Help Me, LAPTOP: A Backpacking Writer Needs A Light And Powerful Notebook

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These days it's relatively easy to find a low-power laptop that's small and light, but what about when you need something with a little more juice that won't weigh you down nor drain your bank account? That's the dilemma reader Kanti finds herself in:

I am a book author, I travel a lot, and I can leave my home for 1-2 months, even more. My current notebook is Hp Pavilion Touchsmart tx2, 14 inches, AMD Turion X2; it's too heavy and slow for me. I've been doing some 'research' but still couldn't find the best one yet.

I desperately need a light weight, but still able to do some photo editing though not frequent (I use Adobe Photoshop), great for doing Word work, have Wi-Fi facility, and fast enough to browse the internet. And of course have sufficient audio and video quality for Skype, because I'd need that to interact with my friends and family during my long travel. Durability is also my concern, and my budget is >500 USD.

Do you think I should wait until next year to buy the new one? Could you please give me some options?

Usually for traveling writers we'd suggest a netbook as they offer performance good enough for running a word processing program, surfing the web, and chatting with friends on Skype. But it sounds like you're in the market for something with more robust performance, so we suggest an ultraportable. This kind of notebook ranges in size from 11.6 to 13-inches and, depending on the type of processor inside, can come in at under $500. However, most cost around $600. If you're willing to stretch your budget a bit or wait for a deal, you should be happy with something in this class. But there's at least one notebook that will suit your needs that does cost less than $500.

The $499 ASUS Eee PC 1215N is technically a netbook, but it's powerful enough that it could be classed as an ultraportable. This 12-inch system only weighs 3.4 pounds and is fairly slim, so it won't take up a lot of room in your backpack or add too much weight. It runs on a 1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Atom D525 and an Nvidia Ion 2 GPU plus integrated Intel GMA 3150 graphics. This, coupled with Nvidia's Optimus technology, allows the 1215N to switch between discrete and integrated graphics depending on what the computer is doing. Watching HD video? The Eee PC will use the Ion 2 chip. Just writing in Word or listening to music? It switches to the low-power integrated chip. The 0.3MP webcam isn't the best out there, but it captures decent images and video, which should be fine for Skype chats.

Stepping up in price, the 11.6-inch Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T (available for $599) scored better on tests that measure overall performance but its graphics aren't as powerful as the Eee PC 1215N. It's also slightly slimmer and lighter and has a better quality webcam. It runs on a 1.3-GHz Intel Pentium SU7300 CPU and comes with 4GB of RAM, but the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD GPU isn't the best for intensive graphics tasks.

If you need a bigger screen, then the 13.3-inch Toshiba Satellite T235 or T235D ($549 - $629) may be for you. The difference between the two models is the processor/graphics card combo. The T235 runs on a 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 with integrated Intel HD Graphics; the T235D runs on a 1.5-GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625 CPU and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 graphics. Both of these will give you plenty of power and performance, though the T235D costs less yet doesn't last as long on a charge. Unfortunately, neither of these systems has a great webcam.

You mentioned that you also do image editing in Photoshop in addition to writing and surfing the web. If you have Photoshop CS3 or an older version, you won't get the benefit of hardware acceleration. That means the strength of the graphics card isn't very important, since the software doesn't have the ability to access it. Photoshop CS4 or CS5 do have hardware acceleration, so if you're running either of those versions you want something with strong graphics so the program will run faster.

