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The Second Wave
It isn't just netbooks which have benefited from the trend towards PCs which are smaller, thinner, and more mobile. Ultraportables have also greatly benefited from new technologies allowing for extreme battery life to be squeezed out of relatively inexpensive hardware. These small systems, usually packing a twelve or thirteen inch screen and weighing in around four pounds, were once multi-thousand dollar machines. Now they are among the most affordable PCs one can choose - and the three listed here provide you with the best bang for your buck.
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Acer Aspire Timeline AS3810
The Acer Aspire Timeline series was among the first inexpensive ultraportable laptops to hit store shelves, and it remains one of the best. Thanks to an aluminum enclosure, the Timeline looks and feels like a more expensive product than it is. Inside you'll find an Intel CULV processor with one core, 4 gigabytes of RAM and a 500GB hard drive, as well. And to cap it all off, the Timeline offers incredible battery life. Used in its most conservative configuration, the Timeline can run for about eight hours.
The Timeline's main flaw is a keyboard which feels as mushy as week-old salad. It isn't unusable, but it doesn't seem to fit in with the laptop's otherwise solid construction. The trackpad is also only okay. While the keyboard might be a deal killer for some, those who don't find themselves typing for hours on end will find the Timeline a good choice, particularly in consideration of the Timeline's $650 dollar price tag.
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Toshiba Satellite T135
If you're looking for a ultrapotable which is a bit brighter and more personable than the rest, the Toshiba Satellite T135 will likely catch your eye. Available in white, black, or red, the Satellite T135's chassis is accented with silver metal which provides some flash without looking tacky. They're actually very similar in appearance to many Samsung netbooks, which is not a bad act to follow. The Satellite T135's keyboard has a solid feel, but it is smaller than its competitors, while the trackpad is on par for the class in terms of size and functionality.
The performance of the Satellite T135 comes courtesy of the usual suspect - an Intel CULV processor. The specs are otherwise somewhat less impressive then what is found in the Timeline, as the Satellite T135 comes with three gigabytes of RAM instead of four and a smaller hard drive. Battery life is about seven and a half hours, which is a little low for this class. The price of the Satellite T135 also tends to be lower, however, starting at $600 bucks, which makes up for the Satellite T135's very slight hardware disadvantage.
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Riding high on the success of the Eee PC series of netbooks, ASUS enters into the ultraportable arena with some series street cred among computer geeks, and the ASUS UL30A does not disappoint. Like the Acer Timeline, the UL30A makes use of brushed aluminum to provide an understated professionalism to its appearance. The UL30A is more rounded than the Timeline, but it is also heavier.
While most of the technical specifications of the ASUS UL30A are about the same as its competitors, the UL30A uses a dual-core Intel CULV processor as opposed to the single-core version found in the Timeline and Satellite T135. As a result, the ASUS UL30A has better overall performance. The island-style keyboard provides good feedback and the trackpad is large and responsive. And as if that weren't enough, the ASUS UL30A provides the best battery life - conservative users will be able to squeeze out nearly ten hours.
On the whole, the ASUS UL30A is the best of the three here. But you'll pay for the quality, as the ASUS UL30A usually retails around $775 dollars. That's a large price gap, but buyers who want a best-in-class ultraportable will do well to pay the extra.