Ultralight bleg

 

I’m having to do a lot more travel, so I want to buy an ultralight PC. I think I want to buy a Toshiba Portege R500.  Here’s a review. I’m also wondering what options I should choose.    I understand it’s available with a 120 Gig hard drive or a 64 K solid state memory if you pay extra.  Are there any big advantages of the solid state memory? Do Troppodillians suggest any other options on this computer – or different computers – to consider?  Sony have a similar product but it’s got a smaller keyboard I think and is quite a bit more.

Are there other computers I could get in the same class – lightness is my highest priority but I want something that I can hook up to an external keyboard, mouse and screen at home and use as my main computer so I don’t have any backing up to do when travelling.

I don’t think I want to buy a Mac Air.  It’s cool and all, but way heavier than the Toshiba (even though it has solid state memory and no CD reader) and I don’t have the software.  Why Steve J thinks I’m motivated by thinness more than weight is a little beyond me.

Also, because of the outrageous way they carve up the markets, this costs A$3,300 here and US$1,999 from the US – that’s just on Toshiba’s US site – though I’ve not been able to find a better price on discount sites I’ve used previosuly.  So I’ll be shipping it over myself from the States.  Any better ideas regarding places and firms to buy and ship from?

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mick
13 years ago

The Toshiba high-end laptops are pretty good, I’d also recommend the new Lenevo X3000 which sounds like a great machine.

JM
JM
13 years ago

” dont think I want to buy a Mac Air … but way heavier than the Toshiba ”

Huh?

Toshiba: 1.1 kg
Air: 1.3 kg

I wouldn’t call circa 20% “way”. (The tradeoffs of course being that the Air has a physically larger screen, no optical drive, 30% faster processor, twice the memory but smaller hard drive)

But that aside, I carried a Sony ultra light for about 3 years while I was commuting (by air) on a weekly basis. I discovered that:-

a.) expecting an ultra light to also serve as a desktop replacement is foolish. They just can’t do it, you get killed on the trade offs. The only portables that serve as desktop replacements are your standard profile laptops which weigh at least twice as much. In short – if this is one of your objectives, you won’t get there.

Your issue regarding ‘syncing’ can be handled by remote mounting your laptop on your desktop while at home. This is a much cleaner and more acheivable arrangement. You’ve got your ultralight for travel and an integrated environment with extra resoures at home, and you haven’t spent a pile to achieve it.

The Portage suffers from a slow processor and not enough memory. Memory will speed up a machine faster than processor clock, so i’d try to get 2G if you can.

b.) battery life is important, and I mean real battery life. If you’re relying on fans or physical disks the battery life generally plummetts from that quoted. From the review “Intensive use saw the system’s single fan kick in … [battery life ] fell to 2hrs 23mins” Contrast with the Air that has no fans at all and quotes around 6 hours. If you really want to preserve the batteries go for a solid state drive and no fans.

(Storage is another area where you have to give up your desktop replacement ambitions. Getting a decent amount of disk in an ultralight costs a packet – getting it as solid state is impossible)

c.) physical size is important – the smaller the better so long as the keys remain full (or close) size. Typing on small keyboards is hard and your productivity will be badly hurt. The review doesn’t mention key size, but when I’ve looked at the Portage range in the past they had small keys that were hard to type on (I touch type, so this is a real issue for me. If you hunt-n-peck it may be less of a concern)

On the other hand, larger screens (such as on the Air) are hard to use on planes and trains. This issue kills the Air for me although I like it in all other respects.

Smaller machines are also much more convenient for shoving in the breifcase so you only carry one bag not two. This is where thinness shines. My old Sony was 20mm thick and was really easy to store and carry. By contrast I had a Gateway at the same time which was about 30mm thick and not much bigger on the footprint. The Gateway was impossible to carry in my breifcase as there was no room for any papers, the Sony was fine.

d.) Jobs is right about optical drives – you don’t need them very often. My Sony had (has) an external drive which is a bit of a hassle compared to the built in variety, but I found myself going for weeks without bothering to pack it.

The requirement for a drive only makes sense if you’re looking for a desktop replacement, and this is an example where the tradeoffs start to hurt.

Currently I have no requirement for an ultralight, but I was musing about the Air. If I was travelling like I used to, I’d take it in a shot and just grumble a bit about the larger screen when I open it on a plane. When I bought my Sony I looked at the Portage range and they weren’t up to scratch. I’ve glanced at them as recently a few weeks before the release of the Air and saw nothing to change my mind.

The Sony’s are better built and the tradeoffs work a bit better than the Portage.
They are however overpriced, as is nearly everything Sony sell.

steve at the pub
13 years ago

I travel constantly, bought the smallest Sony Vaio a couple of years ago as I was tired of humping around a full size laptop.

Actually did use it in lieu of a desktop for a while, but the slow processor speed drove me up the wall.

So much up the wall that I bought a full sized laptop to carry & use upon arrival at destination, it travels packed in the check-in luggage.

The little Sony is 1.2kg & fantastic to carry around. Plenty of room to use on a traytable. I do get up to 9 hours of battery from it if I am careful. This allows me to do lots of typing on the longer international legs.

