The 20 Coolest Notebooks Of 2010 (So Far)

It's A Mobile Old World

Mobile PCs continue to take a larger bite out of the overall client computer market. That’s good news for fans of notebooks, netbooks and tablets -- it means newer, sleeker, more powerful products are hitting the shelves at a faster pace than ever before.

Over the next few pages, we’ll single out what in our opinion are the coolest new mobile PCs to be released in the first half of 2010. How’d we decide on our winners? Many are systems our editors and Test Center reviewers have handled and tested. Others are among the most highly ranked on the several laptop review sites we consulted for this project. Enjoy!

Lenovo ThinkPad W701ds

It’s pricey, but Lenovo’s ThinkPad W701ds mobile workstation has a secret -- a pull-out 10.6-inch WXGA screen that serves as a second display. Operating system options include Microsoft Windows 7 (32- and 64-bit), Windows Vista Ultimate 32 and Windows XP Professional.

All of Lenovo's new W series ThinkPads are built for computer-aided design and digital content creation, with an optional built-in color calibrator available, as well as an option for a built-in WACOM digitizer.

Category: Mobile Workstation

Starting Price: $3,799

Release Date: March 2010

Apple MacBook Pro

Apple’s spring update to its MacBook Pro lineup included the addition of Intel’s 2.66GHz Core i7 M620 CPU and Nvidia’s GeForce GT 330M discrete GPU. That adds a good deal of extra oomph to MacBook Pro notebooks, such as the 15.4-inch model we like in particular.

The MacBook Pro remains a marvel of industrial design as per Apple’s raison d’etre, weighing in at 5.5 pounds and less than an inch thick. You’re getting 4 GB of DDR3 memory, a 500-GB hard drive and, of course, Apple’s Snow Leopard version of its in-house operating system.

Category: Mobile Workstation

Starting Price: $1,699

Release Date: April 12, 2010

HP EliteBook 8740w

The HP EliteBook 8740w is a 17-inch powerhouse -- in fact, HP bills it as the company's "most powerful mobile workstation." Driven by an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 mobile processor, this high-profile business-class notebook accommodates up to 16 GB of memory and plays host to workstation-caliber graphics from Advanced Micro Devices or Nvidia.

The coup de grace on the EliteBook 8740w is HP's own DreamColor technology, an option that adds support for more than 1 billion active colors, or 64 times the colors supported by standard monitors.

Category: Mobile Workstation

Starting Price: $1,999

Release Date: April 2010

Acer Gateway NV7915u

How about a low-cost desktop replacement that manages to deliver pretty robust performance? Enter Acer's 17.3-inch Gateway NV7915u, which doesn’t get great battery life but won’t need it if users keep this Windows 7-loaded machine plugged in as intended.

Specs include a 2.13GHz Intel Core i3 M330 processor, 4 GB of DDR3 memory and a 500-GB hard drive. Despite the lovely big display, the NV7915u only has Intel’s own integrated GPU to drive the lightshow on this notebook. Hey, there’s a reason it’s priced at less than $600.

Category: Mainstream Consumer

Starting Price: $599

Release Date: March 12, 2010

Toshiba Satellite E205-S1904

Toshiba’s Satellite E205-S1904 slides into a spot in the consumer market that’s often called ’sweet.’ This uber-mainstream notebook is neither the glitziest nor the most bare-bones -- instead, the Satellite E205-S1904 is just a solid 14-inch notebook that gets the job done at pretty nice price.

A 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 M430 is the standard processor option, with Intel’s HM55 chipset and Media Accelerator HD integrated graphics completing the hardware platform. Windows 7 is the default OS on this 5.8-pound machine.

Category: Mainstream Consumer

Starting Price: $899

Release Date: Jan. 29, 2010

Dell Inspiron 15R

Dell may have put a lot of competitors on notice going into the second half of 2010 with this nicely appointed 15.6-inch notebook that starts at less than $500. The standard Inspiron 15R has a 2.26GHz Intel Core i3 M350 processor, 4 GB of DDR2 RAM, and options for up to a 500-GB hard drive.

The chipset and graphics in the 15R are Intel’s HM55 and GMA HD, respectively. This Windows 7 notebook weighs in at 6.1 pounds and is about 1 1/2 inches at its thickest.

Category: Mainstream Consumer

Starting Price: $449

Release Date: June 15, 2010

Lenovo ThinkPad X201

Lenovo has what it calls the "fastest ultraportable laptop" in its new ThinkPad X201, a 12-inch business notebook that is technically a thin-and-light device. We’re placing it in the mainstream business category because Lenovo is specifically targeting SMBs with the X201.

The top-of-the-line SKU features Intel’s 2.66GHz Core i7-620M -- and even higher frequencies are possible through Intel Turbo Boost technology. Lenovo is trumpeting its use of such a powerful processor in a notebook that weighs less than 3 pounds and gets up to 11 hours of battery life, comparing the ThinkPad X201 to similar thin-and-light laptops from competitors that use slower CPUs.

