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[Update: Added Lenovo X300 to the comparison table. I haven’t managed to find a firm price, but the model I’d be looking at (with 4Gb RAM) is selling for 2,926 Euros, which is £2,230.58.]

My current laptop is on its last legs, due to an annoying hardware problem (the plastic holding together the screen hinge on the right has broken, and every time you open up the laptop it feels like there’s a chance the screen will disconnect entirely).

So I need to find a new laptop, which is a shame because aside from being underpowered compared to current laptops, this one is just about perfect. It’s a Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook P7010 and has the following characteristics that I appreciate:

  • small: it’s about the size of an A4 piece of paper (but thicker, obviously), sits easily on my knees even in cramped commuter trains, and slides neatly into a smart shoulder bag that people never suspect holds a computer
  • light: it’s much less than 2kg, which is my cut-off weight
  • widescreen: it’s a 10.6” widescreen with a resolution of 1280x768. Actually, it’s the width that I appreciate, so I guess widescreen isn’t essential if the screen is larger anyway, but I need those 1280 pixels.
  • battery life: the battery life used to be around 6 hours, which is enough for the longest train journeys, or just an evening unconstrained by power cords; it’s tailed off now, but it’s still not bad

For tax reasons, I’d like to avoid laptops that cost between £1700 and £2000 (inc.VAT). Over £2000 is fine, if I’m getting something good for the money. I fancy having a solid state hard drive; I don’t keep loads of pictures or music or film on my laptop, so there’s no reason to have a massive hard drive, and I really like the idea of no moving parts.

My dad is trying to persuade me to go for the Dell XPS M1330 with Ubuntu. Although I’d prefer to avoid Vista, I’m a bit worried about going with Ubuntu because:

  • I need to be able to run Microsoft Office, especially Word, as part of my job; and the same goes for IE: I could rely on my desktop to do that, but it might prove restrictive. The other option is to use virtualisation to run a Windows instance (probably XP) on the laptop, which is an attractive idea if we can make it work.
  • I need to be able to plug in my laptop when I’m giving presentations or doing training and not worry about compatibility with the projector. When I was at XTech last year, it was notable that all the people who had problems with the projector were running some Linux variant.

So here’s a table that compares the machines that I’m considering:

