Revenge of the laptop: HP, Dell, Samsung, show how light a laptop can get

Toss the tablet?  Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Dell, and others are showing that the laptop is back with the lightest designs yet.

Call it the revenge of the laptop.

A couple of years back the conventional wisdom was that the tablet was going to consign the laptop to slow but steady obscurity.

That’s changing now. HP, Samsung, and Dell, among others, are showing that a laptop can be almost as sleek and light as a tablet.  And, of course, while doing all of those mouse-and-keyboard things (what marketing folk call “productivity”) a laptop has always done.

That’s the focus of innovation for laptop makers now, said Gurpreet Kaur, an analyst at market research firm Gap Intelligence in San Diego.

“[It’s] how [to] make the laptop smaller, slimmer, aesthetically more appealing to ward off competition from tablets,” she said.

HP’s new Elitebook Folio 1020 Special Edition tries to do just that at a mere 2.2 pounds.  That’s lighter than Apple’s lightest MacBook Air (the 11-inch model) and only about 0.5 pounds more than Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 tablet. 

But HP manages to squeeze in a high resolution (2,560 x 1,440) 12.5-inch display and most of the essential connectors such as HDMI, USB, and MicroSD.  HP has whittled down the weight by using a chassis that is made from forged magnesium-lithium alloy and carbon fiber.

And, to make it even more like a tablet, there are no fans.  HP, with help from chip giant Intel, has jettisoned the processor-cooling fans – standard equipment on any laptop to date.  That’s important because whirring fans can run down the battery and often require venting systems that add to a laptop’s thickness.  In short, a design sans fans is a big reason that tablets have a portability and battery-life edge over laptops.

Intel makes this possible with its newest 5th-Generation Core M processor, the first mainstream Intel chip to allow fanless laptops.

Samsung has an even lighter design – at 2.1 pounds – in the fanless laptop category, the ATIV Book 9, 2015 model. Like the HP Elitebook, it taps Intel’s Core M processor, comes with a 12-inch-class high-resolution display (2,560 x 1,600), and sports USB 3.0 and micro HDMI connectors.

Dell, for its part, is making a play for the tablet-touting consumer too, but in a slightly larger 13-inch design.  Its just-released 2015 version of the XPS 13 – a traditional clamshell design – starts at 2.6-pounds.  While that’s a bit heavier than the HP and Samsung offerings, the overall size of the XPS 13 is stunningly compact, approaching the size of an 11- or 12-inch laptop.

Dell does this by using an extremely thin display bezel, allowing it to reduce the overall size of the laptop.  And Dell reduces the weight by using materials like carbon fiber.

Last but certainly not least is Apple.  The rumor mill has been in overdrive about a new MacBook Air design – expected in the coming months – that is even thinner and lighter than the current 11-inch MacBook Air (about 2.4 pounds).  It is also expected to be fanless and offer the portability of a tablet.

Will Apple, as usual, set the standard in this new tablet-killer category?  We’ll know soon enough.  Meanwhile, HP, Samsung, and Dell are leading the way.