The 10 Coolest Laptops Of 2012 (So Far)

Hot Market, Cool Laptops

With processors, memory and storage becoming cheaper than dirt, there have never before been as many low-cost options for mobile computing. Competition in today's laptop marketplace is heating up along with summer temperatures, so to help you chill out, CRN describes the 10 coolest laptops of 2012 so far.

Sony E-Series

The CRN Test Center on June 4 visited a very cool place -- Sony's Wonder Technology Lab in New York City -- to be present for the unveiling of eight new or significantly redesigned devices. Among the wonders on display were three new Vaio E-Series laptops. Starting at $449 list, the 11.6-inch unit is built around an AMD processor.

The $449 starting price includes an Intel B970 2.3 GHz processor, 14-inch display, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 320 GB hard drive, DVD burner and the 64-bit edition of Windows Home Premium running on 4 GB of memory. The mid-end 14.4-inch unit starts at $559 list including a backlit keyboard, AMD Radeon graphics and Core i3 and i5 options. A premium edition starts at $699 with Ivy Bridge and quad-core options. At the top of Sony's economy line is the 15.5-inch unit starting at $649 with an Ivy Bridge processor. It's identical to the 14-inch premium model, with USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, multiple video outputs, gigabit Ethernet and Blu-ray or DVD. The E15 offers more video choices. Not the thinnest or lightest, E-Series low prices make them cool.

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

We've looked at about a half-dozen Ultrabook devices here in the CRN Test Center, and Dell's XPS 13 is the coolest. It's super-fast, wafer-thin and light as a feather, and it's ready for business the moment it's opened. The first feature to strike us about the XPS 13 was how relatively small it was compared with other 13-inch Ultrabook devices we've tested. The XPS 13 measures 12.4 x 8.1 inches, compared with the Acer Aspire S3's 12.75 x 8.5 inches and the MacBook Air's 12.8 x 8.94 inches.

The left edge is home to a headphone jack, USB 2.0 and power input. On the right edge is a USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port, mini DisplayPort slot and a battery-charge status button with multi-LED gauge. There are no ports on the front or back edges. The Dell XPS 13 is available with Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, with Intel HD 3000 graphics starting at $999, including Windows 7 Home Premium, Wi-Fi a/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, 4 GB DDR3 at 1,333 MHz SDRAM, backlit keyboard, 128 or 256 GB SSD, HD audio, stereo speakers, 1.3 MP webcam, 100 GB of cloud storage and a 12-month Skype Premium subscription.

Samsung Series 7 Chronos

Among Samsung's latest high-performance (and coolest) laptops is the Samsung Series 7 Chronos. Not to be confused with ChromeOS, the Chronos is a workhorse laptop that runs 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium on an Intel Core i7 2.2 GHz processor, 8 GB of 1,333 MHz DDR3 memory, an AMD Radeon HD6750 PowerXpress discrete graphics processor with 1 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory and a 750 GB SATA-II hard drive with 8 GB of cache.

Samsung's Series 7 laptops also include a multi-layer slot-load DVD writer, an amazing 3-watt sound system, gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi b/g/n with a 2 x 2 MIMO and Bluetooth 3.0, all three types of video outputs, USB 2.0 and 3.0, and they are available with a 15.4-inch display or an eye-popping 17-inch LCD, each with an LED backlight and anti-reflective glass.

Sony S-Series

That's "S" as in slot-load. Sony's Vaio S-Series systems feature slot-load DVD or Blu-ray drives, third-generation Intel Ivy Bridge processors and discrete Nvidia graphics controller options. They're as light as can be thanks to their magnesium, aluminum and carbon-fiber construction. Starting at $799, the 13.3-inch S13 weighs just 3.8 pounds and includes gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Intel Wireless Display technology, a multimedia card reader, HDMI, VGA, and USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. It's available in black, white, silver and pink.

Starting at $999, the 15.5-inch S15 delivers the S13's specs plus a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor option along with SSD hard drive options up to 512 GB. Both S-Series units have 4 GB of fixed memory on the motherboard and the option of adding 8 GB more. The S15 is available with 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate, but not in pink.

