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Toshiba Portege R705-P25 Editors' Choice

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[ Wednesday, 22 September 2010 | 1 comments ]
The good: Slim, upscale design; excellent keyboard and touch pad; includes Intel Wireless Display; solid value.
The bad: Missing dedicated graphics; battery life merely average.
The bottom line: Toshiba's Portege R series has always impressed, and the new 13-inch Portege R705 is close to a perfect balance of design, price, and performance.
Review:
Toshiba Portege R705-P25 Editors' Choice
Toshiba Portege R705-P25 Editors' Choice
Toshiba Portege R705-P25 Editors' Choice
Toshiba Portege R705-P25 Editors' Choice

We know that the quest for the perfect laptop is ultimately fruitless. Different users have different needs, budgets, and expectations, and tomorrow's technology threatens to make any just-purchased laptop semi-obsolete before it even comes out of its cardboard box. That said, the new Toshiba Portege R705 comes about as close as anything we've seen this year, offering a great mix of price, design, features, and performance.
The Portege R705 is a 13-inch laptop (similar to Apple's MacBook), which is the biggest screen size we'd consider carrying around on a regular basis, but also the smallest we'd be able to comfortably use for full-time computing. It's thinner than the current white plastic MacBook (but not as svelte as the MacBook Air or Dell Adamo XPS) and has a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis.
Toshiba lists the Portege R705 for $889, but as of this writing, it can be found online for $799. A handful of business-oriented configs are also available (called the R700, instead of the R705), adding a docking port and a few other corporate-friendly features for $999 and up.
In this fixed-configuration retail model, for $200 less than an entry-level MacBook, you get a newer Intel Core i3 processor (the basic MacBook has an older Core 2 Duo CPU), a large 500GB hard drive, and Intel's Wireless Display technology, which allows the laptop's display to be beamed to a remote TV or monitor (this requires a sold-separately $100 Netgear adapter that connects to your TV). Not to draw too many MacBook comparisons, but the R705 also has an SD card slot (as does virtually every Windows-based laptop no matter the price), and HDMI and eSATA ports--all things the $999 MacBook lacks.
There are a few issues. The integrated Intel graphics are a drag, the keyboard isn't backlit (which would have been a nice touch on this slick-looking system), and the merely average battery life isn't quite enough for a full day of on-the-go computing. Also, out of the box, the hard drive accelerometer was far too sensitive, parking our HDD head every time we so much as breathed on the R705.
Those problems aside, the Portege R705 looks and feels like a much more expensive laptop, and is our new go-to choice for those who want a slick 13-inch experience but can't (or won't) join the MacBook masses.

Price as reviewed $799
Processor 2.26GHz Intel Core i3
Memory 4GB, 1,066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Intel GMA HD (integrated)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.5 x 8.9 inches
Height 1.0 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.1/3.9 pounds
Category 13-inch laptop

The brushed-metal magnesium alloy chassis feels sturdy, despite its thinness (and the front lip tapers, making it look even thinner). The Portege is a cousin of one of our favorite laptops of all time, the 12-inch Portege R500. That $1,500 (or more) system suffered from too much flex in its body and lid, which is not the case here.
The back of the lid on this consumer model has a subtle dark blue tint to it, as opposed to the solid black on the business-targeted variant. The only visual element on the R705 we really disliked was the overly chromed screen hinges, which would look more at home as rims on a tricked-out car than on a sophisticated laptop.
The keyboard uses flat, widely spaced island-style keys. While perfectly usable, the keys are noticeably more rectangular than most, as if they were shortened to save space. Typing is also a little on the clacky side, but not so much as to be a deal-breaker. We do appreciate the large dedicated page-up, page-down, home, and end keys along the right side--they're usually relegated to alternate function keys on most laptops. Our biggest complaint is that the keyboard is not backlit. We've seen that feature on other Toshiba laptops in this price range, and it's always an appreciated extra. Toshiba would also do well to make media and volume controls easier to access by swapping them with their Fn key alternates--something we've seen trending in other multimedia-friendly laptops.
It's not as large as on a MacBook, but the R705's touch pad is among the bigger ones we've seen on a 13-inch laptop. Multitouch gestures include two-finger scrolling, but as always seems to be the case on Windows laptops, it's nowhere as smooth and responsive as on a MacBook. The left and right mouse buttons are well-sized and easy to use--a concept many PC makers seem to have trouble with.
Toshiba also includes a couple of custom software utilities with the system. ReelTime is a kind of history browser, displaying every recent document and Web page in thumbnail form along the bottom of the screen. It's surprisingly slick and usable, although it's not really a necessity. There's also a Toshiba Bulletin Board app, which lets you compile photos and notes in a single workspace. It's also slick-looking, but we're always dubious of learning a whole new software tool that only works on one brand of laptop.
The 13.3-inch LED display has a native resolution of 1,366x768--roughly comparable with the MacBook's 1,280x800, and the current standard for most laptops from 13 to 15 inches. While not exactly matte, the screen was much less glossy than we're used to seeing from a consumer laptop. The stereo speakers were thin and not great for blasting music, but not out of bounds for a laptop this size.

