Thin and Light / Ultraportables

Thin and light notebooks aim to serve as a bridge between netbooks and traditional 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 skimp on none of these features while offering superb design and build quality. Although you'll still find some luxury systems that fit that description, nowadays you can get very decent alternatives from around $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, 160 to 320GB of storage capacity. Dropping the optical drive for the sake of portability and using a low-voltage processor variant alongside a long-lasting battery is also a popular trend in this category but not necessarily the norm.

Sony Vaio Z Series

At just over three pounds, the latest Sony Vaio Z refresh packs some seriously beefy specs into the same beautifully designed form factor that characterizes this series. With a starting price of around $1,800 this is definitely not a machine for bargain hunters, but if you refuse to compromise on performance or portability then you can't go wrong with it. You'll get your choice among several Core i5 and i7 processors, dual solid state drives, an optional Blu-ray disc optical drive, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory and switchable graphics between Nvidia's GeForce GT 330M and Intel's integrated GMA HD to save battery life.

This 13-inch ultraportable is no gaming powerhouse but it will offer solid gameplay even in demanding titles such as Far Cry 2 as long as you can compromise a little on the graphics settings. Though the Vaio Z doesn't offer Nvidia Optimus technology, Sony has included a Dynamic Hybrid Graphics System which you can manually access using a switch above the keyboard. Unfortunately, standard battery life hovers around 4 to 5 hours even in 'stamina' mode, but Sony offers an optional large capacity battery for $249 to boost its endurance, if needed. Other perks that come standard with this luxury system include a backlit keyboard, a 1,600 x 900 resolution and plenty of connectivity options.

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Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,800
Processor: Intel Core i5 520M 2.4GHz Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GT 330M 1GB
Memory: 4GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMMs) Storage: 128GB SSD (2x 64GB)
Display size: 13.1" (1600x900) Optical: DVD Super Multi
Weight: ~3.04 lbs (~1.4 kg) Battery: 'Standard Capacity' (~4.5 hours)

Lenovo X201 Series

On the outside, the Lenovo ThinkPad X201 is nearly identical to the X200 that came before it with the only obvious addition of a touchpad. But far from being off-putting this means it has the same quality construction featuring an all-black body, with durable, lightweight magnesium and a comfortable keyboard to type on. On the inside, it offers Intel's latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors to give you the performance of a midsize laptop in a light and compact 12-inch chassis.

Unlike other notebooks in this category, the X201 runs on integrated graphics only. But the upside to this is that the system gets the most out of its battery -- with the optional 9-cell pack you'd be looking at around 7.5 hours of runtime. The base model starts at $1,099 and packs just 2GB of RAM along a 160GB 5400RPM hard drive. However, you can tweak it to your liking with up to 8GB of memory, 500GB 7200 HDD or 128GB SSD, and several connectivity options. A ThinkPad X201i model is also available featuring a 2.4GHz Core i3 370M CPU, as well as the ThinkPad X201t in tablet form factor.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,099
Processor: Intel Core i5 520M 2.4GHz Graphics: Intel GMA HD
Memory: 2 GB DDR3-1066 (1 DIMM) Storage: 160GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 12.1" (1280×800) Optical: none
Weight: 2.48 lbs (4-cell), 3.11 lbs (9-cell) Battery: 4-cell (~3.3 hours), 9-cell (~7.5 hours)

Asus U30Jc-1A

This 13-inch notebook from Asus strikes a remarkable three-way balance between performance, value and battery life. Available from $880 at Newegg, the U30Jc is powered by a dual core Intel Core i3 350M processor running at 2.26GHz, with 4GB DDR3 and a spacious 320GB hard drive. The integrated GMA HD chip can handle 720p video and light gaming, but it's the Nvidia GeForce 310M GPU with 512MB of VRAM that gives it some decent graphics prowess.

The system can automatically switch between discrete and integrated graphics mode using Nvidia's Optimus technology. Although you may not get Asus' quoted 9.5 hours of battery life under normal usage, its 8-cell battery can easily go past the 7 hour threshold when surfing the web and doing some light work with the display brightness set on a comfortable level around the middle. Notice that carrying a larger battery means this laptop is nowhere as light as the models shown above. In the aesthetics department the U30Jc cuts a nice mix of style and compact elegance, with its light aluminum alloy construction, chiclet-style keyboard and oversized palm rests.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $880
Processor: Intel Core i3 350M 2.26GHz Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 310M 512MB
Memory: 4GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMMs) Storage: 320GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 13.3" (1366x768) Optical: DVD writer
Weight: ~4.6 lbs (~2 kg) Battery: 8-cell 5600 mAh (~7 hours)
Other noteworthy options in this category

Lenovo ThinkPad T410s

The Lenovo ThinkPad T410s is the thin and light version of the legendary T series. It maintains the same solid look and feel of its larger siblings, offering powerful specs and the option of switchable graphics on the more expensive models.

Price range: $1,400 - $1,900

Asus UL30A-A2

Another sleek-looking notebook offering outstanding battery life and solid overall performance. Users who want a light 13-inch machine that won't choke when taxed and is easy on the wallet will appreciate this system.

Price range: $650 - $790