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Top 5 lightweight, powerful and value laptops

I am constantly on the lookout for the ultimate mobile laptop. It’s got an office-class CPU, has a ‘real’ SSD, an IPS screen and weighs under 1.3 KG / 2.9 pounds. Ideally it has a 5+ hours battery life, a full HD resolutions and costs $500 or less. It’s not easy to find a solution but I’ve come up with 5 options and detailed them below.

Dell XPS 13 2015

Dell XPS 13 2015

13-inch lightweight laptops

Dell XPS 13 (2015)

One thing is for sure. If you want a 13-inch ultrabook (which in my opinion should have a Core U-series CPU inside) then you’ll be looking at over $700 and there’s nothing more to say here than Dell XPS 13 2015. It’s popular, has had good reviews and has excellent battery life. The Core i3 version with Full HD display and 4GB RAM for $799 should be fine for most users.


The other option is the ASUS UX305 which has also had some good reviews. It’s a Core M powered laptop with a 13.3-inch Full HD IPS display (also available with a QHD display) and a reasonably large battery. It weighs just 1.2 KG (2.6 pounds) and is the Windows equivalent of the new Apple Macbook, at a much better price – $699 is your starting point.

11 and 12-inch lightweight laptops

Move down to sub 13.3-inch sector and there are some interesting options that start at just $399. All of the options here are 2-in-1s as manufacturers like to put ultrabook-style products into a premium category. If you look at the mainstream-focused 2-in-1s however, there’s some good value options.

Acer Aspire Switch 11

The Acer Aspire Switch 11 (below, left) is available with a 4th-Gen Core i3 (2014, Y series) and a SATA SSD for just $399 and it’s the bargain of the bunch here. I’ve reviewed the 10-inch version of this and was happy with the price / quality ratio. Don’t expect the best build, materials or performance but do expect to have some fun with the detachable tablet. There’s a full-HD screen and there is even a model with a hard drive in the keyboard base.

Switch 11 Core i3Acer Aspire Switch 12

Acer Aspire Switch 12

If you want a slightly bigger screen and more processing power, check out the Acer Aspire Switch 12 (above, right) which is unique for a Core-based 2-in-1 because of the large built-in ‘lappable’ stand and Bluetooth keyboard. Performance on this is much better than on the Switch 11 with Core i3 due to the latest 5th-Gen Core M processor. The screen is good and there’s good battery life but it’s heavier than the Switch 11. I really enjoyed doing a full review on the Switch 12 and I’m now seeing prices from $599 down to $499 in the USA which makes it a great deal.

Yoga 3 11

Yoga 3 11

Lenovo Yoga 3 11

Another Core M product consider is the Lenovo Yoga 3 11. This non-detachable design might suit those looking for more of a laptop experience and for $699 (offer at Dell.com) you get 8 GB of RAM and 180 GB of SSD with a Full HD touchscreen. The entry level 4 GB  version is just €599 in Europe (but $679 in the US which means there’s scope for discounts) The Lenovo Yoga 3 11 is fresh on the market so there aren’t many reviews around yet but i’ve added a few to the product database.



  • Dell XPS 13 2015. Latest Intel Core CPU with a stylish laptop design and long battery life for $799 < Performance
  • ASUS UX305. Core-M based laptop with good performance but less battery life than the Dell. $699 < Balance

Under 13-inch

  • Acer Aspire Switch 11. A 2014 Core i3 CPU and newly announced Switch 11V means this one is nearing end of life. Hence prices for the Acer SW5-171 from $399 < Bargain
  • Acer Aspire Switch 12. Core M based 2-in-1 detachable with unique design. Offers starting at $499. < Flexible
  • Lenovo Yoga 3 11. Newly released stylish and laptop-like. Prices starting at $679. €599 in Europe (inc taxes) < Sensible

Click the image below for the interactive comparison table for the top 5 lightweight, ssd-based laptops.

Screenshot 2015-05-27 at 18.36.45

At $899 the MacBook Air 11 2015 isn’t cheap so doesn’t make the top-5 list here but it has to be mentioned as one of the cheapest and most powerful options in the 11.6-inch space.

One to watch out for soon: Acer Aspire Switch 11 V. A new design and Core M CPU, digitizer and 1.2 KG weight. Rumoured price is $500. Expect to hear more about this one during Computex next week.

Acer Aspire Switch 11V. Expected at Computex, 2015 (June)

Acer Aspire Switch 11V. Expected at Computex, 2015 (June)

Which one would you choose? Or are you looking for something else? Add your thoughts in the comments below.


