.3kg. Despite its size, it also packs a 1.5-Watt subwoofer and stereo speakers, too.
It isn't cheap at US$1599, scraping the top of the high-end. However, it's nice to see laptops aiming to get sexy again, a trend seemingly lacking at this year's CES. With heated competition from tablets and smartphones bearing eye-popping designs, we're surprised more laptop manufacturers aren't following suit, albeit perhaps with something a bit more affordable.
The RV511 is a thin and very affordable US$599 multimedia budget laptop, featuring a Core i3-380M CPU, 15.6-inch display, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.
Samsung also has the RC512, its high-end 15-inch offering. At US$1149, it packs a Core i7-2630M CPU, Nvidia GeForce GT430 graphics, 6GB DDR3 RAM, a 750GB hard drive and a Blu-ray playing drive. It looks like a heady competitor to the Sony Vaio F series.
Lenovo has also announced a successor of sorts to last year's 11.6-inch ThinkPad x100e: the ThinkPad x120e will start at under US$400 and keep its 11.6-inch screen, but use AMD's new Fusion E-Series CPUs. We really liked the x100e, and all signs point to the x120e being an affordable improvement. Lenovo promises improved battery life, an HDMI port and a release date in February.
The 2011 updates to the ThinkPad Edge series bring new second-generation Intel Core i processors as well as a bolder, sleeker design.
The ThinkPad Edge E220s has an unusually sized 12.5-inch screen but dimensions and weight that more closely match an 11.6-incher. It's less than 25.4mm thick and weighs under 1.59kg but lacks an optical drive.
A smoother matte finish, metal touches on the corners, a large clickpad, an HDMI port, Dolby Home Theater audio technology and an HD webcam round out the options. Processors will range from second-generation Core i3 all the way up to Core i7. Lenovo is also claiming significantly improved boot-up time through Lenovo Enhanced Experience 2.0.
The 14.1-inch E420s shares much of the smaller E220's design, but has a slot-loading DVD drive and features a 14.1-inch screen. It'll start at US$749. Lenovo also plans to release the ThinkPad Edge 420 and 520, which should offer a more affordable alternative starting from US$599.
The new mid-range line of Aspire laptops from Acer aim toward "everyday multitasking, digital media enjoyment and communication", according to the company. The new Aspire 5750, 5750G and 7750G are among the first to make use of Intel's new second-generation Core series processors — in this case the quad-core i7-2630QM.
Of those, the Aspire 7750G supports up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM, plus hard drives as large as 750GB, while the Aspire 5750 models have 4 or 6GB of RAM, and up to 640GB of HDD space. Besides that, the G model of the 5750 includes the new Nvidia GeForce GT 540M GPU, while the non-G version has Intel's revamped integrated HD graphics. The Aspire 7750G goes with AMD for its GPU, with discrete ATI Mobility Radeon HD 6550 or 6650 graphics cards.
The two 15-inch models, the Aspire 5750 and 57050G, both have 1366x768 resolution screens; the 17.3-inch Aspire 7750G has a 1600x900 display (although we think a high-end multimedia desktop replacement really should go all the way to 1920x1080).
As with most of Acer's new products, the laptops will support clear.fi, Acer's previously announced home entertainment networking system, which connects Acer products and allows media to be shared between them.
The Aspire 5750, 5750G and 7750G will be available starting 9 January, from US$899.99 for the Aspire 5750 and 5750G, and US$1029.99 for the Aspire 7750G.
No matter what new features and performance enhancements get added to new laptops, the primary issue for most buyers is still price. That's why any laptop line announcement needs to include a few budget-minded systems, such as the Acer Aspire 5253.
This 15.6-inch laptop starts at under US$500, thanks to AMD's new low-cost E-350 processor, which is a dual-core chip meant to cover the ground between netbook chips and full-power CPUs. AMD's Vision platform also includes integrated Radeon HD 6310 graphics.
The Aspire 5253 is a pretty standard mid-price laptop otherwise, with a 320GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, a 1.3-megapixel webcam and HDMI video output. Look for it in Q1, starting at US$449.
There's one high-end laptop hiding in Acer's CES 2011 line-up, and that's the 18.4-inch Aspire AS8950G. The system packs in Intel's new upper-tier Core i7-2630QM processor, ATI's new Mobility Radeon 6850 graphics processor, 8GB of DDR RAM and a 750GB hard drive. A Blu-ray drive is also standard, as we'd expect in a high-end multimedia laptop these days.
The company says, "The new Acer Aspire AS8950G is the ultimate portable entertainment centre", and it certainly seems well-outfitted for media consumption. The 18.4-inch display has a 1920x1080 native resolution (exactly what we'd look for in a laptop like this), and the screen's edge-to-edge glass gives it a polished home theatre look and feel. Audio isn't left out, either, and the Acer CineSurround sound system includes five built-in speakers and a dedicated subwoofer.
Interestingly, the Aspire AS8950G includes a FireWire port, something of a rarity on laptops these days. Also unusual is the dual-mode touch pad, which can act as a normal multi-touch touch pad, but also switch into a media console mode, with dedicated finger gestures for media playback, including volume control.
The massive Aspire AS8950G is coming to retailers in Q1, and will start at US$1599.