  Toshiba Portege R705 Average for category [13-inch]
Video VGA, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The inclusion of a combo USB/eSATA port, plus HDMI and an SD card slot, give the Portege R705 a big advantage over the MacBook in terms of ports and connections. Even though the system has an Intel Wireless Display transmitter built in (see our hands-on demo here for more details on this very interesting technology), it's a shame the R705 does not come bundled with the Netgear adapter required to wirelessly beam video to your television. The first round of Wireless Display laptops from earlier in 2010 all included the adapter (which sells separately for $100).
With a 2.26GHz Intel Core i3 CPU, the Toshiba R705 is more than speedy enough for mainstream use, from Web surfing and productivity to Photoshop editing and HD video playback. The next step up, the Core i5 series of processors, offers even better performance, but we haven't yet seen that chip in a system this thin and light. Performance-wise, it certainly matches up with other current 13-inch laptops, but keep in mind that you can also get much more horsepower in the same price range by trading up to a midsize 14- or 15-inch laptop with an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. Apple's latest MacBook actually managed to run our benchmark tests faster with its older Core 2 Duo processor, but many of those tests run Apple-optimized software, including iTunes and QuickTime.
The biggest shortfall of the R705 is that it's saddled with basic Intel integrated graphics. The 13-inch MacBook, for example, has a lower-end, but still very impressive GPU from Nvidia, which is good for mainstream gaming. The integrated graphics and Core i3 CPU are fine for playing streaming HD video, but not for anything beyond the most basic games. If you're particularly interested in PC gaming, we'd try the OnLive streaming game platform, which lets you play even top-shelf PC games on virtually any laptop. Check out our detailed hands-on demo of OnLive here.
Juice box
Toshiba Portege R705-P25Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent)0.42
Sleep (10 percent)0.61
Idle (25 percent)12.99
Load (5 percent)43.17
Raw kWh50.10
Annual energy cost$5.69
Annual energy consumption cost
Apple MacBook - Spring 2010 - Core 2 Duo 13.3-inch - 2.4GHz

$4.09 

The Portege R705 ran for 3 hours and 56 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included six-cell battery. That's fine for a 13-inch or larger laptop, but about 2.5 hours less than the standard MacBook. We've heard some complaints from readers that the R705 doesn't live up to its advertised "up to 8 hours" of battery life--and under normal operating conditions, it certainly only gets half that. But Toshiba is not alone in this; almost all PC makers exaggerate battery life by testing under unrealistic conditions. Also keep in mind that our battery drain test is especially tough, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Toshiba includes an industry-standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and a customized support search page can direct you to online documents and driver downloads for this specific model.
Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)



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HP Envy 14

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[ Sunday, 29 August 2010 | 3 comments ]
The good: Less expensive than last year's Envy models; highly configurable; solid design and construction.
The bad: Heavy; ATI switchable graphics not as seamless as Nvidia's; funky volume controls don't play well with games.
The bottom line: HP's updated Envy 14 is a well-built high-end laptop with impressive components and a surprisingly reasonable price.
Review:
HP Envy 14
HP Envy 14
HP Envy 14
HP Envy 14