Category: Mainstream Business

Starting Price: $1,199

Release Date: March 2010

Toshiba Satellite M505-S4020

Toshiba's Satellite M505-S4020 isn't strictly a business notebook, but SMB users and prosumers who prefer touch screens may find this media-friendly, touch-enabled laptop just what the PC doctor ordered. Powered by an Intel Core i3-330M processor, the M505 has up to 4 GB of memory, a 14-inch touch screen and an optical drive.

And with a glossy and slick design, the latest Satellite from Toshiba certainly won't make users bashful about pulling the M505 out of their computer case.

Category: Mainstream Business

Starting Price: $999

Release Date: March 2010

Dell Vostro 3300

The small-business-targeted Vostro 3300 is a compact, stylish-looking laptop selling at a price that's more than reasonable. Dell bills the notebook as "one of the industry's thinnest commercial 13-inch laptops with an integrated optical drive" -- and no wonder. It’s 0.8 inches at its thinnest, and yet the Vostro 3300 packs some punch with a 2.26GHz Intel Core i5 M430 under the hood.

Also included in the new Vostro lineup are the 14-inch Vostro 3400, the 15-inch Vostro 3500 and the 17-inch, executive model Vostro 3700. The last mobile workstation includes Intel's most powerful Core i7 mobile processors, an HD WLED screen and up to a gigabyte of Nvidia GeForce mobile discrete graphics.

Category: Mainstream Business

Starting Price: $599

Release Date: March 2010

Asus UL30VT-A1

This successor to 2009’s UL30VT-X1 is a thin-and-light, 13.3-inch laptop with an ultralow voltage Intel Core 2 Duo processor with a 1.3GHz clock, support for up to 4 GB of DDR3 memory, and switchable graphics that optimizes the use of Intel’s integrated GPU and the Nvidia GeForce G210M discrete hardware on board to conserve battery life.

Speaking of battery life, Asus says the UL30VT-A1’s battery is good for 12 hours of usage, though you’d probably better have the notebook in sleep mode to achieve that. Nevertheless, the A1 is a nice, simple portable device -- and it’s been discounted by about $100 since the initial release.

Category: Thin And Light

Starting Price: $699

Release Date: January 2010

Sony Vaio Z Series VPC-Z116GX/S

Sony’s top-of-the-line thin-and-light notebook is no cheap date, and the 256-GB solid state drive (SSD) in the Vaio Z series VPC-Z116GX/S no doubt contributes to its eye-opening price. But at just 3 pounds and 1.3 inches thick, this unit is about as portable a notebook with workstation capabilities as you’re going to find.

The processor is the 2.4GHz Intel Core i5 M520, while Nvidia GeForce GT 330M discrete GPU competes with Intel’s GMA 4500 HD integrated accelerator for switchable graphics time. The DDR3 memory is configured at 4 GB; the operating system is Windows 7.

Category: Thin And Light

Starting Price: $2,299

Release Date: March 1, 2010

HP Pavilion dm1z

Advanced Micro Devices didn’t bring out Nile, its new thin-and-light hardware platform, or Danube, the mainstream edition of the same, until well into the first half of 2010. So it’s no surprise that AMD’s hardware didn’t make it into many notebooks on this list. But HP did manage to sneak one Nile-based laptop in just ahead of our end-of-June cutoff date.

The 11.6-inch Pavilion dm1z is an eminently configurable ultrathin notebook that is the latest product of HP’s collaboration with AMD on thin-and-light systems. Just 0.78 inches at its thinnest, the dm1z can be kitted out with your choice of a single-core AMD Athlon II Neo K125 that clocks at 1.7GHz, a 1.3GHz dual-core Athlon II Neo K325 or the 1.5GHz dual-core Turion II Neo K625. The ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics package completes the setup.

Category: Thin And Light

Starting Price: $449

Release Date: June 2010

Asus Eee PC 1005PR

We’re not sure why Asus chose April Fool’s Day to release the Eee PC 1005PR because this little netbook is no joke. It’s powered by a 1.66GHz Atom N450 from Intel’s 2010 Pineview class of ultralow voltage System-on-Chip (SoC) products, so the chip giant’s GMA 3150 GPU is integrated right into the CPU package.

That’s a mainboard space saver, and Asus manages to get a 250-GB hard drive and 1 GB of memory into a notebook with a 10.1-inch display, while keeping the weight low at 2.7 pounds and the clamshell thin at just 0.8 inches at its narrowest.

Category: Netbook

Starting Price: $399

Release Date: April 1, 2010

HP Mini 5102

Asus wasn’t alone in taking advantage of Intel’s Pineview netbook platform early in the year. HP unveiled its Atom N450-based Mini 5102 at January’s Consumer Electronics Show and the 10.1-inch netbook immediately earned rave reviews.