Make Lenovo Dell Dell Apple Sony Toshiba
Model X300 (64771UG) XPS M1330 XPS M1330 Macbook Air Vaio VGN TZ32VN/X Portégé R500-126
Price (inc.VAT) ??? £2,002.36 £2,024.23 £2,028.00 £2,099.00 £1,761.32
Size 31.8cm x 23.1cm x 2.34cm 31.8cm x 23.8cm x 2.21 – 3.38cm 31.8cm x 23.8cm x 2.21 – 3.38cm 32.5cm x 22.7cm x 0.4 - 1.94cm 27.7cm x 19.8cm x 2.9cm 28.3cm x 21.6cm x 1.95-2.55cm
Weight 1.42 kg 1.79 kg (minimum) 1.79 kg (minimum) 1.36 kg 1.24 kg 0.78 kg (minimum)
Processor Intel® Core 2 Duo Processor SL7100 (1.20 GHz, 800 MHz FSB) Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor T7500 (2.20 GHz, 800 MHz FSB, 4 MB L2-cache) - N-Series Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor T8300 (2.40 GHz, 800 MHz FSB, 3 MB L2 cache) Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor (1.80 GHz, 800 MHz FSB, 4 MB L2 cache) Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Mobile Processor U7700 (1.33 GHz, 533 MHz FSB) Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor Ultra Low Voltage U7700 (1.33 GHz, 533 MHz FSB, 2MB L2 cache)
OS Windows Vista Ultimate Ubuntu Windows Vista® Ultimate (32Bit) Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard Windows® Vista® Business Windows® Vista® Business
Software none none Microsoft® Office 2007 Home and Student Apple bundle none none
Screen 13.3" WXGA (1440x900) TFT backlit display 13.3" UltraSharp™ WXGA (1280x800) White-LED Display (300 nits) with TrueLife™ 13.3" UltraSharp™ WXGA (1280x800) White-LED Display (300 nits) with TrueLife™ 13.3" widescreen (1280x800) TFT LED backlit display 11.1" WXGA (1366x768) X-black LCD with LED technology 12.1" WXGA (1280x800) Transflective TFT High Brightness display with LED backlight
Memory 4096MB 667MHz PC2-5300 DDR2 [2x2048] 4096MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2x2048] 4096MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2x2048] 2048MB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2048MB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2048MB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Hard Drive 64GB Solid State Drive 64GB Solid State Drive 64GB Solid State Drive 64GB Solid State Drive 64GB Solid State Drive 64GB Solid State Drive
Graphics Integrated Intel® Graphic Media Accelerator X3100 Integrated Intel® Graphic Media Accelerator X3100 128MB nVidia® GeForce® 8400M GS Integrated Intel® Graphic Media Accelerator X3100 Intel® Graphic Media Accelerator 950 Intel® Graphic Media Accelerator 950
Battery claim 4 hours life Primary 6-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (56 WHr) Primary 6-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (56 WHr) 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery claim up to 7 hours lithium-ion; no lifespan specified
Speakers built-in stereo speakers Creative Labs Fatal1ty Gaming Headset Bluetooth Stereo Headset built-in built-in built-in
Connectivity WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth WiFi 802.11a/b/g; Bluetooth WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth; Integrated 3G Mobile Broadband technology WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth
Optical Drive DVD Recordable 24x Max speed Fixed 8x DVD+/-RW Slim Slot Load Drive - N-Series Fixed 8x DVD+/-RW Slim Slot Load Drive - N-Series none DVD±RW/±R DL/RAM drive none
Accessories none Small Nylon Carry Case; Logitech VX Nano Cordless Laser Mouse; Belkin Hi-Speed USB 2.0 15-1 Media Reader & Writer; Belkin 8-Socket SurgeMaster with Tel/AV Small Nylon Carry Case none none none
Extras Integrated fingerprint reader none Biometric fingerprint reader none Finger print recognition; Built-in "Motion Eye" Digital Camera none
Warranty Three years parts and labor (system battery: one year) 3 Year Consumer Hardware Support (Linux Only) inc. Evenings and Saturdays 1 Year XPS Premium Hardware Support (incl. Gaming and On-Site Support) one-year warranty one-year warranty 3-year international warranty

I can’t decide at the moment, but here are some thoughts:

It’s funny, having listed them I realise quite how biased I am towards machines with large amounts of memory. It’s because I like to have lots of applications running at the same time, I guess. And big XSLT transformations tend to eat memory. I find myself drawn to the Dells, despite their high size and weight (and despite my having ‘small and light’ as my major requirement), just because of that 4Gb memory.

The Macbook has that really funky two-finger touchpad interface, which adds to its attraction, and I know a number of people who’ve migrated to Macs and are very happy with them. There’s the same issue with Ubuntu in terms of getting Windows/Office/IE running for testing purposes, but again virtualisation might come to the rescue. And it would be beneficial having a Mac to test Safari etc.

I’m generally distrustful of Vaios. I had one years and years ago, and from what I recall I didn’t find it very adaptable: it was hard to install anything non-standard on it. But they’re enormously attractive machines and in this case, the small size would be good for me, and the width-in-pixels for the 11.1” screen is higher than that on the 13.3” screens. Probably won’t do my eyes any good though.

The Toshiba seems attractive in some ways, and it’s incredibly light, but some reviews of others in the range have indicated that the build quality isn’t great. Plus it’s in that to-be-avoided price bracket, which is annoying.

The Dell configurator only allowed particular options with the Vista version, which is why I’ve ended up with a fancy graphics card and a fingerprint scanner that I don’t really want. See how much more you get when you go for Ubuntu, though?

I guess I’ll start hunting for reviews to aid my decision, but any observations from the floor will be appreciated.