HP's high-end Envy line of laptops is one of the few bright spots for laptop design in an industry currently filled with midprice plastic boxes. With a solidly built (but slightly too heavy) aluminum and magnesium chassis and a capable collection of components, we liked the original 13- and 15-inch versions of the Envy, but they were priced out of reach for most.The new 14-inch Envy 14 (we always love logical product names) adds discrete graphics to last year's 13-inch Envy 13, while dropping the starting price by about one third to $999. That gets you an Intel Core i3 CPU, but upgrading to a more powerful Core i5, as in our review unit, only bumps the price up to $1,049 (Core i7 and quad-core options are also available, at prices up to $1,600).The Envy 14 looks great and generally runs great, but there are also a handful of minor frustrating issues that seem out of place on a high-end laptop. Using the volume control buttons automatically brings up an on-screen volume bar that bumps you out of full-screen games; the multitouch touch pad still has trouble with its two-finger scroll functions; and this laptop had occasional trouble waking up out of a sleep state--more so than we've seen in a Windows 7 laptop in some time.
Price as reviewed / Starting price $1,049/$999
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M450
Memory 4GB, 1333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650 (switchable)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium
Dimensions (WD) 14.4 x 9.3 inches
Height 1.0-1.1 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 14.5 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 5.3/6.4 pounds
Category Midsize

Like last year's Envy 13, the new HP Envy 14 is made of aluminum and magnesium, and comes in basic gunmetal gray. The same subtle pattern of imprinted squares covers the wrist rest and back of the lid, making the two systems hard to tell apart, aside from the slight size increase to accommodate the 14-inch display.
The Envy 14, like its Envy predecessors, feels solid and rugged, but is also dense and heavy compared with other laptops of a similar size. At 5.3 pounds, it's not exactly something you'd want to carry in a shoulder bag during a daily commute (and a 14-inch laptop is already just over the line of what we'd consider truly portable), but we could see it working for semiregular trips to the office or coffee shop.
The interior consists of a slightly sunken keyboard tray, with a keyboard made up of widely spaced, flat-topped keys and a single power button. Though there are no quick-launch or media control keys, the row of Function keys has their media control and other attributes as the primary mapping, with the actual tasks of F4, F5, etc. requiring you to hold down the Fn key at the same time (a setup HP and others are using more frequently). One big advantage the Envy 14 has over the older Envy 13 is that the new keyboard is backlit, which is one of our must-have features in any high-end laptop.
As previously mentioned, the volume controls have the unfortunate side effect of jumping to the onscreen volume indicator when you hit the volume down, up, or mute buttons (F7, F8, and F9, respectively). So if you try to use them while playing a game or watching certain kinds of full-screen video, you'll be kicked out of the full-screen mode or even back to the desktop--which is an incredibly frustrating experience.
The Envy's oversize touch pad is now common on many HP laptops. The look and feel are great, and it rivals Apple for sheer size. But having the left and right mouse buttons built right in at the lower corners of the touch pad (clicking down when pressed) cuts down on the actual usable space.
Unfortunately, every HP laptop with this new touch pad we've tried has the same problem: the multitouch gesture controls don't work consistently, especially the all-important two-finger scrolling move. Scrolling down long documents or Web pages with your index and middle fingers almost never works, as one rarely holds those two fingers evenly enough on the horizontal plane to activate the scroll function. We had better luck with our middle and ring fingers. The touch pad also lacks the inertial scrolling that helps MacBooks (and iPhones, iPads, etc.) feel so natural.
The 14.5-inch wide-screen LED display (notable, as most 14-inch laptop screens measure only 14.0-inches diagonally) offers a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution, which is better than the almost universal 1,366x768 pixels found on most laptops with screens from 11 to 15 inches. The screen had impressive brightness and excellent off-axis viewing angles, and audio was also a high point. HP has teamed with Beats Audio to include special bass-boosting software and hardware that purportedly works especially well with Beats-branded headphones, but certainly also sounds clear and hefty with other headphones or through the system speakers.
  HP Envy 14 Average for category [mainstream]
Video HDMI, mini-Display Port VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader 4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA
Expansion None ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The HP Envy 14 has a much better selection of ports and connections than the Envy 13. This time around, you get three USB ports, including one USB/eSATA port, both HDMI and DisplayPort, plus a slot-loading optical drive--a feature conspicuously missing from the 13-inch version.
The $999 base model has an Intel Core i3 CPU, and a variety of Core i5 and Core i7 upgrades are available, adding anywhere from $50 to more than $500 to the price. We tested a version with the most basic upgrade, to a Core i5-450m, which seems like a very worthwhile investment. As one would rightly expect from the current Core i5 laptop, the HP Envy 14 performed well in our benchmark tests, but slightly slower than systems with the more common and slightly faster version of the Core i5, the i5-520M (which is available as a $150 option). Still, for all but the most heavy multitasking or gaming, the Envy 14 is more than capable.
The included ATI Radeon HD5650 is a midrange graphics card suitable for mainstream gaming. Playing Unreal Tournament III at 1,600x900-pixel resolution, we got 57.8 frames per second. In Street Fighter IV, at the same resolution, the system ran at 29.6 frames per second.
The Envy also features switchable graphics, which means the ATI card can be turned off to save battery power when not needed, instead running the default Intel HD graphics. It's a nice option to have, but unlike Nvidia's Optimus solution for laptops running Nvidia GPUs, you have to manually switch the graphics here by clicking an onscreen button, which frankly feels archaic at this point (although you can configure the system to automatically jump to the integrated graphics when using the battery).
Juice box
Mainstream (Avg watts/hour) 
Off (60%)0.68
Sleep (10%)1.09
Idle (25%)13.99
Load (05%)53.64
Raw kWh Number58.66
Annual Energy Cost$6.66
Annual energy consumption cost

