Advances in technology meannotebooks are getting lighter and thinner all the time as evidenced by many of the products on show at the recent IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin. Tablets, smartphones and other touchscreen devices may be in huge demand, but the notebook still has its followers.
Many manufacturers, however, are no longer concentrating on the 15′ and 17′ screens that are designed to be capable of replacing a desktop PC, preferring instead to showpiece smaller and more lightweight devices with screen sizes ranging between 13′ and 15′.
The reason behind the move is mainly down to advances in technology, explains Jens Boecking, a product manager with Samsung. ‘Individual notebook components have become ever smaller, lighter and more efficient in recent years,’ he says.
The new Core and Fusion processors produced by Intel and AMD, for example, are not only more power-efficient than previous chips but are also housed on the same motherboard as the notebook’s graphic chip and wireless adapter, resulting in a reduced space requirement.
SSD hard drives are another decisive technological development, as they use solid-state memory to store persistent data while traditional hard disk drives are electromechanical devices containing spinning disks and moving read/write heads.
However, these fast and efficient devices don’t come cheap. ‘A good quality, fast notebook with an SSD hard drive will set you back at least 1,000 euros (1,400 dollars) at this moment in time,’ says Boecking.
Samsung debuted the Series 7 Chronos at IFA. The Chronos is powered by an Intel Core i7 Quad Core processor and 8 GB of flash memory. The wake-up time for the Chronos is an incredibly fast two seconds while Samsung promises a battery life of approximately eight hours. The 13′ and 15′ Chronos notebooks cost at least 1,199 euros even without the flash memory.
Other manufacturers – such as Acer with its Aspire S Series and Lenovo with the IdeaPAD U300s – have sacrificed storage capacity in favour of SSDs to reduce weight, thickness and heat generation. Thanks to SSDs and aluminium housings, both notebooks are less than 15 millimetres thick and weigh between 1.3 and 1.4 kilograms.
Both devices are part of a new generation of notebooks that use air to reduce heat generation by not using bottom vents and instead pushing heat out through the hinge vents, as well as through a breathable keyboard. ‘This means I can have the device on my lap without it getting too warm,’ says Jade Chen from Lenovo.
Customers have to make some sacrifices if they want such a thin and lightweight notebook. For example, there is no disk drive for DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, meaning an external drive has to be used when watching films or burning CDs.
This is because both Acer and Lenovo have signed up to Intel’s ‘Ultrabook’ concept, meaning their devices have to meet certain criteria, including having a thickness of less than 20mm. ‘It’s simply not possible to install an optical drive within these parameters,’ says Chen. Future PCs from the same series will continue to offer the option of optical drives for DVD and Blu-Ray discs.
Other companies are also hesitant about offering notebooks without any drives. Dell’s new Inspiron 14Z is only 25 millimetres thick, despite its built-in optical drive. ‘Our customers didn’t want us to make any compromises when it came to functionality,’ Dell vice-president Aongus Hegarty said at IFA.
The company offers other lightweight laptops, such as the XPS 14Z which, unlike the Inspiron Series, is more geared towards the professional market.
Sony is following a similar path with its new Vaio S Series notebooks, which are small and light but have had to dispense with an optical drive as a consequence.
Some of the trends to be seen on notebooks on display at IFA included back-lit keyboards and anti-glare displays that make it easier to see the screen in bright sunshine.
Unfortunately, another thing most of the ultra-thin notebooks have in common is their high price. It is impossible to buy one for less than 1,000 euros even without an optical disk drive or SSD drive.
However, Lenovo manager Chen believes the prices will come down over time: ‘The development of lightweight notebooks is in its infancy. The prices will drop in the long-term.’