Increase Chromebook storage speed with a USB 3.0 SSD

MyDigitalSSD M.2 SATA Enclosure connected to the Lenovo N20P
MyDigitalSSD M.2 SATA Enclosure connected to the Lenovo N20P

Local storage on Chromebooks is minimal and in some cases it’s too little. You can stream videos and music from the cloud but that’s not practical when you’re on the go so you’ll need a lot more local storage if you want to listen to a good music collection or have a wide choice of videos on planes, trains and automobiles. Some Chromebooks can be upgraded and the C720 is a great example as we found when we  we dropped a large SSD into that  but what if you don’t want to open up the back of your Chromebook or what if there’s no possibility of doing that due to soldered eMMC storage as found on many Chromebooks now? You’ve got two options. An SD card or an external drive.  We’ve completed testing some very fast and lightweight USB 3.0 SSD solutions from MyDigitalSSD that might just be perfect for your Chromebook.

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Lenovo Flex 10 SSD upgrade has great results. Recommended hack!

When I reviewed the 270-euro Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10 recently I knew it would be a great candidate for an SSD upgrade. This fanless, touchscreen hybrid is the very model of a modern casual portable laptop but it was fitted with a really poor quality hard drive that was obviously holding the system back. After completing the SSD upgrade yesterday I can report that the difference is amazing. Applications are starting in half the time, the PCMark score is up 70% and the system works as it should. No more drive activity slow-downs and a huge lift in the user experience. I’ve done a lot of SSD upgrades over the years but this one is probably the most impressive.

 Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10 (22)Lenovo Ideapad Flex 10 (19)

The Lenovo Flex 10 has a 270-degree fold-back screen. Stand-mode is very useful.

I’ve dropped a MydigitalSSD BP4 in as a test (I had it from a previous test I did with an Acer V5) but you can shop around for a good deal. On Amazon.com there’s an offer on the 7mm 128GB Sandisk SSD that would be perfect for this. $69.99 is a great deal. [Affiliate link.]

Facebook-20140606-122156Over 40X improvement in the very important 4K write speed. Superb result!

In a PCMark test the device scored 70% better. 1521 with HDD, 2579 with SSD. Application start-up times are drastically reduced. DriftMania started in 10 seconds compared to 21 seconds with the HDD. Lenovo Photo Show started in 5 seconds (11 with HDD.) Facebook, IE, Chrome and Paint also started about twice as quick. Battery life has probably been improved too but I haven’t tested it yet. Considering the heat that was generated by the HDD and the time it took to get things done there’s going to be a clear real-world difference in how much you can get done on this. Silent operation is a dream too. I’ve connected a USB3.0 docking station and I’m writing this with external screen, keyboard and mouse and it’s a very nice way to write.


Inside the Flex 10. RAM is soldered. No fans. Disk and WiFi module are easy to remove

How to upgrade to SSD on the Lenovo Flex 10

To do the upgrade you’ll need a USB recovery drive (create using Windows 8 tools on a 16GB USB stick or CDROM.) I chose to use an external USB 2.5-inch SATA adapter so that I could do all the imaging on a faster PC. Obviously you will lose your warranty and there’s a possibility of failure or breakage so take care and own the risk!

  • Reduce partition size on C: to bring total disk size into range of SSD. Use Windows 8 disk manager to shrink the volume. (Ideally do a system restore to factory setup beforehand.)
  • Remove back of Lenovo Flex 10. This is a little tricky. Two screws are hidden under the rubber feet and one has a seal that will need to be broken. You lose your warranty at this point. You can use a thumbnail to carefully prise the unit apart. It takes time and care, especially at the front corners, but it’s certainly not a sealed unit.
  • Remove hard disk. It’s an easy 4-screw removal process. (Note: You can upgrade the WiFi too. The basic 2.4Ghz single channel unit has good reception but would benefit from a dual-channel upgrade IMO.)
  • Put hard disk in 2.5-inch USB3.0 adapter.
  • Take Acronis TrueImage disk image of hard drive. (Took 40 minutes on a fast SSD-based Ultrabook  using free 30–day trial.)
  • Remove drive from adapter and store with care
  • Insert SSD into adapter.
  • TrueImage disk copy the saved image to the SSD drive. (You might get an error saying it won’t boot but you can ignore that.)
  • Remove disk from adapter and install in Lenovo Flex 10
  • Enjoy


There are still clear limits with this setup. The Lenovo Flex 10 doesn’t have a powerful CPU and that shows itself when you start using browser-based apps. Google Drive and the associated productivity apps won’t be much fun (Chromebooks are way more suited to this) but I suspect the free Office Home and Student will be a far better experience. GPU and video decoding power is pretty good though so you’ll be able to watch 1080p videos and play Windows 8 RT games without any issues. XBMC and Openelec work well. Read my full review, or my summary review video for more detail.

