Ultrabooks: Windows Running Thin, Fast, and Light

If you need to carry a notebook computer all day to do work, your options were basically limited to either a 15-inch, 4+ lbs “desktop replacement” or a smaller but underpowered 10-inch netbook. Ultrabooks, the newest addition to the increasingly diversified “notebook” category, can give you the best of both worlds – they are thin, light, fast, and provide plenty of battery life. Intel created the Ultrabook category to promote computers that use their processors, are thinner than 1 inch, and are rated for 5+ hour battery life. Think a Macbook Air, but running Windows.

I’m going to go over some of the current generation and upcoming models to give you an idea of what’s available, and hopefully help you decide if an Ultrabook is right for you.

What do the current Ultrabooks offer?

The first crop of Ultrabooks is based on Intel’s 2nd generation Core processors. These debuted in late 2011 through Spring 2012, and if you bought one today it would most likely be one of these. The archtype is the Asus Zenbook series, which are available in 11- and 13-inch variants (pictured).Asus UX31E

The front edge tapers down to a thin edge, while the back is barely thicker than a USB port. Nearly all Ultrabooks utilize Solid-State Drives (SSDs), which can give you lightning-fast bootup and application launch times, as well as waking almost instantaneously from sleep or hibernation. The reduced power demands of the newer processors and SSDs yield battery run times that were previously unattainable in such a small form, typically 5 hours or longer with typical office tasks. Although there isn’t an official weight limit for the category, most Ultrabooks will barely tip the scales at well under 3lbs.

How are the upcoming Ultrabooks better?

The upcoming 2nd generation of Ultrabooks is when the form factor really hits its stride. Available for sale starting Summer 2012, these are based on the latest Intel “Ivy Bridge” processors and run cooler, faster, and draw less power. Many of the next generation models come standard with high-resolution displays, typically 1600×900 or even full HD (1920×1080), which are both higher than the recently-updated Macbook Air lineup. Ultrabook manufacturers are also adding touchscreens as part of the preparation for Windows 8, which is anticipated to launch before the end of 2012.

Some models to keep your eyes out for:

Asus Transformer Book
Asus Transformer Book
(image via slashgear)
Asus is touting this as the thinnest┬ádevice powered by Intel’s Core-i7, their fastest mobile chip; even more impressive is the fact that the Transformer Book is a Windows 8 tablet that docks into a full keyboard. You can use it as a tablet when you want the portability or dock it into the keyboard when you need to type out a paper.

Asus Zenbook Prime
Asus’ update to the original Zenbook line brings full HD (1080p) displays to both 11-inch and 13-inch models, as well as USB 3.0. The 13-inch models (UX31A) are available now for $1200 – $1500. The 11-inch models (UX21A) should be available by the end of 2012, as well as an 11-inch model with a touchscreen (UX21A Prime). There’s a in-depth review up at Anandtech and they were quite impressed by the updated model.

Lenovo Ideapad Yoga
Lenovo Ideapad Yoga
(image via engadget)
This isn’t a broken notebook, Lenovo’s Ideapad Yoga actually bends back on itself to become a tablet. The Yoga automatically ignores any keypresses once it is in tablet mode, which should give you the flexibility to switch between Windows 8′s touch input and the standard keyboard and touchpad.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon
Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon
Lenovo’s 14-inch Ultrabook manages to pack a 1600×900 screen, backlit keyboard, and built-in 3G cellular wireless connectivity in to a sliver thinner than 3/4″. Lenovo claims it will be the lightest 14-inch Ultrabook available. Pricing is still unannounced, but it will definitely not be for the budget market.

When to buy?

If you can wait, get one of the upcoming Ultrabooks. Nearly all of the toothing pains from the initial models have been sorted out and the improved displays and processors will yield tangible benefits in productivity and battery life. Touchscreens may be especially useful once Windows 8 is released, although it’s too early to tell just yet.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve bought an Ultrabook, we’d love to hear your impressions. If you’re on the fence, is there something still missing that keeps these from being the notebook for you?

 

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