All laptops are designed to be portable, but just how portable they are for an individual comes down to the size and weight of the machine. The smaller and lighter it is the more portable it will be but the less computing power and functionality will be placed into that computer. There are five basic categories of laptops that are available on the market: netbooks, ultraportable, thin and light, desktop replacements and luggables. Intel recently worked with manufacturers to release Ultrabooks. The first wave of these were very thin ultraportables but now they are branching out into larger screen sizes equivalent to a thin and light but thinner than usual.
The size of the laptop refers to the external physical dimensions. Of course there are other items beyond the unit itself that need to be carried as well, so this should be taken into consideration as well when looking at the computers. Netbooks have no DVD drive and many more laptops and ultrabooks are removing them as well to save on space and they aren't as required as they once were. This means that if you need this ability, then you also have to carry these external devices or a docking bay. Similarly, thin and light systems may have swappable media bays to allow you to change between a DVD and a spare battery. And of course if you need to recharge or power any of these you will also need to be carrying the power adapters.
All systems list three physical dimensions for their size: width, depth and height or thickness. The width refers to the size of the laptop frame from the left side of the keyboard deck to the right. Depth refers to the size of the system from the front of the laptop to the back panel hinge. Note that the depth may not include the additional bulk that sits behind the laptop hinge from an oversized battery. Height or thickness refers to the size from the bottom of the laptop to the back of the display when the laptop is closed. Many companies will list two measurements for thickness because the height tapers down from the back to the front of the laptop. For the About.com PC Hardware / Reviews site, thickness will always be listed as the thickest part of the chassis.
The weight of a laptop is what tends to directly impact the portability of a computer. The dimensions may determine what type of bag the computer will fit into when it is being carried but the weight is what physically impacts us the most when we carry them around. A system that is heavy will cause fatigue and strain on the individual carrying it. Any frequent traveler who has to bring a laptop around airports and hotels will attest to the fact that the lighter systems are much easier to bring along even if you don't have all the functionality of the larger systems. This is why ultraportables are very popular among business travelers while thin and lights are popular among school laptop users.
The tricky part with laptop weight specifications is what is included in the weight. Most manufacturers list just the weight of the computer with its standard battery installed. Sometimes they will list a weight range depending upon what media bay is installed in the laptop. This weight fails to include other items such as the power adapters that tend to add between one and three pounds to the computer. If possible look for a weight that is referred to as the travel weight to give a more accurate weight. This should be the weight of the laptop with its power adapters and possible media bays.
The following chart breaks down what the average physical dimensions are for the five system types mentioned. The weight listed is the weight for the laptop only and not a travel weight so expect to add one to three pounds for accessories and power adapters. The numbers listed break down to width, depth, height and weight:
- Netbook/Subnotebook: <10.5" x <1.5" x <1.3" @ <3.5 lbs
- Ultrabook: 9-13.5quot; x 8-11" x <1" @ 2-4 lbs.
- Ultraportable: 9-13" x 8-9" x <1.5" @ 2-5 lbs.
- Thin and light: 11-15" x <11" x 1-1.5" @ 4-7 lbs.
- Desktop Replacement: >15" x >11" x >1.4" @ >6 lbs.
- Luggables: >18" x >13" x >1.5" @ >10 lbs.