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A Buyer's Guide To Ultramobile PCs

Ultraportables used to sacrifice too much performance. They're beefing up on features--not weight.
Dell XPS M1330

Dell XPS M1330
Dell XPS M1330
Weight: 4 pounds
Price: Starting at $1,299
With plenty of features and impressive performance, Dell's new XPS M1330 is a good laptop of choice for any traveling professional, and its 0.9-inch frame further proves the point. Features include a 13.3-inch backlit display, a built-in optical drive, integrated fingerprint reader, Webcam, and several Wi-Fi connectivity options. Additionally, it comes with Wi-Fi Catcher technology, which locates Wi-Fi hotspots when the laptop isn't powered on.

The XPS M1330 is new, available only since last month, and so it features Microsoft's latest Windows Vista operating system--either Vista Home Premium or Ultimate versions. It uses the Intel Core 2 Duo processor.

The XPS M1330 has some limitations. It's not as power efficient as some other ultraportable laptops on the market and only offers up to seven hours of battery life. Inserting a nine-cell battery will add extra weight. And like the others on this list, it doesn't offer the option of reading Blu-ray discs.

Toshiba Portege R500

Toshiba Portege R500
Toshiba Portege R500
Weight: 1.7 pounds
Price: Starting at $1,999
Toshiba's Portege R500 laptop, which was unveiled in June, is tagged as "the world's thinnest notebook series with an integrated optical drive." Toshiba offers two versions: Windows XP Professional and Windows Vista Business, both of which are intended for on-the-go businesspeople.

The Portege R500 is not only light, but it also takes into consideration various conditions that mobile professionals face on the road. For example, the laptop has a transreflective screen that uses natural light from the outdoors to bring out colors and images, and the LED backlit display produces rich colors even in poor lighting conditions. Toshiba promises up to 12.5 hours of battery life, as well as durability if it's dropped. Other features include a 12.1-inch screen, Intel Core 2 Duo proces- sor, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator, 802.11n wireless connectivity, and an integrated DVD-SuperMulti drive.

The laptop, however, has only one memory upgrade slot, and it lacks an integrated modem if you're forced to use a dial-up Internet connection.

Sony Vaio TZ

Sony Vaio TZ
Sony Vaio TZ
Weight: 2.7 pounds
Price: Starting at $2,200
The Vaio TZ is sleek, stylish, and durable, and it shares many of the features with other ultraportable laptops on the market, including an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Bluetooth technology, and support for 802.11n.

Sony's trying to make security one of Vaio TZ's selling points, incorporating a fingerprint sensor, an integrated Trusted Platform Module to control access to the laptop, and G-Sensor Shock Protection. Here's how the shock protection works: When the built-in 3-D acceleration sensor detects a risky movement, the HDD head locks up to secure its position and prevent damage to data.

On the off chance you can sneak time for a movie or some music on the road, the Vaio lets you play DVDs or CDs without booting up Windows. They're controlled with a set of dedicated audiovisual buttons.

Sony calls its Vaio TZ "an ultra-portable powerhouse," but with four to 7.5 hours of battery life, it's not going to give you the long hours away from a power plug that others will.

Apple MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro
Apple MacBook Pro
Weight: 5.4 pounds
Price: Starting at $1,999
The MacBook Pro has been creeping into the hands of mobile professionals who aren't typical Apple creative types. But there's a price for Apple pizzazz: size and weight, as its MacBook Pro comes slightly heavier and with a larger screen than most competitors in the ultraportable mold.

Its smallest business-minded laptop runs Apple's Mac OS X Tiger and comes in two sizes: 15.4 inches and 17 inches. (You could get a MacBook with a 13-inch screen.) There's a lot to love about that 17-inch screen when dealing with graphics-rich applications, but the more portable 15.4-inch screen is a more practical, plane-friendly option for travelers. The 5-pound weight includes a built-in battery and optical drive.

The MacBook Pro comes with several features for businesspeople to appreciate, including Intel's latest mobile processor, Core 2 Duo, a built-in camera for videoconferencing, and wireless connectivity based on the 802.11n draft standard, which offers speeds up to five times faster and up to two times the range compared with the 802.11g standard of previous models.

The MacBook Pro's battery life also is shorter than most ultraportable laptops--only up to six hours. It's replaceable, but you'll have to travel with two.