As Black Friday approaches and everyone readies their wallet for the next big holiday deal, remember that it's getting increasingly difficult to spot good laptop innards from, well, less ideal ones. We've made this point before with the most frequent culprit of the Black Friday Doorbuster...the Celeron processor. Many 15-inch laptops that are advertised at about $300 or less are practically guaranteed to have this elderly single-core CPU at its core, but in the case of the Celeron, all you have to do is keep an eye out for that Celeron sticker on the display model.
More sneaky is the world of ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processors. Designed as slower-running, more power-efficient CPUs ideal for thin-and-light ultraportables, they can help extend battery life while still affording better-than-Netbook performance, especially in their dual-core form.
However, Intel's Core 2 ULVs get slapped with a "Core 2 Duo" sticker on their packaging, and can easily be confused for more powerful Core 2 Duo processors that can run at much faster speeds. While thin-and-light laptops won't often be confused for full-sized laptops, a few of the larger laptop bodies out there are being packaged with ULVs. A case in point is the Asus UL50AG, which we recently reviewed.
It's a trim, well-designed 15-inch laptop with an optical drive (DVD burner) and smooth lines, but the Intel processor inside doesn't run much better than Asus' slimmer, smaller ultraportables, including their UL30A. The savings in price might not be worth it if you want power over looks--for instance, the Toshiba A505-S6980 is cheaper, has a longer battery life and a faster processor, but weighs more and is much thicker. Still, that doesn't seem like a bad trade-off for a larger laptop that you probably will keep on your desk most of the time.
How do you know what you're getting? Check the specs on the box (a 1.3Ghz-speed processor is most likely a ULV), and, of course, read reviews whenever possible. Our recommendation is that you aim for a ULV processor at 13 inches and under (especially if you want a long battery life over performance), and a regular, non-ULV Core 2 Duo for anything larger.