I’m a huge fan of the 270-degree fold-back screen (more so than the 360-degree fold-back) and a huge fan of ‘lightweight’ computing. Based on what I’ve seen with the Flex 10 there’s scope for Lenovo to make a seriously useful Flex 11 with a quad-core Baytrail-M and a low-cost 64GB SSD.  Until then though, this Flex 10 SSD upgrade has created an extremely well-balanced hybrid netbook that covers a wide range of activities. I’m keeping it.

Budget Windows 8 + SSD laptops must keep-up with Chromebooks

We’ve got some great Windows 8 tablets out there with relatively fast SSDs that are costing less than Chromebooks. If you look at the Acer Switch 10 and ASUS Transformer Book T100 you’ve even got a 2-in-1 with touch and SSD at well under $400 but what about a basic Windows laptop, with an SSD? Nope, you won’t find one. Chromebooks dominate with this specification, offer great performance per dollar and they’re selling well. Windows laptops need to do the same.

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How To Survive with 32GB Storage on Windows 8.1 Tablets and Laptops

32GB SSDs are popular on some of the lower-cost Windows 8 tablets and 2-in-1’s and the new wave of $200-$250 netbooks and laptops but after the operating system is installed and the device is updated that 32GB partition can leave just 10GB free. As time goes by, increasing storage usage will eventually leave you with an unusable Windows 8 PC. To make that space more manageable there are things you can do to increase the capacity and to reduce the rate at which that space is used. Please also note that there is an important security-related caveat.

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MyDigitalSSD OTG USB SSD Review. Perfect for Mobile Windows.

MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (9)

The MyDigitalSSD OTG is a special kind of USB drive. It’s not only small and light but it’s the fastest ‘USB’ drive we’ve ever tested. How does 381MB/s sound? OK, it’s not exactly a standard USB flash drive because inside this pocket rocket is a ‘real’ SSD and controller. The USB3.0 interface ensures that it can reach those high speeds. Not only is it fast but it’s light, silent, relatively rugged and requires no external power, even on the small 8-inch Windows tablets. It also appears as a ‘drive’ rather than removable USB storage so you can do a lot more with it in terms of partitioning and booting.

In this test we’ve done some speed tests using a fast USB3.0 and SSD Ultrabook, the same using the Toshiba Encore WT8 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet over USB2.0 and then we tested it as a restore, image, archiving and storage drive.


  • Available in 64GB, 128GB, 256GB versions
  • Toshiba 19nm Toggle Flash
  • Phison SATA 6G controller
  • USB3.0 interface with UASP (USB Attached SCSI Protocol) support
  • Theoretical transfer 450Mb/s
  • SSD, OTG, Drive, SCSI, Light, rugged, 240GB, No external power, silent and fast.
  • Supports USB Mass Storage protocol
  • No additional power required (or even possible!)

MyDigitalSSD OTG 256GB Images


MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (8)MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (10)

MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (11)MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (12)

MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (13)


Disk partitioning for tests

The MyDigitalSSD drive was partitioned by us as below. The Recovery partition was created during a Windows 8 recovery drive creation process. Test were performed on the second partition.

Disk layout

MydigitialSSD OTG 256GB CrystalMark


Test 1 – Intel Ultrabook

The test Ultrabook has a Core i5 Haswell CPU, fast SSD (Intel M.2. SATA) storage, USB3.0 interface.


Test 2 – Windows 8.1 Tablet

The Toshiba Encore WT8 Windows 8.1 tablet has USB2.0 and eMMC memory with a maximum speed of around 100MB/s and could form a bottleneck with the USB2.0 limitations.


Clearly the OTG drive works best on a USB3.0-capable system but the write speeds on the Baytrail-T system are up there with the internal drive speeds.


MyDigitialSSD OTG 256GB File Copy Speed


Test 1 – Intel Ultrabook

The test Ultrabook has a Core i5 Haswell CPU, fast SSD (Intel M.2. SATA) storage, USB3.0 interface.