Apple MacBook Pro With Retina Display

Apple added the high-resolution Retina display to its MacBook Pro laptops this year, and what was pretty cool before is really cool now. The detail that's now possible from a laptop screen has to be seen to be believed. The far-left portion of the image (shown) is from a non-Retina display, and the near left is from the Retina, with its staggering 2,880 x 1,800 pixels. Graphics are driven by Nvidia's Kepler-based GeForce GT 650M with 1 GB of dedicated video memory for an IPS panel that delivers a 178-degree viewing radius. Apple powers these machines with an Intel Core i7 quad-core processor at up to 2.7 GHz and SSD-only storage of up to 768 GB.

Sony T-Series Ultrabook

It was just a small part of Sony's road show, but the T Series stole the show. Sony's first Ultrabook is a sleek, ultra-lightweight unit, and its bright 13.3-inch LED-lit display is clad in beautiful brushed aluminum and magnesium.

It weighs in at 3.5 pounds, measures just 0.71 inches thick (when closed) and is about 12 x 9 inches around. Yet it still manages to pack HDMI and VGA outputs, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and gigabit Ethernet, and a USB 3.0 port that's powered at all times. Best of all, Sony's Ultrabook starts at $799, about $200 less than most others. And that includes an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, 4 GB of DDR3 memory (upgradable to 8 GB) and 64-bit Windows 7. When Windows 8 becomes available, Sony will upgrade it for $15.

Dell XPS 15

It's clearly not an Ultrabook, but Dell's XPS 15 is cool nonetheless. It's the first Skype-certified laptop, is able to stream video in HD and can project 3-D Blu-ray movies to a 3-D output source with terrific sound from a JBL 2.1 system with 4-watt stereo speakers, a 12- watt subwoofer and Waves MaxxAudio 3.

Making all that possible are third-generation Intel Core i7 processors, discrete Nvidia graphics processors with as much as 2 GB of dedicated graphics memory, and Blu-ray and DVD-RW options. There's also a 2.0 megapixel webcam with digital microphone, 9-in-1 card reader, and Wi-Fi and wireless options that include WiMax and Dell's mobile broadband WWAN cards. Ports include USB 2.0, 3.0, eSATA, gigabit Ethernet, audio in and out with SPID/F support, DisplayPort and HDMI. There's even an integrated TV tuner option.

Samsung Chromebook

Released in late May, Samsung's the second-generation Chromebook Series 5 not only is equipped with lots more processing horsepower than its predecessor but also has more to horse around with. Its Intel Celeron 867 processor running at 1.3 GHz and 4 GB of memory runs rings around the Atom N570 with 2 GB RAM. The new models have Intel's HD graphics processor compared with an Intel GMA 3150 chip and a 16 GB SSD.

Now shipping with ChromeOS 19, Chromebook offers quicker control over network and monitor settings, an app launcher similar to Windows' taskbar and the ability to semi-multitask through multiple browser windows in a new desktop environment. There's a redesigned music player and the ability to play .mov and .mp4 video files, all with surprisingly good sound. When plugging in USB storage or a memory card into the multireader, a browser window pops up with a listing of what's on it. At a list price of $549, the new Chromebooks are a better value-priced entry-level laptop than prior editions.

Lenovo IdeaPad Ultrabook

Starting at $749, Lenovo's IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook delivers an Intel Core i3 processor at 1.8 GHz and 3 MB of cache and Intel HD 4000 graphics processor. The relatively low starting price also includes the 64-bit edition of Windows 7 Home Premium running on 4 GB of 1,600 MHz DDR3 memory, a 13.3-inch HD display with integrated 1,366 x 768 camera, 500 GB hard drive plus a 32 GB SSD and Intel Centrino Wireless-N Wi-Fi chip. With a one-year warranty and lots of extras, Lenovo's Ultrabooks represent an exceptional value for resellers.

Sony Z Series

Always the pioneer, Sony offered the Z Series lightweight, ultra-portable, ultra-powerful laptop for the mobile power-user years before the Ultrabook spec was a gleam in Intel's eye. To commemorate the occasion, Sony in June unveiled a 15th anniversary special edition of beautiful Z Series, with glossy carbon-fiber casing, a 1,920 x 1,080 full HD 13.3-inch display, SSD RAID drives and a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor option.

Not for the casual user with a starting price of around $1,599, the Z Series anniversary edition brings a new cache to the phrase "Made in Japan," which is emblazoned proudly on the unit's edge. Just 0.66 inches thick and about 13 x 8 inches around, the Z Series works with an optional dock with integrated hard drive to connect to as many as three additional monitors. It's available in black and gold.