HP Pavilion dm4-1003
4.75 


HP Envy 14
6.66 

The HP Envy 14 ran for 3 hours and 20 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, using the included 8-cell battery. That's good for a midsize laptop, and note that we kept the switchable discrete graphics card engaged, as many casual users would. Remembering to switch them off would lead to improved battery life.
HP includes an industry-standard, one-year, parts-and-labor warranty with the system. Upgrading to a three-year plan starts at $399, but includes accidental damage protection and on-site service. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, and a well-maintained online knowledge base and driver downloads.
Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-1003

680 
HP Envy 14
681 
Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

HP Envy 14
110 
HP Pavilion dm4-1003
126 
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-1003
140 
HP Envy 14
143 
Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion dm4-1003
261 
HP Envy 14
200 



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Sony Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S

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[ Sunday, 22 August 2010 | 2 comments ]
The good: Light and sturdy design; large SSD hard drive; switchable discrete graphics; excellent performance.
The bad: Expensive; switchable graphics options can be confusing.
The bottom line: Sony's top-of-the-line 13-inch Vaio VPCZ116GX/S has a speedy Core i5 CPU, discrete graphics, a huge 256GB SSD, and a sky-high price to match.
Review:

Sony Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S
Sony Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S
Sony Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S
Sony Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S

Though most laptop shoppers may be laser-focused on value, snapping up $300 Netbooks and $600 ULV systems, there's always a little room at the top of the heap for a high-priced, full-featured showpeice. In the 13-inch category, HP has the Envy 13, Dell has the Adamo XPS, and Sony has the Vaio Z series. In this latest refresh, the Vaio Z has a very fast Intel Core i5 processor, an Nvidia GT 330M GPU, which can be switched off to save battery life, a DVD drive (something missing from those other high-end 13-inch laptops), and a huge 256GB SSD hard drive, which is no doubt a big part of the $2,299 price (although it's not yet available for sale at the time of this review). Price aside, the Vaio Z may be our new 13-inch laptop of choice, as it breezed by many other recent 13-inch systems we've tested, which all use older Intel CPUs (or slower low-voltage ones). The trade-off is in battery life, even with the system automatically changing power profiles as needed with its Dynamic Hybrid Graphics System (which is a fancy name for the integrated/discrete graphics switch).Unfortunately, the Vaio Z116 priced out of range for most consumers, but if you get an opportunity to test-drive one, we highly recommend it.
Price as reviewed $2,299
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520
Memory 4GB, 1066MHz DDR3
Hard drive 256GB SSD
Chipset Intel HM55
Graphics Nvidia GeForce GT 330M / Intel GMA 4500MHD (switchable)
Operating System Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.4 x 8.3 inches
Height 1.3 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.0/3.9 pounds
Category Thin and Light