The slightly smaller keyboard has never been a problem for me. Am a very fast touch typist, though after using the small keyboard for a while I relish getting back onto a full sized one.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

My advice is not to buy the thing at all.

The strategy that I’ve been using for about 15 years now is to buy the cheapest acceptable thing on offer.

There’s some cachet involved in buying the latest product. But within a year, it’ll be possible to buy exactly the same capability at half the price. That’s $1000-$1500 worth of cachet evaporated in year.

Buy a $1000 laptop instead. Which, BTW, will be much, much faster than thing you’re considering (i.e. 1.7-1.8 GHz processor rather than the 1.2 GHz processor in the Portege R500). Next year, if necessary, toss it away and buy another one. You will than have had two machines with greater capability than the R500, and still not spent as much as if you’d bought the R500.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

Nicholas Gruen Says:

The review says that its got a duo 1.2GHz processor. Isnt that a reasonable speed.

Not really.

I’ve currently got two laptops that I use regularly, but for diffent purposes and in different situations.

The older one has a single 1.6 GHz processor, and runs Windows XP.

The newer one has duo 1.8 GHz processors, and runs Windows Vista. The newer one is irritatingly slow compared to the older one, and I try to avoid using the new one where possible.

The difference is caused by Windows Vista, of course, and not by the hardware. The thing is, the overhead imposed by Vista is severe.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

If that’s an option, and you’re determined to get the R500, then that’d be the way to go.

mick
13 years ago

The problem I have with the Macbook Air is the lack of a battery that can be replaced by the user. Often when on the road it is very useful to have a spare battery to use in emergency situations. Unfortunately you don’t have this option with the Air.

1.2 GHz is definitely not fast enough for me.

Oh, and I spruiked the Lenovo above, however is costs about twice as much as the Air and it isn’t actually released yet.

steve at the pub
13 years ago

Nicholas: The small size & longer battery life (the PLUS features) of a micro-laptop incur tradeoffs in processing speed and higher price.

I can live with some slower speed when in airport lounges as in return I get a laptop more or less the same weight as a paperback novel & with a smaller footprint than TIME magazine (& only as as thick as the first knuckle on my little finger).

All my other laptops supposedly had a Four hour battery life. (Ha ha, as IF!) In reality after a couple of months I was lucky if they didn’t power down after an hour & a half. This was annoying on almost any flight. On top of that they were cumbersome & couldn’t be opened fully on a tray table, AND they were fragile, so easy to crack the screen or scratch the hard drive, even with all care taken. I averaged a crash every 18 months.

The smaller ones open so handily on a traytable, & processing speed is not so much an issue when typing in Excel, Word or Outlook Express, however battery life IS an issue. I DO get Nine hours battery life from the cute little Sony Vaio, this despite the salemen all telling me that Five hours is all one can expect. In in airport lounge, connected to the net wirelessly, and having to brighten the screen just to see it, I get about Five hours.

There is nothing like 7 or 8 hours uninterrupted typing on an international leg to get all letter writing & just about any other typing obligation out of the way. Though this can set you up to be a bit weary if you have to hit the ground running upon arrival.

My Vaio was $4,500 it is going to outlast at least 4 x $1,000-$1,500 laptops.

Depends on your budget, if upfront money is not an object, buy the lightest thing you can.

mick
13 years ago

SATP – Wow, that’s some good battery life. I thought about getting one of those hot little numbers but it was outside my budget. Are you getting those sorts of times running Vista, XP, or Linux?

I bought my Macbook expecting a 4 – 5 hour battery life, which I was happy with that given my old Thinkpad could only go for about 2 – 2.5 hours even given one of those clunky extra-large batteries. I was super-happy to find out that the 4 – 5 hours is when you have wifi and a bunch of apps going. If I’m just typing stuff and have a pdf viewer open I can get my battery to go for over 7 hours.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

Can’t really advise on the technical stuff, but I’ve got a Toshiba and I find it really good, and friends who work in IT tell me they’ve got superior components to most of the stuff on the market.

Kenny Davis
Kenny Davis
13 years ago

Keyboard size might rule it out for you, but the lightest and cheapest thing around right now is the ASUS eeePC for about $500. About the size of your standard paperpack, little seven inch screen. Full keyboard but keys are quite small (understandable given the size of the thing). No moving parts, no hard drive, 4GB flash memory. Comes with Linux pre-installed (sounds uber geeky, but it works right out of the box – Firefox web browser, Open office etc) but will run Windows XP with standard Office software etc. You store your data on removeable media – thumb drives or an SD card (I use an 8GB SD card). Three hours battery life. Web cam and microphone built in.

In no way a desktop replacement – I think of it as a satellite unit. Small, light and rugged enough (no hard drive = no moving parts) to throw into a backpack.

swio
swio
13 years ago

The best ultra portable for what you are after is probably the Lenovo Thinkpad X41. It doesn’t have an optical drive but you can add it on externally.

http://www-604.ibm.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?storeId=10000036&catalogId=-36&langId=036&categoryId=4611686018425096207&seriesid=2060574

“that I can hook up to an external keyboard, mouse and screen at home”
It can be connected to a docking station. When you get home you just have to drop it into the docking station and you’re away. No hooking up of cables etc.

