Not Dead Yet: 2010 Notebooks - More Power, Better Battery Life

Today's Notebooks Better Than Ever

With this year’s hyper-frenzied launch of Apple’s iPad, it’s easy to forget that the crop of notebook PCs launched over the past several months has hit new heights in performance, design and, in some cases, serious battery life. For business, the combination of Intel’s Core i3 and Core i5 platforms as well as the introduction of Windows 7 is working to breathe new life into the notebook -- and here are some that have caught the attention recently of the CRN Test Center.

Fujitsu LifeBook E780

When on the road, the built-in 15.6-inch TFT screen natively displays 1366 x 768, but Windows 7 preferred to have it at 1600 x 900, which looked crisp, clear, bright and vivid. The LifeBook behaves as expected when opening and closing the lid. When opened, all connected screens wink to life, and when closed, the Windows desktop moves automatically to an external monitor. A full-sized keyboard with white sculpted keys is flanked on both sides by great-sounding speakers. Testers would have liked a louder maximum volume, and for the mute key to be adjacent to the up/down volume instead of five keys further right. LifeBook E780 (with Intel Core i5) pricing starts at $1,237, and at that level would be suitable for occasionally mobile executives "wanting to do high-end analytical or performance modeling or something where you need graphics performance."

Dell Latitude Z

We may never achieve the paperless office, but Dell has delivered a laptop that's as close to wireless as anything the CRN Test Center has seen.

With a feature list that would have read like science fiction just two or three years ago, the wafer-thin Dell Latitude Z will appeal to well-heeled executives and device freaks alike. Starting at $1,799, the Z delivers a 16-inch 1600-by-900 LCD with touch-sensitive on-screen menu system, dual-core processor with hardware virtualization, 64-GB solid state hard drive and a "FaceAware" Web cam that doubles as a document scanner. There's also an embedded Linux boot feature for battery life when accessing Outlook and the Web.

Panasonic Toughbook 31

If laptops were motor vehicles, the Panasonic Toughbook 31 would be a Hummer.

The Toughbook 31 also passed all of the drop tests we threw at it. The Toughbook 31 has earned a Test Center recommendation, and is well-suited for auto and HVAC repair workers, health care, emergency first-responders, construction sites, battle zones and any field environment that might prove hostile for delicate equipment. The Toughbook received by the Test Center came with the "optional downgrade to Windows XP" preinstalled, so testers took the opportunity to compare benchmarks of Microsoft's still widely deployed operating system with those of Windows 7, which comes standard. Geekbench 2.1.5 reported the Toughbook to be equipped with 3 GB of 1,067-MHz memory and an Intel Core i5 M540 CPU running at 2.53 GHz. Windows XP turned in a top score of 4,584. All operations under XP, including the unit's touch-sensitive LCD, functioned normally.The Toughbook ran slightly faster under Windows 7 than XP, turning in a top Geekbench score of 4,596.

Toshiba Tecra A11

The Toshiba Tecra A11 came to the CRN Test Center lab with an Intel Core i7-620M, dual-core processor at 2.66GHz, 4 GB of memory and a 320-GB HDD. It was preloaded with Windows XP Professional 32-bit. Using Primate Labs' Geekbench 2 benchmarking software, the Tecra A11 scored a rating of 4,706 -- making it the highest-performing dual-core CPU system we've ever evaluated in the CRN Test Center lab. Performance, frankly, just felt much faster than other notebook systems. This is a terrific business notebook which, as a desktop replacement, delivers a lot of value even at prices that are above industry norms for this class. The Tecra A11 line starts at $949 for a unit with an Intel Core i5-430M and scales to the A11-S3540 with an Intel Core i7-620M, which is priced at $1,349. It's a production-level PC.

Acer Travelmate 8471

One of the last of Acer’s Core 2 Duo-based notebooks, the T ravelmate 8471 is case and point. It’s about an inch thick, weighs about 4.5 pounds and -- get this -- running the CRN Test Center’s battery life test, which involves shutting off all power-saving software and running a video from the hard drive continuously until the battery dies, the 8741 registered almost 6 hours of battery life. (Acer says it can go as far as 8 hours.) That gives it the best battery life we’ve seen in the last six months.

It’s not the highest-performing notebook, as it scored a a relatively below-average 1811 score on Primate Labs’ Geekbench 2.1 benchmarking application. But the Intel Core 2 Duo U9400 that powers the system is an ultra-low voltage processor, which accounts for the high battery life along with the performance trade-off. We tested it with Windows 7 Professional, though, and determined that for business productivity that’s just fine. And, considering the battery life, street price of as low as $700, and very thin form factor, it’s enough to recommend.

ViewSonicSMQ-8217-SMQs VNB141

ViewSonic, the LCD and projector manufacturer, has jumped into the notebook fray this year, and the CRN Test Center took a good look at its VNB141.

Performance was a little disappointing, with a Geekbench score of 1575, but for most productivity functions and surfing that’s good enough. (Though well shy of Core i3 and Core i5 performance capabilities.) It did provide slightly more than 3 hours of battery life running the CRN Test Center’s standard battery life test for notebooks, which is better than average and its street price of about $800 certainly makes it competitive with the iPad on a dollar-for-dollar functionality basis.

But ViewSonic does have very smart people and very good engineers on the payroll, and we loved the smooth fit-and-finish of the clamshell case. Its 14-inch display is what you’d expect from ViewSonic: bright, clear and easy to view both indoors and out. And we were very pleasantly surprised by the very comfortable, cushiony-feeling keyboard. The VNB141 is a comfortable notebook to work with.