Last year was very eventful in the notebook world. Beyond the UX upheaval brought on by Windows 8 and the blurring of the line between notebooks and tablets, we’ve seen two high-profile entrants to the realm of notebook PC hardware, Razer and Vizio. Both are well established tech companies that have experience shipping high-quality products in their respective gaming and HDTV market areas. This type of thing doesn’t happen very often, and while it’s not on the level of Microsoft jumping into the PC hardware ring, it’s an interesting trend to note.

Contrary to Razer’s focused, single-device launch targeting the gaming market, Vizio jumped into the mainstream PC game head first, debuting three different products—an Ultrabook, a notebook, and an all-in-one. Given Vizio’s history of delivering solid, high-resolution LCD HDTVs on a budget, these systems were pretty highly anticipated, with cutting edge industrial design and high-grade style on a relative budget, but definitely had some usability issues at launch. After the Windows 8 update though, it seemed like some of those issues would be fixed and the post-holiday sales have made them very tempting options in the ultraportable space. Today we’ll be looking at their Thin+Light Ultrabook, which is available in 14” and 15.6” sizes. Ours is the top-spec CT15, which comes with a 15.6” 1080p IPS display panel, an ultra-low voltage Core i7, 4GB of memory, and a 256GB solid state drive.

Vizio Thin+Light CT15-A5 Specifications
Processor Intel i7-3517U
(Dual-core 1.90-3.00GHz, 4MB L3, 22nm, 17W)
Chipset HM76
Memory 4GB DDR3-1333
Note: RAM is not user upgradeable
Graphics Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, up to 1150MHz)
Display 15.6" WLED Matte 16:9 1080p (1920x1080)
(LG Display LGD037E)
Storage 256GB Toshiba THNSNS256GMCP
Optical Drive N/A
Networking 802.11n 2.4/5GHz WiFi (Qualcomm Atheros AR5B22)
Bluetooth 4.0
Audio Realtek ALC269
Stereo Speakers
Headphone/Microphone combo jack
Battery/Power 6-cell, 52Wh Li-poly
65W Max AC Adapter
Front Side N/A
Left Side Headphone/Microphone jack
1 x USB 3.0
AC Power Connection
Right Side 1 x USB 3.0
Back Side N/A
(Exhaust vent located on bottom)
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Dimensions 14.9" x 9.9" x 0.68" (WxDxH)
(378.5mm x 251.5mm x 17.3mm)
Weight 3.89 lbs (1.77kg)
Extras HD Webcam
Warranty 1-year limited warranty
Price $1199 MSRP
Starting at $904 online (02/13/2013)

It’s a pretty solid spec, even at the relatively high $1199 MSRP, especially when you consider that an equivalently configured Samsung Series 9 Ultra 15” retails for a hair under $1800, with double the RAM but a smaller and lower resolution 15.0” 900p PLS display. The thing is that we’ve seen the CT15 go on a clearance-like sale at the Microsoft Store (and online store) for $799, after a holiday season full of sales—the CT14 has been as low as $649 in the past, though this is the lowest we’ve seen the 15” thus far. That sale appears to have ended (it's no longer listed on MIcrosoft's online store), but it’s also selling pretty freely in the $900 range at Amazon. Even including taxes and shipping, it’s an excellent deal for the hardware involved.

Both the high-end Vizio and Samsung SKUs come with the low-end Core i7 ULV, the i7-3517U, which is clocked at 1.90GHz and turbos up to an even 3.0GHz. As with most Ultrabooks, the graphics are handled by Intel’s on-die HD4000. In the i7-3517U, that means a base clock of 350MHz, and a max turbo of 1.15GHz. The only downer is that the Vizio maxes out at 4GB of non-upgradeable memory. Laptops these days just aren’t meant to come apart easily and many manufacturers have chosen the route of soldered memory in recent times, so this is nothing new, but I think the lack of an 8GB configuration is a pretty unfortunate oversight. In fact, we'd rather see 4GB go away and have 8GB-only SKUs than the reverse, considering the cost of RAM is so cheap.

The selection of ports onboard is pretty disappointing as well—two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, an audio in/out combo jack, and power. That’s it. The one omission that really bothered me was an SD card slot, though I’d love to see another USB port as well. I’m someone who can more than live with the lack of stuff like Ethernet and a Kensington lock, but this is a pretty slim assortment.

It’s worth noting that we’ve been shown the successor to this generation of Vizio notebooks already, which is what is driving down the price right now. The successor to this notebook is a quad-core, touchscreen variant with essentially the same chassis except slightly thicker to incorporate the touch digitizer and thicker aluminum panels for better build quality. Those will hit the market sometime this spring for roughly the same $1200 MSRP of the high-end CT15 we’re reviewing. (It will also technically not qualify as an Ultrabook given the use of a quad-core standard voltage CPU, not that it really matters.)