Here's a quick comparison of specs, price, and performance benchmarks:

Notebook ASUS Eee PC 1215N Acer Aspire Timeline 1810T Toshiba Satellite T235 Toshiba Satellite T235D
Price $499 $599 $629 $599
Size / Weight 11.6 x 8 x 0.9 to 1.4 inches; 3.4 pounds 11.2 x 8.0 x 1.2 inches; 3.2 pounds 12.7 x 8.8 x 1.0 inches; 3.8 pounds 12.7 x 8.8 x 1.0 inches; 3.8 pounds
CPU 1.8-GHz Intel Atom D525 1.3-GHz Intel Pentium SU7300 1.2-GHz Intel Pentium U5400 1.5-GHz AMD Turion II Neo K625
RAM 2GB (max 4GB) 4GB (max) 4GB (max 8GB) 4GB (max 8GB)
Graphics Nvidia Ion 2, Intel GMA 3150 Intel GMA 4500 Intel HD Graphics ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225
PC Mark Vantage
(Overall Performance)
1,921 2,938 3,158 3,198
(Graphics performance)
2,692 594 1,262 1,484
Wireless Strength
(15 / 50 feet)
39.4 / 23.7 Mbps 19.3 / 17.9 Mbps 42.8 / 27.4 Mbps 35.7 / 16.1 Mbps
Battery Life (h:mm) 5:40 4:15 6:11 5:20

It looks like the notebook that fits your needs best is the ASUS Eee PC 1215N, but read the full reviews of all four systems to see our in-depth thoughts on every aspect, including keyboards, touchpads, multimedia experience, and more.

Add a comment
  • B Borg Says:

    The guy in the OP should really be looking at the Asus UL30vt - a powerful laptop which handles photoshop with ease, weighs less than 2kg and has a 10-12 hour battery. Love mine and take it everywhere with me

  • altec_1 Says:

    maybe you stay at States so you can lay your hand on it ...

    yeah only few countries have it .. checked ASUS web .. Taiwan, China and USA .. not even displayed in Europe .. for sure no in Indonesia and Singapore.


  • altec_1 Says:

    Dear Mr Bradford, I checked Amazon, not shipping to Indonesia.
    Do you mind telling where did you yourself get from?

    thank you,

  • K. T. Bradford Says:

    Are you able to purchase it from overseas retailers online? If so, I would check the Amazon of nearby countries to find out if they'll ship to you.

  • altec_1 Says:

    Dear Mr. Bradford,

    I have decided to go for Asus 1215N. Been searching for Asus 1215N both in Jakarta and Singapore.
    I contacted Spore Asus distibutor, they don't have it.

    So, where can we get it?

    thanks in advance,

  • kiwit Says:

    Oh, and one more, there's no optical drive (CD / DVD RW) for the 11.6 inch version.

  • kiwit Says:

    The toshiba satellite T235 have different name and size in Jakarta. In Jakarta, it is sized 11.6 inch and the name is Toshiba Portege T210, priced at around US$ 800. The specs is exactly the same as the intel version (using U5400).

  • Kanti Says:

    Wow, thank you for your quick and very detail reply. I don't mind to spend a bit more for a better laptop, it's for my job anyway. I will assess all the options you've provided further, hopefully they're available in Jakarta, or at least in HK or Singapore.
    Thank you once again :)

  • William Says:

    To the 2 posters above,

    "and my budget is >500 USD."

    The suggestion LaptopMag gave is already out of his budget.

  • alexvj Says:

    The best for an artist by the price and performance is HP Touchsmart TM2: 12'' tablet PC, very good for drawing, painting, typing ~ 800$.
    intel 1.2 GHz culv core i5 proc. with turboboost, 3Gb ram, 320 Gb HDD, WI-FI, Camera. Aluminum body. Don't forget TOUCH SCREEN, if you're an artist. Light weght.

  • vÄ“er Says:

    Why not Thinkpad X200/X201i?
    Sure, its more like 800$, but it should be durable, powerful enough, good battery life.
    Tho it has built in graphics, so if that is concern, then X201i should be better choice.

  • Shehanrg Says:

    Ohh my bad.. its Asus N82jv.. :)

  • Shehanrg Says:

    Well why would'nt he try something like Asus N82jh.. Hmm battery life and price is not in his range but still I think its really future proof.. also can get battery life extended by a 9 cell battrey na.. I think 14 inch is not that hard to carry around, also he might be able to spend some more money for greater performance..
    Jst a idea tho.. Cheers

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