The HP Mini 5102 is a fraction of an inch thicker than the Asus Eee PC 1005PR, but it’s also a tiny bit lighter at just 2.6 pounds in the base configuration. What’s more, you can configure the Mini 5102 with up to 2 GB of DDR2 memory and opt for either a 160-GB hard drive or 320 GB of internal storage.

Category: Netbook

Starting Price: $399

Release Date: January 2010

Panasonic Toughbook 31

Really, you were expecting some other company here? Who else but Panasonic would earn honors in the rugged notebook category? And the rugged specialists didn’t disappoint in the first half, bringing out the Toughbook 31 to further cement themselves as king of this category.

So what are you getting, besides a Mil-Spec-rated chunk of encased electronics that can survive drops and spills? How about a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-520M CPU that can automatically jack up its clock speed to 2.93GHz with Turbo Boost? And vPro hardware for remote management and security, as well as up to 8 GB of DDR3 memory and a 13.1-inch display? Tough and powerful, wouldn’t you say?

Category: Rugged

Starting Price: $3,999

Release Date: May 11, 2010

HP TouchSmart tm2

Hewlett-Packard’s TouchSmart tm2 is a 12-inch consumer laptop-tablet convertible with HP’s familiar swiveling touch-screen display and new fancy for chiclet-style keyboards. Powered by an ultralow voltage Intel processor, the tm2 pairs Intel’s integrated graphics with AMD’s Mobility Radeon 4550 discrete GPU and offers switchable graphics to get more juice from the battery.

And the TouchSmart tm2 does offer improved battery life as compared to earlier convertible tablets from HP -- up to about 7 hours for most mainstream users, though the computing giant claims 10 hours as the limit. The operating system is Windows 7 in standard configurations.

Category: Tablets/Convertibles

Starting Price: $999

Release Date: Jan. 6, 2010

HP EliteBook 2740p

The EliteBook 2740p is HP’s first multitouch convertible tablet PC for business users. Users of this convertible tablet can tap and swipe the 12.1-inch capacitive touch display with their fingers, utilizing the full array of multitouch gestures to navigate through applications. A stylus is also provided with the unit as an alternate input tool, and in the notebook position, there's a full-size keyboard.

The HP EliteBook 2740p has an option for standard voltage Intel chips to deliver more processing power than consumer-oriented convertible tablets like the TouchSmart tm2 from HP. Battery flavors include the standard setup that provides up to 5 hours of battery life, with the option of adding on the new HP 2700 Ultra-Slim Battery for an added 6 hours of battery life.

Category: Tablets/Convertibles

Starting Price: $1,599

Release Date: April 12, 2010

Lenovo ThinkPad X201t

Lenovo lifted the curtain on six new business-oriented Think-branded products in March, including this swiveled, 12-inch tablet PC dubbed the ThinkPad X201 tablet. The X201t functions as either a standard full-size notebook with keyboard, or as a pen or finger-based slate with a capacative multitouch screen -- in keeping with Lenovo's recent pronouncements that slate-only tablets are not useful for business computing.

The X Series tablet has an Intel CPU, runs Microsoft Windows 7 with Windows Touch, and has options for tablet-typical features like a superbright outdoor screen. Unlike the Apple iPad, the X201t has full multitasking with support for Flash and Java.

Category: Tablets/Convertibles

Starting Price: $1,549

Release Date: March 2010

Apple iPad

We love to take our digs at Apple, but there’s just no denying that the iPad has kick-started the tablet PC as a consumer device after decades of futility in ginning up that market by others. Oh, and this hot-selling, elegant little iOS-running number just may spell doom for e-readers, to boot.

Grandparents dig the iPad and its intuitive capacitive multitouch screen as much as their grandkids. Our only problem with Apple’s latest piece o’ genius is that it seems delicate for such a large-screened device. The wireless kinks and relatively puny internal storage are issues as well -- but we’re sure Steve Jobs and Co. will have that all worked out by the time the iPad 2 arrives.

Category: Tablets/Convertibles

Starting Price: $499

Release Date: April 3, 2010

Panasonic Toughbook H1 Field

Apple's iPad is nice, but there's no app for surviving the 6-foot falls that Panasonic's Toughbook H1 Field touch-screen tablet can endure. And the company brought what it calls the "world's most rugged handheld tablet computer" to market exclusively through its partner channel.

Panasonic promises 6 hours of battery life in the 3.4-pound H1 Field, which is powered by a 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor. If that's not enough runtime, the unit comes with twin hot-swappable batteries. The unit's 10.4-inch dual-touch display is larger than its predecessor aimed at the health care industry, and it provides both tablet and touchscreen functionality.

Category: Tablets/Convertibles

Starting Price: $3,379

Release Date: March 2010