Compared with the ubiquitous 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Sony Vaio Z is not quite as thin, but it's definitely lighter. Despite the full-power processor, its body feels more like a ULV system, which generally trade horsepower for size and energy efficiency. The chassis is a mix of brushed metal and magnesium, making for an end product that feels airy but sturdy at the same time.That said, the design tilts a little industrial, with black keys against a silver finish, a two-tone base, a blocky raised wrist rest panel, and a bulky metal slider for the switchable graphics. It feels like it belongs in a '90s industrial art space/coffee house. It's not unpleasant to look at in any way, but our tastes have moved toward devices that emphasize unibody construction (or at least try to simulate that look).Sony's typical raised-island-style keyboard is here, although in this 13-inch design the key faces feel just a little too small and too widely spaced for our fingers. Important keys such as Shift and Tab are generously sized and we found no major problems with the logic of the keyboard layout. We'd award bonus points for the backlit keys, always a feature we appreciate, but for $2,000 it had better be a standard feature. The Vaio Z's touch pad is likewise excellent, offering plenty of space and small, but effective, left and right mouse buttons separated by a fingerprint reader.For years we've dinged Sony for its bloatware and adware-filled systems, but the company has toned its act down of late. The Vaio Z shoves only a handful of marketing come-ons at you, including one labeled "Secure your Vaio rewards," which in our case was an offer to buy a one-year license for Norton security and LoJack for laptops software for $99.Three quick-launch buttons sit above the keyboard. One launches a built-in suite of Sony support resources and troubleshooting apps and easy access to tech support contact info. The second is user assignable, and the third launches Sony's Media Gallery software, which is a perfectly fine collection of media organizing and playback tools, but does require you to learn a new piece of software if you're already familiar with popular products such as iTunes or Windows Media Player.Above the keyboard on the left side is a three-way switch that controls power profiles and principally turns the Nvidia GeForce 330 graphics on or off. The settings are labeled "speed" and "stamina," and it can be confusing as to what the switch actually does if you're not familiar with the concept of switchable graphics. There's also a third position, named "auto," that turns the GPU off when you unplug the laptop.Of course, the entire point is largely moot, as Nvidia's new Optimus technology finally allows your laptop to turn its discrete GPU on and off on the fly, without making the screen blink off for a second, or requiring you to quit any apps. In our recent hands-on tests, it was completely seamless, and makes every other method for switching between graphics chips outdated. Though this model doesn't offer Nvidia Optimus technology, we don't see any reason it couldn't be included on a near-future refresh.The 13.3-inch wide-screen LED display has a 1,600x900-pixel native resolution.That's what we'd expect in an upscale 13-inch laptop; less-expensive 13-inch systems often have 1,280x800-pixel or 1,366x768-pixel displays. The higher resolution makes it good for 720p video, and gives you plenty of desktop real estate.
  Sony Vaio VPCZ116GX/S Average for category [thin-and-light]
Video VGA-out, HDMI VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, single headphone/microphone jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader, Memory Stick reader 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion ExpressCard/34 ExpressCard/54
Networking Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The Vaio Z116 has a standard set of ports and connections for a 13-inch laptop, although for $2,300, we'd expect a Blu-ray drive. Still, it's impressive the system manages to fit in an optical drive at all; it's a feature missing from HP's 13-inch Envy, Dell's 13-inch Adamo XPS, and even Toshiba's T-135.We've seen a handful of laptops with Intel's Core i5 mainstream CPU, and so far have been very impressed with its performance. The Vaio Z116 is no exception, and the 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520 ran our multitasking test around twice as fast as the HP Envy 13 we reviewed back in September 2009, which had a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SL9600. We checked HP's Web site to see if the Core i5 had been added as a configuration option for the Envy, but it hadn't.Also rare in a 13-inch laptop are discrete graphics. In this case, turning on the switchable Nvidia GeForce GT 330M GPU gave us 57.2 frames per second in Unreal Tournament 3 at 1,440x900 pixels. This isn't a PC gaming powerhouse, but it can certainly handle any current game at middle-of-the-road resolutions and quality settings.
n anecdotal use, we found the Vaio Z116 to be probably the fastest 13-inch laptop we've used, and great for effortless multitasking, aided no doubt by the 256GB solid-state hard drive. Then again, for a $2,000-plus laptop, we'd expect nothing less.
Juice box
Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/SAvg watts/hour
Off (60%)0.5
Sleep (10%)1.2
Idle (25%)16.52
Load (05%)48.12
Raw kWh Number60.93
Annual power consumption cost$6.92
Annual power consumption cost
HP Envy 13
$5.34 
Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
$6.92 