“and use as my main computer”
Its CPU, memory, hard drive are all full spec. Its as powerful as a home PC. It doesn’t have a built in optical drive, but you can connect one externally. Also has a very good full size keyboad.

They’re bulletproof. Thinkpads are made with metal frames and can take alot of abuse. Even after years of 50 hour weeks you are unlikely to discover the space bar is not working or the hinge is coming loose. If you don’t belive me check out the price for second hand ones on ebay.

Battery life is incredible. You may think that this doesn’t matter but that’s probably because you’ve never used a laptop that could go for hours away from a power point. Believe me, once you’ve tried it you’ll want long batter life. Get the 8 cell battery and you can use your laptop in the park all day.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

I agree with SJ. Don’t get Vista unless you really need it. It chews through the memory and runs more slowly than XP. It also seems to have lots of bugs, and a fair bit of older software won’t work on it (Fireworks 3, for example).

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

I also second what Mark said about the Toshibas. I always get the Satellites (the cheap ones). Never had one die on me, never had to get one fixed. Had to replace batteries on one of the early ones, but that’s all. The reason for getting a new one every few years that the new ones are faster, come with more memory and disc space, don’t run Windows 98, etc.

SJ
SJ
13 years ago

Is it faster than the Toshiba?

swio appears to be awol, so I’ll answer the question instead :)

Yes, it is. The cheapest one at swio’s link (AUD 1,999) has a 2.0 GHz duo processor, versus the 1.2 GHz duo in the R500, i.e. about 70% faster. It weighs 1.44 kg.

The dearest one (AUD 3,099) is a bit faster again, with a 2.2 GHz duo.

swio
swio
13 years ago

It is faster than the Toshiba. Unlike most other ultra portables the X series runs pretty much the same hardware as a normal laptop. The tradeoffs are that it weighs a little more, is a little thicker and has no dvd player but you do get a proper laptop.

The red dot (called Trackpoint) is a personal thing. I love it. It does take a little getting used to but in my opinion (obviously biased) its better than a trackpad and I actually use the trackpoint in preference to a mouse on my own Thinkpad. Because it lets you use the mouse without moving your hands off the keyboard you can be very productive with it. However you really have to try it out. But if you don’t like it then definitely don’t get an X series as you’ll have to use it alot more than you might think.

Nabakov
Nabakov
13 years ago

Have you tried one of these Nick?

They work great with wifi enabled cocktail napkins.

Andrew Reynolds
13 years ago

Nicholas,
I have been a fan of the X series since my first – an X20 years ago. Best of all it still works and runs full Windows XP – just a bit slower than my desktop.
If you do not like the red thingy, just get the laptop with bluetooth and use an external mouse. The MS bluetooth presenter mice are great and you can then use them when presenting.

swio
swio
13 years ago

Hadn’t thought of using a blue tooth mouse. That would definitely be a good idea and very convinient.

Simon Sharwood
13 years ago

I’m an IT journo and have tested one of these and it is lovely … but the optical drive is flaky.
The drive just doesn’t seem to want to identify itself to the computer sometimes.
Other IT journos I have spoken to have experienced the same problem.
Now you won’t use the optical drive a lot on the road, other than for watching the odd movie. If you can live without DVD-on-demand, it’s a nice machine, if flaky and expensive.

mister z
mister z
13 years ago

Nicholas, just be aware that if you purchase from Sony USA you may find yourself needing to send your laptop back to America for any manufacturer or under-warranty repairs throughout the life of it.

I purchased a Sony Vaio while living in the US a few years back, and when the internal fan broke and needed replacing after I’d moved to the UK, Sony Europe wouldn’t touch it. Nor could local repair shops seem to be able to source the exact US-model-specific components needed for repair. The only option presented to me was to ship the laptop to the US for repairs indicatively billed at >100% of the NPV of the machine.

Fortunately a

JM
JM
13 years ago

Nicholas, I have to confirm misterz at #30. My Sony had an accident with a drink at one point, and Sony Aus flat out refused to fix it (even though I was paying) because it was a Canadian release model.

They only agreed to touch it after I proved that it was identical to an Australian release model with a different model number, and even then they wouldn’t so much as upgrade the memory for me. I had to do that myself.

As for your question re. processor speed I always get as much memory as I can. But the thing to realise is that laptops have slower components all round:- CPU, memory access times, disk rotation, everything is all slower which leads to a machine with a different (slower) balance. It’s a trade off, you have to live with it.

Andrew Reynolds
13 years ago

Nicholas,
Yes, you can. I do not like having cables, so I avoid them where I can. The X20 also only had one USB port so built in bluetooth would have been really handy. I think the newer ones have more.
The thing with the (IBM – I have not had a lenovo) Thinkpads is that despite their small size they were built like brick outhouses. The X20 is now used by my kids and it is still working away happily, despite being sadly abused and getting on for 8 years old. The only thing that has been replaced is the battery.