Ah, some actual hard details in the Asus line-up. The N53 will ship in Australia with a Core i7 2630QM clocked at 2GHz, with a 2.9GHz turbo. It's a 15.6-inch laptop with a resolution of 1366x768, features 6GB RAM, a 640GB HDD, Blu-ray drive and Nvidia GeForce GT540M for a rather attractive price of AU$1599.
The N73 is, predictably, the N53's bigger brother. While it also runs on a Core i7 2630QM, it features a 17.3-inch, 1920x1080 screen, has 8GB RAM, two 750GB 7200rpm hard drives and packs in a GeForce GTX 460M for AU$2799.
A revamp of the G73Jh, the G73Sw brings with it a Core i7 2630QM, up to 16GB RAM, a GeForce GTX 460M, up to two 1TB hard drives or 256GB SSDs, a USB 3.0 port on top of the two USB 2.0 ports and a Blu-ray drive. It's pegged between €1900 and €2050.
There will also be a 15-inch version (the G53Sw), although images are yet forthcoming. It should feature the same Core i7 2630QM and GeForce GTX 460M, although will come with 6GB RAM, a 640GB Seagate Momentus hard drive and a DVD drive, starting at US$1299.
The new Alienware M17x boasts full HD 3D, so long as you select the optional 3D pack. It starts at AU$3999 and is slated to be available on January 11. Actual specs are sadly very thin on the ground, although we assume Sandy Bridge is in there somewhere. There should be both an Nvidia GTX 460M and an ATI HD 6870M option available though, and its base price is US$1499. Given how bad Nvidia's active shutter 3D is, we'd recommend buying the non-3D version and saving money.
The XPS 17 continues Dell's XPS reboot, with JBL sound, an Nvidia GeForce GT 555M, and annoyingly yet more 3D using Nvidia's active shutter technology. Pricing is TBA, but expected arrival is February 2011.
The high-end Z-series of Sony Vaio laptops has its fans, but with prices starting at US$1899 and going to over US$3000, it's out of the price range of most laptop shoppers. The Vaio S series aims to offer a stylish 13-inch Vaio at much more competitive prices.
Sony says the S series offers "easy portability and long battery life, perfect for the tech-savvy student or mobile professional", and it's certainly a bit lighter than some other 13-inch systems in the same general price range, at 2kg and only 25.4mm thick.
While the standard SSD hard drives and high-end gloss of the Z Series may be missing, the S Series includes Sony's G-Sensor Shock Protection technology, which is basically an accelerometer for protecting the hard drive in case of falls or bumps, as well as Bluetooth and Sony's Vaio Care button, which lets users access a suite of tech support tools right from a quick launch button above the keyboard.
The Sony Vaio S Series will be available starting 5 January, and starts at about US$900.
In some ways, Sony was the last to the netbook party and the first to leave. At CES 2010, Sony's most notable new laptop was an environmentally-friendly 10-inch netbook made from recycled materials.
In the space of 12 months, netbooks, though still popular, have lost some of their sheen, and we're now seeing more-powerful 11-inch ultraportable laptops take their place. With that in mind, it makes sense that Sony is skipping new netbooks this year, and instead focusing on the 11-inch Vaio Y series.
This is also one of the first laptops to use AMD's new E-series CPU, designed for small laptops that are meant to be a step up from Intel Atom netbooks.
The LED-backlit display has a 1366x768-pixel resolution, and the Y series can be customised with up to 4GB of RAM, and includes HDMI and Bluetooth, as well as the traditional rounded Sony Vaio hinge, with the power button and AC connector on opposite sides of the hinge.
The Sony Vaio Y Series should be available sometime in February, starting at around US$550.
Laptops that use active shutter 3D glasses have been few and far between, and require a checklist of compatible video cards, cables and monitors to function. Sony is now joining the fray with the new Vaio F series 3D laptop, a 16-inch system that makes use of both Nvidia's 3D Vision technology and Sony's own 3DTV system.
The display has a native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, which is a nice upgrade from most 3D laptops, which trade down to lower 1366x768-pixel panels. The native 1080p screen is suited for HD video, so we're pleased to see a Blu-ray drive included as well. Of the F series, Sony says, "This laptop is a multimedia powerhouse melding cutting-edge technologies such as Blu-ray disc and 3D functionality into one portable device."
The F series also includes the 2D-to-3D conversion feature found on many 3D flat-screen TVs, which creates a faux 3D effect in 2D content. It's a gimmick at best, but can occasionally be useful, perhaps in video games, but your mileage may vary. There's also simulated surround sound, thanks to the S-Force Front Surround 3D system.
From our brief hands-on time with the system, our understanding is that the glasses provided with it will work on both the laptop and Sony's 3D TVs, but that standard Nvidia 3D glasses will also work on the laptop (which makes sense, as the GPU is Nvidia's 3D-friendly GeForce GT540M). The design is also a bit of a departure for Sony, ditching the usual rounded hinge design for a chassis that is a more sharply angular shape, with the hinge set back behind the main body, which is thicker in the back and tapers off towards the sharp front lip.
Using polarised glasses for 3D instead of the more headache inducing active-shutter solution, the AH572 also comes with its own 3D webcam capable of recording 3D video. The demo produced was far from compelling, however — yes, it recorded 3D webcam footage of us, but the glasses couldn't produce any convincing 3D realism. The 15.6-inch laptop does come with a second-gen Intel Core i5-2410 processor, but at a starting price of US$999, it's hardly a bargain.