The CT15 at $900 has a lot of value. We’ve seen a dilution of the Ultrabook class with the second generation of devices; now essentially every thin and light machine in the $600-plus range is either an Ultrabook or closely related to one. HP has the Envy 4 and 6 Sleekbooks, featuring both AMD and Intel processors, some of which qualify for Ultrabook status based on processor and storage configurations. Samsung’s Series 5 follows this same trend, with the NP530 being an Intel-based Ultrabook and the NP535 using the same chassis with AMD silicon. It’s simply cheaper for companies to design one thin-and-light notebook chassis and spec it up or down to meet the various price points. This gives the manufacturers a lot of flexibility, but it also has led to a lot of poor designs and/or mediocre specs in notebooks bearing the Ultrabook label. It’s all too common at the $700 pricepoint to find plastic-bodied ULV i3 and i5 systems with mechanical hard drives, small SSD caches, and poor quality displays (touch or otherwise), all marketed under the Ultrabook brand.

The CT15 is truly a premium Ultrabook class machine though, with a completely aluminum chassis and an IPS display in addition to the fully solid state storage solution. At $900, this is fantastic on paper. Does that impression hold up in real life?

Vizio Thin+Light CT15: Design
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  • althaz - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    I'm on my lunch break and my machine is currently using ~5.2Gb of RAM. 8Gb is the realistic minimum for a lot of people.

    4Gb is ok if you don't want to do any multitasking, but I pretty much always have a couple of browsers, Visual Studio, Photoshop and Notepad++ open, so for me it's the more the merrier (I have 16Gb at home, which is probably overkill).

    The 4Gb of RAM is also the only qualm I have about buying a Surface Pro (but I'll probably still pick one up, I'm not likely to have VS and PS open at once there).
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    See, the problem with that though is that there is a more than established precedent for $1200 ultrabooks with 4GB of memory. Everyone from Samsung to ASUS to Microsoft to Apple to (I could continue). So while complaints are more than warranted (I can think of at least two places in which I voiced displeasure about it) you really can't rake them over the coals without indicting the entire industry.

    Which isn't necessarily unwarranted, but a bit out of place in a product review like this. Especially when I, as someone who uses ultrabooks as primary machines, haven't had a single issue with a 4GB RAM limit or even close. 128GB SSD is far more limiting than 4GB of memory on both my Zenbook Prime as well as my Surface Pro.

    The battery life is a direct trade-off for the display. Vizio should have seen it coming and specced a bigger battery, but from an evaluation standpoint you'd be surprised how much you're willing to overlook when a system is clean, responsive, and has a great display. Find me another 15" machine anywhere near the $900 mark that comes anywhere close to the Vizio's areas of core competency. It's a surprisingly rare combination in today's world.
  • nerd1 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Apple still sells non-retina macbook pro at $1199 - with 1280*800 TN screen, 4GB ram and 5400rpm mechanical HDD.

    It is plain absurd to bash this bargain laptop for the ram alone. And I doubt any 'serious' user will use this laptop for their main workhorse either. Get a real desktop with real GPU. (Or a gaming laptop / mobile workstation if you really want to work on go)
  • Homeles - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    "I can't run my weather forecasting simulations on this ultrabook! This ultrabook sucks!"

    I can't believe how clueless these people are. This thing is not a workstation. It's an ultraportable laptop computer. Sacrifices have to be made in oder to cut down on weight and to shrink the size of the device. That means upgradability goes out the window. That means lower performance.

    It'd make just as much sense to complain about why I can't upgrade the GPU to a GTX 690.
  • themossie - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Non-upgradable? These aren't high-performance machines, yes.

    But the price difference for the company to have 8 gigs of RAM is certainly under $30. If the customer can't fix it later, do it right the first time :-)
  • seapeople - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - link

    Ever consider that maybe the user experience is BETTER on this laptop with 4gb of RAM vs 8gb?

    Advantages of 4gb RAM:
    1. Hibernate and recover from hibernate are faster
    2. Less drive space wasted on the hibernation file
    3. Better battery life (important for this laptop, no?)

    Disadvantages of 4gb RAM:
    1. You can't run weather simulations
    2. If you multitask heavily with VS, Note++++++++, VM's, 1000+ tabs open, then switching to an application may require a page hit from the SSD (ogh noes, not the SSD, those are so slow nowadays!)
    3. You lose nerd cred in the dorms
  • blueboy11 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Agreed. Hell, my current laptop uses 6GB of RAM, and it's 3 years old...What gives? The panel on this laptop is totally worth the price to pay, along with the standard HDMI, which sadly I don't have on my laptop. I fell in love with the display that my aunt had on her laptop and it was an anemic PENTIUM processor at that. Why did others not follow this route with the display, sure it wasn't IPS, but it sure was a hell of a step up from what others and my display is. I would've took it any day!!!
  • aguilpa1 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Why is a dual core i7 not just an i5 since it is just a dual core? Is it because it has HT? Hyperthreading has been around along time and seems artificial to me to not make it available on the i5 chips.
  • arthur449 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Because Intel's marketing department is evil and they're getting back at consumers because we use engineering codenames such as Ivy Bridge and Haswell rather than 3rd Generation Core architecture.
  • VivekGowri - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    With ultra-low voltage parts, the distinction between i5 and i7 is that the latter has been binned for higher clock speeds and higher turbo frequencies essentially. Both have hyper-threading (2C/4T); it's the i3 that really gets hosed due to lack of turbo.

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