Budget Ultraportable Laptops

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Laptops are getting faster, more portable and cheaper as the back-to-school season rolls in. A new range of lightweight laptops from PC makers priced between US$400 to $600 are as portable as netbooks but offer much better performance.

These laptops come with screen sizes ranging from 11.6 inches to 13.3 inches and can offer long battery life, sometimes in excess of six hours. Performance-wise, these laptops are not slouches -- they can play back high-definition videos and are capable of handling casual gaming.

However, these laptops are not capable of handling intense gaming or demanding applications, given the limited processing power and graphics capabilities. These laptops also don't come with optical drives, so there could be an additional cost involved in buying a DVD or Blu-ray drive.

Dell Inspiron M101z

Dell recently introduced the Inspiron M101z, which the company claims offers "long battery life."

The laptop weighs about 3.44 pounds (1.56 kilograms), and Dell tests indicate the battery life to be about six hours and 30 minutes with a six-cell battery. The laptop is priced from US$449. It runs on power-efficient Athlon II Neo single- and dual-core processors from Advanced Micro Devices. It will decode and play back HD video with the help of AMD's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4200 integrated graphics. The system supports up to 8GB of memory and 320GB of hard-drive storage. It also has a 1.3-megapixel webcam and an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port to display HD video on external devices. Wireless connectivity options for the laptop include Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi.

Toshiba T235

Toshiba in mid-June launched the Satellite T200 series of laptops with screen sizes ranging from 11.6 inches to 13.3 inches, and with prices starting at $549. The processor options include Intel's Pentium or AMD's Neo dual-core processors. The laptops support up to 320GB of hard-drive storage and 4GB of memory.

A model that stood out in the new series was the T235D-S1340, which has a base price of $549. It comes with an Athlon II Neo dual-core K325 processor and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics. It has 3GB of memory and 320GB of storage. It also includes an HDMI port and a webcam. No further information was immediately available on the laptop's battery life.

The most expensive laptop in the T200 line is the $629 T235-S1350, which comes with Intel's Pentium U5400 dual-core processor running at 1.2GHz.

Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion DM1z

For those who prefer HP, the Pavilion DM1z laptop is a lightweight budget laptop that includes an 11.6-inch screen. Priced starting at $449, the laptop weighs about 3.24 pounds (1.47 kilograms) and can run for around five hours on a single six-cell battery charge. It also includes a webcam and a 5-in-1 media card reader, and supports up to 5GB of memory and 500GB of storage.

A recommended configuration from HP is priced at $524.99. The configuration includes an AMD Turion II Neo dual-core processor K625 running at 1.5GHz and AMD's ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4225 integrated graphics. It comes with 3GB of RAM and 320GB of storage.

Acer's Aspire One laptops

Acer in late June announced two new Aspire One laptops with low-power AMD chips. The AO521 is just under an inch thick, comes with a 10.1-inch screen and weighs about 2.75 pounds, making it more like a netbook. The AO521 is priced starting at US$349.99. The AO721 netbook has an 11.6-inch screen, is slightly heavier and is priced beginning at $429.99. The laptops include integrated ATI Radeon HD graphics to display high-definition multimedia content, and come preloaded with the Windows 7 OS.

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