Thin and Light / Ultraportables

Thin and light notebooks 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 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, and 160 to 320GB of storage. Dropping an 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 Sony Vaio Z packs some seriously beefy specs into the same beautifully designed form factor that has characterized 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 performance or portability then you can't go wrong. You'll get a choice of 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 are okay with cranking down graphics settings. Though the Vaio Z doesn't offer Nvidia Optimus technology, Sony has included a Dynamic Hybrid Graphics System that 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 if needed, Sony offers an optional large capacity battery for $249 to boost its endurance. This luxury system has other perks, including a backlit keyboard, a 1600x900 resolution and plenty of connectivity options.

Additional views:

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
Display size: 13.1" (1600x900) Optical: DVD Super Multi
Weight: ~3.04 lbs (~1.4 kg) Battery: 'Standard Capacity' (~4.5 hours)

Apple MacBook Air

Touted as a cross between the iPad and MacBook Pro, the new MacBook Air is quicker, smaller, and more power efficient than its predecessor while moving to all-flash storage and including full multi-touch support through its glass trackpad. Systems are available in 11.6 and 13.3-inch models with two set configurations for each. Starting at $999, the 11-inch features a 1366x768 screen, Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics, a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of DDR3 1066MHz RAM, and 64GB of storage.

Meanwhile, the 13-inch Air costs between $1,299 and $1,599, packing a 1440x900 resolution display, a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM (optional 4GB), and a GeForce 320M. The price difference boils down to storage -- 128 or 256GB -- but you also get the option to upgrade to a 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo for $100. All versions of the latest MacBook Air come with a webcam, one Mini DisplayPort, two USB 2.0 ports, as well as 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR connectivity.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,299 (13-inch base model)
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 320M 256MB
Memory: 2GB DDR3-1066 Storage: 128GB SSD
Display size: 13.3" (1440x900) Optical: none
Weight: ~2.9 lbs (~1.3 kg) Battery: ~7 hours

Toshiba Portege R705

Toshiba's Portege series is known for packing the latest CPUs on the market while setting the standard for portability and carrying a hefty price tag. Things are no different with the R705 -- except for the price tag part. In fact, this system is close to offering a perfect balance of design, price, and performance. Weighing 3.2 pounds and packing a Core i5 processor, the Portege R705 is one of the lightest laptops you'll find with both a roomy 13-inch display and a built-in optical drive.

The R705 sports a sleek-looking magnesium alloy casing with an ultra-durable honeycomb reinforcement, spill-resistant keyboard, and an advanced AirFlow cooling system. Spec-wise you'll get 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 500GB hard drive, integrated Intel HD graphics, and a decent array of connectivity options, including Wi-Fi and Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, a combo eSATA/USB, and HDMI. Additionally, this Portege series laptop includes Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) functionality, which allows the laptop's display to be beamed to a remote TV or monitor (via an adapter that's sold separately).

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $900
Processor: Intel Core i5 460M 2.53GHz Graphics: Intel GMA HD
Memory: 4GB DDR3-1066 (2 DIMM) Storage: 500GB 5,400RPM HDD
Display size: 13.3" (1280×800) Optical: DVD Super Multi
Weight: 3.2 lb (1.5 kg) Battery: ~5 hours (6-cell battery)
Other noteworthy options in this category

Lenovo X201 Series

The ThinkPad X201 offers the same quality construction we've come to expect from Lenovo, with a durable, lightweight magnesium body and a comfortable keyboard to type on. Powered by Intel's latest processors to give excellent performance in a compact 12-inch chassis.

Price range: $1,120 - $1,580

Asus U35Jc-A1

Another sleek-looking notebook offering outstanding battery life (almost 8 hours under light use) and solid overall performance. Users who want a low-cost, lightweight 13-inch machine that won't choke when taxed will appreciate this system.

Price range: $780 - $850