What’s So Ultra About the Ultrabook?

We’re pretty well on into the 21st century, and while we don’t live in domed cities on Mars or have personal jetpacks to propel us to work every day (yet!), we do have portable, personal computers galore. Like our favorite pair of shoes, it’s hard for many of us to imagine leaving home without some form of gadget to keep us connected, on a whim, to each other and the Internet. We’ve got our tablets and notebooks and netbooks and laptops and e-book readers and smartphones, sure. And you may already be familiar with Apple’s MacBook Air, but have you heard about the Ultrabook?

Picture a laptop, but it’s ultra thin (less than 20 mm thick). It uses a lithe, flash-based SSD (solid state drive) instead of older (and heavier) CD/DVD and hard drives, so it’s also ultra light (weighing in at just a wee bit over three pounds). This combination makes the Ultrabook ultra portable, so you can carry it leisurely around the town in your backpack without getting a sore and sweaty shoulder or an aching back for your trouble. Sounds pretty rinky dink, right? Wrong. Because, aside from being ultra portable, it’s got a processor (CULV [Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage] Intel Sandy Bridge for now, with Ivy Bridge and Haswell processors projected for upcoming versions) that would be the envy of any modern desktop system and a serious graphics card that even the pickiest gamer grudgingly respects — in other words, it’s ultra powerful without sacrificing performance for size or form. Oh, and if you happen to find yourself far away from an electrical outlet for long periods of time, you’re in luck, because the Ultrabook has a battery life of five to eight hours — so it’s ultra energy efficient, too.

You might imagine that an Ultrabook, with all of its ultra features, would also be ultra expensive. But among the many seemingly contradictory surprises that this powerhouse packs, one of the nicest is that the Ultrabook is ultra affordable!

So more than simply being yet another option in the portable computer market, the Ultrabook is really an evolutionary step forward of the form itself. Why would you pay top dollar for a big, heavy, wimpy, dim, weak hunk of junk when you can spend the same amount of money you’ve set aside for a new portable computer on an Ultrabook?

While Ultrabooks are being made by several manufacturers (Acer, Asus, Lenovo, LG, Toshiba, Samsung, and HP), a system must conform to the aforementioned Intel-designated standards to carry the Ultrabook label.

In summary, let’s go over what this Ultrabook thing is all about.
What's So Ultra About the Ultrabook?

  • What is an Ultrabook? An ultra thin, ultra light, ultra portable, ultra powerful, ultra efficient, ultra affordable, next generation computer.
  • What is an Ultrabook not? It’s not a clunky, cheap “netbook.”
  • Why do we need the Ultrabook? It’s as powerful as a desktop while being lighter than a traditional laptop.
  • What’s missing? Legacy products like CD/DVD and hard drives. Solid state, for the win!
  • What’s the future? A more affordable computer for the average home or business user that doesn’t sacrifice power for portability.

When it was first unveiled at Computex 2011, Intel projected that the Ultrabook would seize 40% of the laptop market by the end of 2012. And while we’ve still got another year to see how this projection plays out, the Ultrabook has enough of an edge over its comparable competition to make such predictions seem reasonable. As a consumer, can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be happy to pay less for more?

Even among Ultrabooks, though, how do you know which one’s going to pack enough punch for your needs? For the sake of comparison, here are some of the top Ultrabook contenders out now. (Specs provided by the Intel website and Amazon.)

Acer Aspire S3

  • CPU: 2nd generation Intel Core i5, i7 processor
  • Screen Size: 13.3″, 1366 x 768
  • Weight: 3.0 lbs.
  • Responsiveness: Instant On, Instant Connect
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Battery Life: Up to 6 hours
  • Operating System: Windows 7
  • Price: Between $799.99$1,229.99

ASUS Zenbook UX21

  • CPU: 2nd generation Intel Core i3, i5, i7 processor
  • Screen Size: 11.6″, 1366 x 768
  • Weight: 2.42 lbs.
  • Responsiveness: S4 KBD (< 7 seconds)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Battery Life: Up to 5 hours
  • Operating System: Windows 7
  • Price: Between $949.45$1,238.35

ASUS Zenbook UX31

  • CPU: 2nd generation Intel Core i3, i5, i7 processor
  • Screen Size: 13.3″, 1366 x 768
  • Weight: 2.87 lbs.
  • Responsiveness: S4 KBD (< 7 seconds)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Battery Life: Up to 7 hours
  • Operating System: Windows 7
  • Price: Between $1,099.00$1,448.98

Lenovo IdeaPad U300

  • CPU: 2nd generation Intel Core i3, i5, i7 processor
  • Screen Size: 13.3″, 1366 x 768
  • Weight: 2.9 lbs.
  • Responsiveness: S4 KBD (< 7 seconds)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
  • Operating System: Windows 7
  • Price: $1,499.99

Toshiba Portégé Z830

  • CPU: 2nd generation Intel Core i3, i5, i7 processor
  • Screen Size: 13.3″, 1366 x 768
  • Weight: 2.45 lbs.
  • Responsiveness: S4 KBD (< 7 seconds)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
  • Operating System: Windows 7
  • Price: $899.95 – $1,429.00
Article Written by

Our resident "Bob" (pictured here through the lens of photographer Jason DeFillippo) is in love with a woman who talks to animals. He has a fondness for belting out songs about seafaring and whiskey (arguably inappropriate in most social situations). He's arm-wrestled robots and won. He was born in a lighthouse on the storm-tossed shores of an island that has since been washed away and forgotten, so he's technically a citizen of nowhere. He's never killed in anger. He once underwent therapy for having an alien in his face, but he assures us that he's now feeling "much better." Fogarty also claims that he was once marooned along a tiny archipelago and survived for months using only his wits and a machete, but we find that a little hard to believe.

  • darren

    hmm, i don’t really see this taking over the laptop market. Yes it’s powerful but too expensive for what you get. I think the tablet systems would be better way to to especially with fast 3g and wifi as that means if you need pure power you could always use a remote desktop app and get access to your home computer. Or with cloud computing, have all that processing power thats needed away from the device and on something that will do all the work for you. That way power intensive components won’t be needed at all thus longer battery life. The downside would be in areas with poor connectivity reaction speeds would be slower and thus potentially laggy and stuttering experience. 

    • Mssneto

      sorry pal, wifi is already in any computer, and 3g is a moden/chip away in ANY note/ultrabooks. ina tablet you have digits in your screen ( try to type any amount of text  larger than a facebook/sms in a touch screen and compare it with a solid good keyboard in your fingers ) and you will see utrabooks in the foward list of any serious user…

  • Sullivanacctg

    Biggest downside is the low resolutions that the monitors can display. For some the 1364 x 768 might be adequate, most applications that I use require much more working or viewing space to make the laptop efficient for use. Until the monitor resolutions move up to at least 1600 x 900, regardless of the computing power of the rest of the parts, they are not usable for a lot of business functions. Even though at first I did not like the tablet funtions of my first convertible tablet, for the very near future, I believe that that will be a must for business as well. We need signatures on a lot of documents, and sometimes that ability to touch the screen is highly desireable.
    For the general and entertainment consumer though, these will be big sellers.