Internal drive to external drive. (Write to OTG drive)

Average transfer speed 220MB/s

internal to external. Two files 1,054,496,308 bytes

External drive to internal drive. (Read from OTG drive)

Average transfer speed, 175MB/s

External to internal. Two files 1,054,496,308 bytes

File self copy

In a file copy test the transfer rate was a steady 124MB/S.



Test 2 – Windows 8.1 Tablet

The Toshiba Encore WT8 Windows 8.1 tablet has USB2.0 and eMMC memory with a maximum speed of around 100MB/s and could form a bottleneck with the USB2.0 limitations.


Internal drive to external drive. (Write to OTG drive)

Average transfer speed, 35MB/s

wt8tx1int to ext

External drive to internal drive. (Read from OTG drive)

Average transfer speed, 35MB/s


File self copy

In a file copy test the transfer rate was a steady 11MB/S.


Summary of speed tests.

Clearly a USB3.0 interface and fast internal SSD makes a huge difference to the transfer speeds and there’s an argument that the MyDigitalSSD OTG speed is more than is required for a Windows 8.1 tablet. Consider, however, that some tablets do have a USB3.0 interface, fast internal SSDs and also consider the ability to copy at high speeds to SSD-based Ultrabooks. The MyDigitalSSD OTG drive is not just about speeds though…


Hard Drive, Not USB Flash.

MyDigitalSSD have a second line of USB3.0 SSDs in the PocketVault range. They’re cheaper and slower, which matches the requirements for simple file storage quite well. What they don’t offer though is the ‘drive’ feature of the OTG rage. PocketVault products are removable ‘mass storage devices’ which means Windows 8 treats them oike USB flash drives. You can’t partition them just as you can’t partition a USB stick without performing some tricks. Windows also won’t let you write a disk image to a USB drive, even it’s as big and fast as the PocketVaults. The OTG drive is different. It acts as an external SCSI drive and as such can be partitioned and used in ways that a USB flash drive can’t.

Using the MyDigitalSSD OTG as a Windows Tablet boot, image, archive and storage drive.

In this test we wanted to see if the OTG could be used for three important functions in Windows 8 disk and file management. Given that many of the low-cost Windows 8.1 tablets only have small 32 or 64GB internal drives there are good reasons why you might want to use an external drive as the recovery partition. Saving a full disk image and acting as the File History destination is also possible. Here’s how we tested it.

First we used the Windows 8 ‘Create a recovery drive’ function which created a 32GB FAT partition, installed the boot files and added the recovery partition allowing a Windows 8 tablet to be booted and repaired or even returned to factory build.

After the recovery drive was complete we used the Windows 8 disk manager to create an NTFS partition in the remaining space.

Once the space had been turned into an NTFS partition we used the, slightly hidden, disk imaging feature in Windows 8. [Press the Windows Key and ‘s’ and then type “File History”. Select ‘File History’ under the search box and you’ll see this…


Once the system has scanned for drives (which takes a few seconds) you’ll see the ‘System Image Backup’ option in the bottom left. Select that and you’ll be prompted to choose an external drive (choose the new NTFS partition on the external SSD) and you can create an image. Image creation took us about 10 minutes.


In this window you can also turn on File History which archives your personal files against date. This is more than just backup, there’s an element of file versioning with this service. Select the USB SSD and Windows 8 will start to copy personal files across. You can remove the drive and insert it whenever you want to get an updated snapshot of your files. A drive can be used for multiple devices and can be shared over the Homegroup as a recommended File History drive. (Note you’ll need to keep the tablet powered and the screen on if you want this storage to be continuously usable.) As a NAS the Toshiba WT8 was registering under 3W of power usage (low screen brightness) which is incredibly energy efficient.

At this stage we had a recovery disk, a full disk image, personal file archiving and 170GB of storage space, all running on a lightweight external SSD that requires no additional power.

We tested a full disk restore and it worked without any problems in about 15 minutes. In the image below you can see the key request for the encrypted drive we had on our WT8.

You can boot into recovery by pressing power-on and the volume up button on the Toshiba WT8 until the recovery menu appears (This also works on other Baytrail-T Windows 8.1 tablets.)


Note that if you use full disk file encryption on your Windows 8 tablet the files copied externaly, including the disk image, are not encrypted on the USB drive.

When you perform any of these operations make sure you have a good level of battery (20% or more) because in many cases the Windows 8.1 tablets only charge over the same USB port being used for the drive!

