Ultrabook reviews 2014, scoops and comparisons

What exactly is an ultrabook in 2014 – a detailed definition

By Andrei Girbea - @andreigirbea , updated on January 14, 2014

Just a few years ago the word “ultrabook” had not been even invented. Today, ultrabooks are the types of laptops we all want to have.

But what is an ultrabook anyway? How do you define this term and what sets ultrabooks apart from other types of laptops? You’ll find the answers to all those questions, and others, in this post. And you can also see this ultrabooks vs regular notebooks article.

Anyway, ultrabooks made their debut around 2011, when a couple of manufacturers launched  a handful of thin and light laptops, built on select Intel hardware and running Windows. These days, there are plenty of ultrabooks available on the market (as you’ll see from this selection of the best of them) and more are expected to be released in the next months.

What is an ultrabook – the short definition

Long story short, ultrabooks are a a high-end breed of laptops that have to meet a couple of Intel imposed requirements. Intel owns the Ultrabook TM trademark and they decide on the criteria a certain laptop has to check in order to get included in this select circle. They also update those requirements from time to time.

There are many criteria, as you’ll see from this post, but to keep it simple, ultrabooks need to be slim laptops, built on Intel low-power hardware platforms, able to run for at least 5 hours on a charge (or more, based on the latest requirements), while providing increased security for your content.  Let’s take them one at a time.

What is an ultrabook in few words: a sleek, responsive and long lasting laptop

What is an ultrabook in few words: a sleek, responsive and long lasting laptop

The thin and light form factor

The norms state that any ultrabook with a 14 inch screen or larger has to be 21 mm (0.83 inches) thick or less, unless it packs a touchscreen, in which case it can go up to 23 mm (0.9 inches). Any ultrabook with a 13.3 inch screen or smaller needs to be 18 mm (0.71 inches) thick or less.

This one is right now the only size restriction imposed by Intel. There’s nothing about weight, but you should know that most 13 inch or smaller ultrabooks weigh around 3 pounds or less, while larger 14 and 15 inch machines weigh around 4 – 4.5 pounds. So they are lighter than the average laptops in their classes.

Also, there’s no restriction on the screen size, that’s why we now have ultrabooks with displays ranging from 11.6 to 15.6 inches in diagonal. And we might see the range expanding even further in the future.

The Intel low-power hardware platform

Ultrabooks need to be powered by an Intel low-power hardware platform, also known as ULV platforms, from the Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge or what is right now the latest Haswell family.

ULV platforms are designed to offer good performances, while focusing on efficiency. Basically, an ultrabook will be able to handle most of your everyday activities at ease, while not requiring a lot of energy. But, that means that ultrabooks are not really best suited for power-hungry tasks, like gaming, editing videos, running programming software, etc. However, it really depends on each person’s expectations. You CAN use the fastests Intel Core i5/i7 ULV configurations for these kinds of tasks if needed, and there are some nice gaming ultrabooks available these days that can handle more than just games, but it is recommended to look at more powerful options, built on full-voltage hardware platforms, if you’re a sucker for performances.

Ultrabooks have to meet another important hardware criteria: they have to use either SSD storage (for the premium devices), or hybrid storage options, with a classic HDD and an extra 24-32 GB SSD  for caching. This way, Intel wants to make sure ultrabooks are going to be snappy and responsive. The amount of memory has its important role too, but while most ultrabooks ship these days with at least 4 GB of RAM, there’s no restriction imposed here.

The battery life requirements

In theory, an ultrabook needs to run for at least 5 hours on a charge and I’m quite happy Intel imposed this, as a portable laptop is meant to be used most of the time far from a wall-socket.

Now, most ultrabook manufacturers advertise between 6 to 12 hours of life for their devices. However, while performing daily tasks (browsing, watching some movies, listening to some music, chatting with friends, editing texts and maybe photos), most ultrabooks will barely stretch to 5 hours of life. There are some capable of 6+ hours, but also quite many that will die after less than 4 hours of use. See this other post for more details.

With Haswell though, projected battery life has gotten a big boost and there are now quite a few devices that can actually offer 6+ hours of daily use, and even some that can go past 8 hours. You’ll find more about those in this post.

There are plenty of ultrabooks to choose from, and more will be launched soon

There are plenty of ultrabooks to choose from, and more will be launched soon

Other aspects

There are other things worth mentioning when talking about ultrabooks:

  • the SSD/hybrid storage helps ultrabooks boot fast from cold (usually in 30 or less seconds) and resume from sleep even faster. In fact, the standard imposes ultrabooks to be able to fully-wake from sleep in less than 7 seconds, but in most cases that only takes around 2 or 3;
  • an Ultrabook needs to have at least one USB 3.0 slot or a Thunderbold port. The latest devices use only USB 3.0 slots and offer a vast range of other ports. Of course, on the most compact machines (with 13 inch screens or smaller), there’s less space around the sides for these ports, thus some of them might be missing or replaced with miniaturized versions;
  • the higher-end so called business ultrabooks embed technologies like Intel Anti-Theft and Identity Protection, meant to protect the content of your storage drives in case your laptop gets stolen. Also, these will allow you to remotely lock the laptop and make sure it’s completely unusable, in case something happens to it;
  • some of the latest ultrabooks use Intel’s Smart Connect Technology, that allows your laptop to receive emails, twits and other updates and notifications while sleeping, without having a noticeable impact on battery life; in other words, when you’ll raise the lid in the morning, your emails and updates will be already there, you won’t have to wait for them to sync;

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I’m going to constantly update this post and add more details about ultrabooks as they become available.

In the meantime, check out the reviews and the guides on the site and if you have any questions about ultrabooks or any device in particular, leave a comment or drop me an email.

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Andrei Girbea, aka Mike, Editor-in-Chief and a huge fan of mobile computers. Since 2007, I've only owned smaller than 12.5" laptops and I've been testing tens, if not hundreds of mini laptops. You'll find mostly reviews and guides written by me here on the site.

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