Though we were impressed with the Intel Core i5's performance, you're going to pay a price in battery life over a low-voltage laptop. The Sony Vaio Z116 ran for 3 hours and 30 minutes in our video playback battery drain test, but many ULV 13-inch laptops can beat that by 90 minutes or more.Sony includes an industry-standard one-year parts and labor warranty with the system, which smartly includes onsite service. Support is accessible through a 24-7 toll-free phone line, as well as an online knowledge base and driver downloads. The included support software, accessed via quick-launch button on the keyboard tray, connects you directly to diagnostic tools, online resources, and troubleshooting tips.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)


Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
675 
HP Envy 13
1,378 
Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
109 
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
140 

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio VPC-Z116GX/S
210 




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Apple MacBook Spring 2010 (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)

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[ Monday, 26 July 2010 | 4 comments ]
The good: Faster processor; improved graphics; better battery life.
The bad: Still no SD card slot; might be time for Apple to switch to 16:9 aspect ratio displays.
The bottom line: Apple slightly revamps its basic MacBook with improvements under the hood, but keeps the design and price the same, which makes the new MacBook tough to beat as a back-to-school laptop.
Review:
Apple MacBook Spring 2010 (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)
Apple MacBook Spring 2010 (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)
Apple MacBook Spring 2010 (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)
Apple MacBook Spring 2010 (Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 250GB HDD)

Incredibly popular on college campuses and in coffee shops, Apple's MacBook laptops are arguably one of the most flexible and useful laptop lines ever designed, thanks to the company's overarching hardware and software ecosystem--and anchored by our favorite track pad ever.The Pro line may be Apple's flagship laptop, but the basic white polycarbonate $999 MacBook hits the sweet spot between price and performance; especially now that the Apple's latest updates have added a slightly faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor, improved Nvidia graphics, and even given its battery life a modest boost.While the practical impact on users is probably modest, Apple still hasn't moved to Intel's newer Core-series CPUs in its 13-inch models, and the lack of an SD card slot in any laptop these days seems like a glaring omission. We expect some changes in these areas when Apple gives its MacBook line its next big refresh, else things may start to feel a bit dated. While we're compiling a wish list, we'd love to see Apple make the switch and give the MacBook screen a 16:9 aspect ratio with higher resolutions.That said, if you're shopping for a back-to-school laptop--and it's certainly getting to be that time of the year--the 13-inch MacBook is very likely near the top of your list, and with good reason.
Price as reviewed / Starting price $999
Processor 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2GB, 1,066MHz DDR2
Hard drive 320GB 5,400rpm
Chipset Intel NM10
Graphics Nvidia GeForce 320M
Operating System OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard
Dimensions (WD) 13.0x9.12 inches
Height 1.08 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 4.5/5.0 pounds
Category 13-inch