We haven’t deleted the recovery partition on our Toshiba WT8 as part of this test yet but are planning to do that for a separate article. Update: We have now tested this and it worked without any issues. Video coming soon.

Note that under Windows 8.1 you can set the OTG to be the default place to store videos, images and music.

Screenshot (5)


Other Uses:

Given the speed of this drive there would be no problem using it as a USB-bootable OS. Windows To Go has not been tested and we don’t see any certification for that but it should be possible. Linux run-from-USB builds should also run well on this product.

Build quality.

Build quality and design is rather unappealing. Hard plastic is used all over but it does feel solid. A blue activity light shows then the unit is being accessed. The USB3.0 adaptor cable is around 6-inches long.  We used a USB3.0 to micro USB adaptor to attach the drive to our Windows 8.1 tablet test device.



MiDigitalSSD USB SSD (7)


The unit was supplied by MyDigitalSSD for review so we haven’t had to put down our hard earned money on this but at $169.99 for the 256 GB version on Amazon.com it’s clearly very well priced. A 128GB version is $99.99 and the 64GB version is $64.99.

MyDigitalSSD OTG (256GB) [Buy through our Affiliate link]


We’ve reviewed the MyDigitalSSD here through speed tests but also as a Windows 8.1 tablet companion because of its light weight, ability to run without additional power and ‘drive’ capability but clearly, given the high speeds, this would also make a perfect companion storage device for an SSD-based Ultrabook as a recovery drive, file archiving drive and additional storage space. The device could have been made a lot more attractive and we’d love to see it shipped with a Micro-USB adaptor for all the new Windows 8.1 tablets but given the pricing and features we think we can handle these two issues.  MyDigitalSSD have a very useful mobile storage product in the OTG.

Enable Bitlocker on an Ultrabook (Without Windows 8.1 Pro)

bitlockerimageI’ve been using a Bitlocker encrypted drive for a month now and it’s been totally transparent in terms of speed. I’m surprised. I’m also surprised that it was available on my Windows 8.1 (not Pro) OS. Inspired to boost security on my Ultrabook I’ve also enabled secure boot, increased the security level, made sure Defender and Firewall are working and, this is contentious, made sure my login is only via Windows Live account so the password can be changed remotely. Given the reporting and password / device management in the Microsoft Live account though, it seems worth it. Here’s how you can do it too.

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MyDigitalSSD BP4 Review and Upgrade How-To


MyDigitalSSD sent over two of their BulletProof 4 SSDs for testing recently so I immediately took the opportunity to upgrade an  older Toshiba Z830 Ultrabook. The difference was noticeable, but not as noticeable as the upgrade on the Acer Aspire V5-122P– an AMD-based low-cost Windows 8 touchscreen sub-notebook which was running a 500GB spinning hard drive. The difference has been amazing! I also attempted to upgrade the Samsung Series 5 but had some problems with that due to the method I used. Details on that below along with performance tests, images, tips and videos.

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iSuppli : 45 Million Ultrabook Storage Solutions to Ship in 2013.

P1140740In a report issued yesterday, iSuppli is predicting that 45 million SSD, cache SSD and Hyrid HDD solutions will ship for Ultrabooks and ultrathins in 2013 indicating a huge 4X jump over 2012. Isuppli is predicting that despite a contraction of the PC market but that a flattening off of interest for ‘superthins’ will ‘take-off’ in the second half of 2013.

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Dell Inspiron 15Z Touch, Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch. Double Unboxing (and drop test!)


The Dell Inspiron 15Z Touch is here for a review (with an Nvidia GT630M GPU) and out of the blue, a Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch (with SSD) turned up today too so as is the law around these parts, I unboxed them for you. Actually I took 15 minutes to take a good look at both and, ahem, dropped the Samsung Series 5 in the process!

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New mSATA SSD’s from Intel introduced

Intel has announced a new Intel SSD 525 series of mSATA SSD’s which boast a number of features like AES encryption, 6 GB/s performance and a wide range of storage capacities.


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Clovertrail Convertible vs Ultrabook in Application Performance Test


For some people it’s more important to be mobile with all-day, all-scenario capability at the expense of processing power or speed. For others, the most important thing is to be able to carry desktop power. Intel Atom and Intel Core separate these two areas of computing cleanly but how big is the difference in platform performance? I took the chance to test the Acer W510 alongside an Ultrabook convertible – the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist. Both devices have strengths, and weaknesses.

A copy of this article also appears on our sister site, Ultrabooknews.

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