Ultraportables

Thin and light laptops serve as a bridge between netbooks and full-fledged laptops, offering a smooth blend of performance, portability and battery life. This segment was previously reserved for super-expensive laptops that tried to emphasize all of these features while offering superb design and build quality. Although some luxury systems will fit that description, nowadays you can get very decent alternatives from $700 and up.

The typical thin and light sports either a 12- or 13-inch display, Intel's Core i3 and i5 processors, 2GB to 4GB of RAM, and 120GB to 500GB of storage -- via SSDs or HDDs. Dropping the optical drive for the sake of portability and using a low-voltage CPU alongside a long-lasting battery is also a popular trend in this category but not necessarily the norm.


Sony Vaio Z

Sony's latest Vaio ultraportable is a two-part system that comprises a very lightweight main unit and a separate attachment that will turn it into a powerful desktop replacement when docked. The new Vaio Z is easily one of the most interesting laptop designs we've seen in a while.

Weighing just 2.6 pounds with a thickness of 0.86 inches, it's thinner and lighter than Apple's MacBook Air, yet Sony still manages to pack in a full-voltage Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, 13.1-inch display, up to 8GB RAM and up to 512GB of SSD storage. Graphics are handled by Intel's integrated HD graphics 3000 solution, but when paired with the docking station you'll be able to tap into the power of a discrete AMD Radeon graphics card and connect up to four displays using the additional VGA and HDMI ports. Sony's US pricing kicks off just shy of $2,000 and skyrockets beyond $4,000 with higher-end configurations.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,970
Processor: Intel Core i5-2410M 2.3GHz Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
Memory: 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.1" anti-glare display (1600x900) Optical: with optional dock
Weight: 2.6 lb Battery: 7 hours



Apple MacBook Air

Apple refreshed its thin-and-light MacBook Air lineup in July, adding Thunderbolt and Intel's latest Sandy Bridge processors to the mix as well as backlit keyboards on all models. The 11-inch model is available in two configurations: one with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-2467M processor, 2GB of memory, 64GB of flash storage for a suggested retail price of $999, and one with double the RAM and flash storage for $1,199.

Meanwhile, the 13-inch MacBook Air models get a 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-2637M processor, 4GB of RAM, and either 128GB or 256GB of flash storage for $1,299 or $1,599, respectively. Configure to order options include a 1.8 GHz Core i7-2677M processor and additional flash storage, but unfortunately no discrete graphics, only the built-in HD 3000 from Intel. Both maintain the same beautiful, slim profile as their predecessors.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,299 (13-inch base model)
Processor: Intel Core i7-2637M 1.7GHz Graphics: Intel Graphics HD 3000
Memory: 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.3" (1440x900) Optical: none
Weight: ~2.9lbs (~1.3 kg) Battery: ~7 hours



Samsung Series 9

The feature-rich and beautifully designed Samsung Series 9 features a 11.6 or 13.3-inch LED-backlit 1366x768 "SuperBright" display, a spiffy duralumin chassis, Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors, 4GB of RAM, and a speedy SSD for storage with 64GB, 128GB or 256GB capacities.

This ultra-thin system is just 0.62 to 0.64 inches thick. Samsung recently updated its lineup with five competitively priced models. The 11-inch model starts at $1,050 with 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD and a Core i3 2357M processor, while the cheapest 13-inch variant offers double the RAM and storage plus a Core i5-2467M for $1,350. These should arrive in August, but the original Series 9 are available now.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,550
Processor: Intel Core i5 Processor 2537M 1.4GHz Graphics: Intel® HD Graphics 3000
Memory: 4GB DDR3 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.3" LED backlit display (1366x768) Optical: None
Weight: 2.88 lb Battery: 6-cell



Lenovo ThinkPad X220

The X220 was just introduced in March and represents Lenovo's latest ultraportable ThinkPad. Living up to its reputation, the company has kept its focus on build quality and performance for this system, while also paying attention to battery life and portability.

Highlights include a 12.5" 1366x768 IPS display, a solidly built thin frame and starting weight of three pounds, all without sacrificing performance courtesy of Intel's new mobile processors. The ThinkPad X series refresh is available in various configurations, from the Core i3-2310M all the way up to the high-end i7-2620M. Read our review here. You might also want to checkout the slim and cleanly designed Lenovo ThinkPad X1.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $890 ($1,160 as configured)
Processor: Intel Core i7 2620M 2.7GHz Graphics: Intel HD 3000
Memory: 4 GB DDR3 1333MHz (1 DIMM) Storage: 320GB 7,200RPM hard drive
Display size: 12.5" HD (1366x768) LED Backlit Display Optical: None
Weight: 2.9 lbs Battery: 5.5 hours (11h with 'slice' companion)


Other noteworthy Ultraportable options

Asus U36Jc

The Asus U36JC-A1 packs a lot of punch under its slim 13-inch hood, providing a strong mix of style, performance, and portability that users on the go will find appealing. Although it hasn't been updated with Intel's Sandy Bridge chips, it makes up for it with Nvidia graphics and Optimus to improve battery life.

Price range: $875-920

Toshiba Portege R835

The Portege R705 was among our favorite ultraportable laptops last year. Now, refreshed with the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processors and greatly improved integrated graphics, the 13-inch R835 is looking like a another winner from Toshiba.

Price range: $799 - $1,650