There was a time when if you wanted a very thin and light notebook, you’d pay through the nose for it. Ultra-light notebooks were for serious business travellers with serious business bank accounts that could withstand four thousand dollars or more being spent on a thin and light notebook — and more often than not, one that wasn’t as powerful or feature rich as the same heavier systems were at the time.
Those sorts of machines are still around, but they’re generally not feature poor. I’ve spent a couple of weeks recently testing out Sony’s ultra-slick Vaio Z, a thin and stylish laptop with all the trimmings, and then some. This is a system that includes a media dock that comes with a Blu-Ray drive and external graphics card for added performance when you’re using it in a desktop style configuration. The one thing it isn’t is cheap; at $3,999 it hearkens back to the ultralight systems that used to dominate this particular market segment.
Apple’s been something of a disruptive force in this particular market, although even they used to sell the ultra-thin Macbook Air as a premium machine. Last year’s iteration of the Air slimmed things down and made SSD mandatory while dropping prices, and this year the company effectively killed its plain Macbook line in favour of the Air. If you want an entry level Mac notebook, the Air is it.
It’s not just a Mac world for inexpensive ultralight notebooks however, with a number of vendors offering up what’ll be informally dubbed Ultrabooks; that’s an Intel marketing term for thin and light ultraportable notebooks. Acer’s set to unveil its Aspire S3 ultrabook in the Australian marketplace, and it’s expected to sell for between $1000-$1600 depending on configuration; that’s the same price as most equivalent Macbook Air models. Toshiba likewise has the PortÃ©gÃ© Z830 ultrabook waiting in the wings for an Australian release later this year, and it’s likely to sell for the same $1,000-$1,500 price point. Acer’s ultrabook has the edge in being genuinely thin, but Toshiba’s is somewhat lighter; at around 1.13kg it’s the lightest ultrabook announced so far.
At that kind of price point, it’s still entirely possible to pick up a decent but heavy notebook, with many models coming in under the $1,000 barrier. If you’re cash-strapped and still need portability, a netbook is still a viable option, but not a powerful one. The under $1,000 crowd are largely older technology — in the next few years we can expect to see this year’s Ultrabooks become the entry level fodder. Thin, in other words, is in.