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How to pick the best values in Ultraportable PCs

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Thinner and lighter than your average notebook, an ultraportable laptop is capable of cramming all the computing power you need in a footprint no bigger than a hardcover book. However, in addition to their luxe looks, these sub 4-pound notebooks are notorious for their sky-high price tags. Here are our suggestions for how to configure an ultraportable that delivers the most value for your money, with some examples that under a grand ... some well under.

Features to Skip
Optical Drive: Having a built-in optical drive will let you play the occasional DVD, but we're living in an age of digital downloads where on-demand sites like Joost and Hulu can keep you entertained for free. For movie portability, pack an iPod. Need to install software? Most of today's major apps, like Microsoft Office, can be downloaded online, and even vendors like newegg.com have special sections on their homepages for downloadable software. Save a few bucks (and some weight) by opting for an ultraportable sans DVD burner.

Solid State Memory: Toshiba charges an additional $850 for its SSD, whereas Apple will gouge you $999 for theirs. Solid State Drives (SSD) may be all the rage amongst computer manufacturers, but these anemic drives have yet to live up to their promises. Sure, they can add some extra run time to your battery (since there are no moving parts inside a solid state drive), but are these drives worth the extra money and smaller storage space capacity? Save your cash instead and wait for prices on these drives to stabilize.

Save Money On
Processor: Having Intel's new miniaturized 45-nanometer Core 2 Duo processor inside your ultraportable doesn't necessarily make it better. Opt for an Intel Core Solo or Core 2 Duo processor instead. Your system will still blaze through everyday apps and you'll save some cash in the process.

Brand: Apple and Sony might have the flashiest ultraportables, but that doesn't mean they offer the best value. Other manufacturers like Averatec and Asus make ultraportables that are just as good, if not better, than their pricier alternatives. It'll take more work to find stores that carry their products, but the extra effort will be worth the extra dollars saved.

Software: Cutting back on software is a simple way to make an expensive laptop a little more economical. We recommend buying a bare bones system and then looking for free apps like Adaware and ZoneAlarm to replace costlier (and oftentimes bloated) anti-spyware programs. Or download OpenOffice and get a free office suite with dedicated programs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. Oftentimes you can also save money by choosing Windows XP over pricier versions of Windows Vista. Dell Home even lets you choose systems with Ubuntu built-in, saving you even more money.

Recommended Models
Asus Eee PC
Weighing 32 ounces, the ASUS Eee PC 2G Surf Celeron M 800MHz 7" Widescreen Notebook ($299.99 + $0 s&h at Amazon.com) is the lightest and most affordable laptop you can find. It ditches Windows XP for a Linux-based operating system and crams a 2GB flash drive, built-in 802.11b/g, a 7" LCD, and an 800MHz Intel CPU in a laptop you can comfortably take on the road. Add storage cheaply with a USB flash drive. Sure, it's no MacBook Air, but you can buy six Eee PCs for the cost of one MacBook Air.

Everex CloudBook
Thanks to its power-efficient VIA C7-M ULV processor, the 2-lb. Everex CloudBook ($399 + $0 s&h at CircuitCity.com) can last for a marathon-like 5 hours on a single charge. This Starbucks-friendly laptop (802.11g wireless is built-in) features a 7" LCD and runs Google's gOS. It also sports a 4-in-1 memory card reader, 30GB hard drive, and a built-in webcam.

Update: We erroneously reported that gOS was a Google product. While it incorporates a number of Google applications, it was developed by Good OS, not Google.

Dell XPS M1330
Need a bigger screen? The 4-lb. Dell XPS M1330 Core 2 Duo 1.66GHz 12" Widescreen Notebook ($999 + $0 s&h at Dell Home) features a bigger 1280x800 LCD along with a faster 1.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 processor, which provides more than enough horsepower for everyday needs.

Louis Ramirez is a dealnews Features Editor who refuses to travel with anything but an ultraportable.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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