Battle of the Super-Lightweight Laptops Continues



Another manufacturer heard from!
There's Apple's (AAPL) MacBook Air, Lenovo's ThinkPad X300 and others.

All thin, shiny and new -- sporting the latest in laptop fashions: the non-hard drive hard drive. They are officially called solid-state drives -- containing large amounts of flash memory and no moving parts.

In addition to faster promised speeds for accessing your data, these drives are also supposed to be very battery-friendly. The downside is that the drives are bleeding-edge technology and therefore very expensive. When you replace an old-fashioned hard drive with a solid-state drive (SSD), you can make a lighter-weight machine -- but you also come close to doubling the price of that computer.

That brings us to the brand-new Asus U2E. Asus is the Taiwanese firm that makes the super-tiny, super-cute, sub-$400 Eee PC (a Linux mini-laptop soon to spawn a Microsoft (MSFT) Windows XP version. Asus makes an incredibly huge line of computers and computer-related products and is only now starting to market them in the U.S.

The U2E is 2.7-pound laptop covered in leather. It sports an 11.1-inch WXGA screen (1366 by 768 pixels), which tells you the computer's outer dimensions are on the small side. It's 10.9 inches by 7.6 inches by one inch and weighs 2.7 pounds. It can easily fit in a manila envelope too!

As for the insides, the U2E comes standard with a 1.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 3GB of memory (holds a maximum of 4GB) and the only read/write DVD drive available in a superlight. Windows Vista is your only operating-system choice from the factory.

As for storage, the U2E comes two ways: with a 120 GB hard drive ($1,999) or with a 32GB SSD and an external, plug-in, 120 GB hard drive for ($2,699). I told you those new drives are expensive. I got to test a solid-state drive model.

The U2E comes loaded with features like a fingerprint reader and all sorts of built-in programs and options for road warriors. Build quality is high. The keyboard feels wonderful and everything works as it is supposed to. And, of course, the leather is a nice touch for a high-end device.

The only concerns I have about the U2E is the paltry amount of storage on the SSD model. 32GB is no longer luxurious -- especially after all of Vista's and Asus's added software take up more than half the internal storage space. That's why its including the extra, external hard drive. 32GB is enough for the way I use a laptop (Word documents, Web surfing and the like), but power users might want more.

The other question I have is: Why not make Windows XP an option? It would take up less SSD space and would probably load and operate a lot quicker. Might even be a touch cheaper too!

As for "lugging it around," the U2E is a dream come true. It's the right size to use on a plane/train and powerful enough to burn DVDs and lots more. The standard battery is good for 2.3 hours. Optional, larger batteries will (obviously) give you more leeway.

I've enjoyed my time with the Asus U2E.

If you're in the market for a super-stylish, super-thin portable, you should check out this small notebook.


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