From the outside, this new version of the MacBook looks identical to the one released in the fall of 2009. It uses the same polycarbonate "unibody" construction-- although the bottom panel is a separate piece--found in the last few generations of the aluminum MacBook Pro line, and only comes in white; we still find people who miss the black MacBook.The MacBook is not the thinnest 13-inch laptop we've seen, but the gently sloped edges on the glossy white lid make it look nice and slim. As before, the bottom panel has a darker off-white color and a matte feel than the glossy lid and keyboard tray.Seeing other PC makers implement their own versions of a multitouch track pad just makes us appreciate the Apple version even more. The MacBook has the same large glass multitouch track pad the MacBook Pros have had for some time, as well as the one on the non-Pro MacBook since last fall.The entire track pad presses as a giant left mouse button, but tapping to click can be turned on in the settings menu--it really should be on by default, and every time we use a new MacBook, it takes us a minute to figure out why we can't click on anything. The large surface area and the multitouch gestures--including four fingers to minimize every open window and the two-finger tap to simulate a right mouse click--are so intuitive and useful that it takes a few minutes to adjust to using any other kind of track pad.This 13.3-inch display still has the same 1,280x800-pixel native resolution as its previous versions had. Once that resolution was extremely common; however, these days laptops from 11- to 15-inch screen size generally have a 16:9 aspect ratio, 1,366x768-pixel resolution display, rather than the 16:10 aspect ratio found here. Many premium-priced laptops go even further, with display resolutions hitting 1,600x900 pixels or higher. It's not a deal breaker, but for viewing HD video content, it's not perfect. If you're spending $1,000 or more on a laptop, having a 12x8 aspect ratio display is starting to look a little long in the tooth.
  Apple MacBook spring 2010 Average for category [13-inch]
Video Mini-DisplayPort VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 2.0 3 USB 2.0, SD card reader
Expansion None None
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical drive DVD burner DVD burner

The ports and connections on this new MacBook are exactly the same as the previous model, which is no surprise. You'll need to adapt the mini-DisplayPort video output to match your preferred external monitor, and its lack of an SD card slot is still a major inconvenience. At the same time, the Magsafe power adapter connection, which pops harmlessly off if yanked, should be an industry standard across the board.The standard MacBook comes in only a single configuration with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. You can increase the RAM from 2GB to 4GB for $100, or upgrade the hard drive to 320GB ($50) or 500GB ($150), but that's it as far as you can upgrade the hardware. Considering the 13-inch MacBook Pro is only $200 more--and $100 of that goes to the RAM upgrade--you could spend the extra $100 and get the metal construction, backlit keyboard, and an SD card slot.Performancewise, you're getting essentially the same experience as with the more expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro in our benchmark tests, although even the older fall 2010 MacBook wasn't far behind. In fact, the Core 2 Duo MacBooks were significantly faster than a recent 13-inch Asus U30Jc with an Intel Core i3 CPU, although in our single-app tests, a Core i5 Sony Z116 was faster.The biggest under-the-hood change to the MacBook is that it now has Nvidia's GeForce 320M graphics chip. It's technically still an integrated GPU, and a close relative to the previous MacBook's GeForce 9400M chip. However, just as we loved the 9400, the new 320M is even better, providing decent 3D graphics and HD video playback without the need for a discrete GPU. In Call of Duty 4, we got 28.9 frames per second at the system's 1,280x800-pixel native resolution with 4x anti-aliasing turned on, and 48.3 frames per second at lower graphics settings without the anti-aliasing. In comparison, the current 15-inch MacBook Pro, with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 330M running at 1,440x900-pixel resolution gets 34.9fps and 59fps on the same tests.
With the introduction of Steam for Macs, there's never been a better time to be a Mac gamer. While it may not be perfect for hardcore gamers, mainstream users will find they can use the non-Pro MacBook for most current and upcoming games (provided the game publishers release an OSX version).
Juice box
Apple MacBook spring 2010Average watts per hour
Off0.26
Sleep0.88
Idle8.72
Load33.83
Raw kWh36.05
Annual power consumption cost$4.09
Annual power consumption costs
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple MacBook - spring 2010 - Core 2 Duo 13.3-inch - 2.4GHz
$4.09 
Asus U30Jc
$4.20 

Apple continues to dominate in our battery life tests. Thanks to a modest change in the chemistry of the sealed-in MacBook battery, the current 13-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro both last significantly longer than their predecessors did. This model ran for 6 hours and 27 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, while the fall 2009 MacBook ran for only 5 hours and 14 minutes. Outside of low-voltage Netbooks--and then even just a handful of those--it's nearly impossible to get a longer workday out of a laptop. The trade-off is that the sealed battery compartment means that you can't swap in a second battery, or replace an old battery yourself. Apple still includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra $249 and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products. Support is also accessible through an online knowledge base, video tutorials, and e-mail with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail store Genius Bars, which in our experience have always been fairly frustration-free encounters.
Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)



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