If there's one thing we get hugely excited about, it's small laptops. With systems including the Toshiba R500 and Dell XPS m1330 offering ever slimmer and more powerful options for those who need full-fledged computing on the go, these not-quite-pocket-size options can now easily function as your main machine. If you go any smaller, you start sacrificing too many features that limit usability as you venture into UMPC territory.
Averatec recently impressed us with its bargain-priced 12-inch $899 Averatec 2371, an otherwise excellent AMD-based system undone by a wimpy battery. Adding some cost, but shaving an inch off the screen is the even smaller 11.1-inch Averatec 1579, one of the tiniest ultraportables we've seen to date. The $1,299 system lacks frills such as media control buttons or a Webcam (yet manages to cram a DVD burner into its tiny chassis), and the performance from its low-voltage Core Duo CPU disappoints, but its good looks, solid construction, and great battery life make this a laptop we'd happily take on the road.
|Price as reviewed||$1,299|
|Processor||1.06GHz Intel Core Duo Ultra Low Voltage U2400|
|Memory||1GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||120GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel Mobile Express 945GM|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||10.5 x 8.1 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds]||3.4 / 4.2 pounds|
The Averatec 1579 has the same subtle, sophisticated look as the slightly larger Averatec 2371, thanks in part to its dark-brown chassis. The slightly glossy finish is a bit too prone to fingerprints for our tastes, but we liked the monochromatic look of the lid, keyboard tray, and screen bezel. At 3.4 pounds, it's very light, but newer systems such as the Toshiba R400 manage to shave off even more weight. Our only real gripe with the overall design is that it's a little chunky. A mere 1.5 inches may not sound thick, but considering the 13-inch Dell XPS m1330 manages to get down below one inch (on its front edge), it's certainly possible to do better.
The keyboard and touchpad are somewhat cramped, and you'll need good finger control to keep from hitting the wrong keys at first. Typical for ultraportable laptops, some controls, such as page-up and page-down keys (particularly useful for Web surfing), are mapped to other keys and can only be accessed by holding down the function key. There are no media control buttons, just a power button and a single quick-launch button mapped to Windows Media Player.
The 11.1-inch wide-screen display features a 1,366x768 native resolution, which offers a decent balance of screen real estate and readability, but make no mistake--text will appear small under most circumstances, so don't forget your reading glasses. By way of comparison, the 12-inch Averatec 2371 has amore typical 1,280x800 resolution.
|Averatec 1579||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||ExpressCard slot||Type I/II PC Card or ExpressCard|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||None, or DVD burner|
Its relatively thick chassis does allow the Averatec 1579 to house an optical drive, a feature that often gets left out of ultraportables. The Averatec 1579's built-in DVD burner surprised a few labs onlookers, who couldn't imagine a laptop this tiny would have an optical drive. The laptop also features a mini FireWire jack and an ExpressCard slot--two other features that don't often find their way to such a small laptop. The system provides 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and although it's probably too much to ask for in such an affordable ultraportable, we can't help but wish this highly mobile laptop featured a cellular broadband connection for highly mobile Web surfing. (You can, however, gain such connectivity with an ExpressCard from Verizon, Sprint, or another carrier.)
As a fixed-configuration system, you don't have any choice of processor, hard drive, or any of other components. A second GB of RAM would be our first choice for an upgrade, especially if you're using a lot of Windows Vista's bells and whistles. The system's 120GB hard drive, however, offers more capacity than we expected and spins at 5400rpm, faster than some pokey 4200rpm drives common to ultraportables, including the Sony VAIO TXN17P.
The Averatec 1579's performance on our benchmarks was generally disappointing, trading horsepower for the battery benefits of Intel's ultralow-voltage Core Duo CPUs (note that this is an older Core Duo, not a Core 2 Duo processor). For example, the 1579 trailed the cheaper, AMD Turion-based Averatec 2371 on all of CNET Labs benchmarks, except for our DVD battery drain test, which we'll get to in a minute. Also disappointing is the fact that it was slower than a nearly identically configured Gateway E-155C. To its credit, the Averatec 1579's ultralow-voltage Core Duo is a dual-core processor, which allowed the system to easily outpace the Core Solo-based Sony VAIO TXN17P. Neither Averatec model can match up to current Centrino Duo laptops such as the Lenovo 3000 V200 and the Dell Latitude D630.
But as we often point out, raw performance is increasingly inconsequential in real-world terms. Like any modern dual-core laptop, the Averatec 1579 is perfectly capable for common Web surfing, office applications, and basic multitasking. When playing around with Vista's high-end eye candy or trying to do too many things at once, like play music files, edit a word document, and watch an online video, the system stuttered a bit, so power users may want to look elsewhere.
The Averatec 1579 ran for two hours and 44 minutes on our DVD battery drain test, using the default battery. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use. For an ultraportable laptop, this is an impressive score, and we were able to use the system all day, off and on, from a single charge. While it doesn't include the latest Centrino Duo platform's power-saving tweaks, the system's ultralow-voltage processor more than makes up for its pokey performance by excelling in power efficiency.
Averatec includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line ("excluding holidays"), an online knowledge base and driver downloads. Also available on the Web site are PDF versions of Averatec's user manuals, which are among the best we've seen, with clear, detailed illustrations of each laptop's ports and features, instead of the more generic manuals favored by other vendors, where the content may or may not refer to your specific system. Good manuals aside, we've heard from consumers frustrated with the company's tech support, frequently an issue with smaller vendors.