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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  • rangerdavid - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Soldered-on is pretty standard in these thin form-factors. Yes, 6 or 8 would be nice, but removable means thicker in most cases. No pun intended. Wait, no; intended.
  • blueboy11 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    LOL! Yeah, the damned soldered unremovable RAM that should've been upgraded to 8GB in the first place! What the hell where they thinking in the first place? Oh wait, they weren't!!
  • MobiusStrip - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - link

    Just because a rip-off has become standard doesn't mean we should accept it.

    Apple has led the way in degrading its computers with soldered-in RAM, glued-together chassis and now shitty laptop drives in its desktop computers. We should not give them or any other manufacturer a free pass on this crap.
  • PeteH - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - link

    I honestly don't think manufacturers are doing things like soldering down RAM to rip people off, I think they're doing it because that's the only way to get the form factor.

    The problem is that consumers continue to endorse trading flexibility for pretty industrial design (based on what they buy). Manufacturers are just giving the consumers what they want, and it's hard to fault them for it.
  • Ninhalem - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    When do you need more than 4 GB of RAM? If this is used as a non-gaming notebook I don't think you will ever need more than 4 GB for a regular notebook (the HD 4000 already guarantees that this isn't a gaming oriented notebook).

    I'm running a desktop at the moment with only 4 GB of RAM with about 5 applications open (including Adobe running a big file) and only using about 1.7 GB.

    Actually this notebook is a slam dunk for me. I've been crawling the internet for a notebook with these specs for my father to use as a research (history) tool when he goes overseas.

    I just don't think the perception of 4GB is not enough is viable here.
  • halo37253 - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Tell me what you need more then 4gb of ram for?

    I have 6GB of RAM in my main system and have never had a program fill it other then p95 while stressing. Really unless the user is running VM crazy or is going crazy in some adobe program I think the user is more then set with 4gb.

    RAM does not make your PC faster if you don't need it, no one using a laptop like this with no GPU to load advance compute or even games onto. Though even for gaming you don't need more then 4gb.

    4GB in my gaming HTPC and 6GB in my main system, both always has RAM left.

    I would rather have them take the 256gb SSD out of this laptop and toss in a 128gb m-sata chip and toss in a HDD for user storage. For SSD you only need some apps and OS on your SSD. Pretty much all user files in the c:\users\yourname can be moved onto the HDD for more storage. Do the same thing with my laptop and desktop, but with sata SSD not msata. No point to have movies, music, games installed onto the SSD.
  • themossie - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Chrome can easily use more than 4 gigs of ram with a minimal set of extensions.

    6 gigs used right now (2 more cached) out of 8 gb on my old Arrandale Studio XPS 16. Notepad++ and two web browsers with 50 tabs open, flash disabled and minimal extensions.

    How could I upgrade to a machine with less RAM? Many people can sacrifice processing power for battery life and form factor, but not RAM - especially given how cheap it is these days.
  • themossie - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Also - 4 years ago (early 2009), the entry-level config of the earliest version of my laptop (Core 2 Duo) came with 4 gigs of ram.

    It had the same $1100 MSRP at the time, though definitely not an ultrabook - weighing 2.5 lbs more:-)
  • seapeople - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - link

    Browsers allocate far more memory than they actually use, and are programmed to trim this allocation with virtually no impact to performance once the memory is needed elsewhere in the system.

    So even though your Chrome may routinely report a use of 4-6 gb on your 8 gb system, if you only had a 4 gb system then Chrome would likely purr along just the same while using only 2-3 gb of RAM. Perhaps once every four days when you switch over to tab number 80 it will take 2 seconds for Chrome to pull up the picture at the bottom of the page on this tab, which you would only even notice if you switched to that tab and immediately hit Ctrl-End.

    Not to mention that hibernating a system with 8 gb of RAM will take significantly longer than one with 4 gb of RAM...
  • cbf - Thursday, February 14, 2013 - link

    Software Development.

    Visual Studio, local ASP.NET server (for debugging), and connection to large databases.

    Also, certain CAD work. Normally one would say you need a workstation class laptop with Quadra or FirePro onboard, but frankly Intel HD4000 graphics is pretty close to where mobile Quadra or FirePro was a few years ago, and works OK with a lot of CAD packages now.

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