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September 21, 2010

Ask Ben Anything – Back to School (and Work!) Edition

We missed August here at Ask Ben Anything due to a lot of summer craziness, but we’re back and in full swing for the start of Fall!  Remember that if you have a PC question, just email me, find me on Twitter, or leave a comment on this or any other post I’ve written. I always try to get back to as many people as possible, and the top few questions will make it into next month’s column.

I am looking to purchase a new notebook PC for work. My priority is to have the lightest weight (around 3 lbs) with the highest performance.  I want to stay under 3.5 lbs. since I travel every week. Any recommendation would be much appreciated.

Michael W.

If you’re looking for a lightweight, powerful work machine, I’d recommend three – the Dell Vostro v13, the Toshiba r705, and the Sony VAIO Z. The Vostro v13 is a sharp new entry that’s built on the same chassis as the original Dell Adamo, but at a much lower price point. Inside you’ll get a fast hard drive, Intel graphics, a Core 2 Duo processor, and about 6 hours of battery life. It’s a great looking machine and you can get them at very reasonable price points – they start at $399.99.

The Toshiba r705 is one that I’m starting to see a lot of around campus. It’s the lightest full-feature (i.e., with an optical drive) laptop ever built and weighs just over 3lbs. I have one in my inventory and I’ve been impressed so far. You can get one starting at $889.

Last is the Sony VAIO Z. This is a premium machine and one of the best 13” computers on the market. I carry this around as my day-to-day laptop, and it’s packed with a Blu-Ray drive, 1600 x 900 screen, 256GB SSD, 6GB of RAM and high-power NVIDIA Graphics…all in a package that’s just a hair heavier than the Toshiba r705. The downside is that it ain’t cheap. But then again, you get what you pay for!

I’ve been planning on getting a new laptop for school and have been looking into the Asus Eee PC 1215n because it’s portable, does HD with HDMI out and has a decent processor (for multitasking and some games) for a reasonable price. I was wondering if you knew of any notebooks which are similar or even better (perhaps able to play StarCraft 2 on medium settings) for a reasonable price?


The ASUS eeePC 1215N is a pretty cool little machine, and I love that it has Optimus for fast graphics switching.  There are lots of other options under $1000 though. If you want to stick with ASUS, check out the U43 Bamboo – it’s got killer design, a core i5 processor and like the 1215N, has NVIDIA Optimus graphics technology. There’s also the HP dm4, which I’ve mentioned in previous columns as a very nice, affordable laptop. That also has a Core i5, a huge hard drive, and a slick aluminum case. The Gateway LT3201u is also a good choice if you’re looking to stay in the 12” range, as it comes loaded with an AMD Athlon II Neo processor, 2GB of RAM, and Radeon HD 4225 graphics – all for less than $500!

Ben! I’m looking for a laptop suitable to do A LOT of writing on (PhD thesis!) I thus consider screen quality/size, and keyboard quality, a top priority. Also, I would ideally like it to be lightweight! Price – well, something less than $1500 AUD (about $1400US.

Ian J

I’ve always been partial to the Dell Studio XPS 16 since you can get it loaded with a 1080p display and monster specs. HP’s new dv6 (15”) and dv7 (17”) are also an option for you, and come with perks like Beats Audio and available DirectX 11 graphics. Lenovo has been impressing me with their consumer and SMB lines of PCs recently too, and the more I play with PCs like the Z560  and the ThinkPad Edge, the more I want to recommend them. The Z series is a true entertainment PC while the Edge feels more like a traditional ThinkPad, but both bring with them the best of Lenovo’s enterprise workhorse PCs, particularly the outstanding keyboards, which make them a joy to type on for long periods of time.