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Ultrabook reviews, guides and comparisons

Ultrabooks with dedicated/discrete graphics or optical drives

By Andrei Girbea , updated on September 9, 2017

Ultrabooks are great an all, with their slim bodies, long battery life and snappy performances. However, when building such anorexic laptops, some features have to be left on the side, as there’s just not enough room for them.

That’s right, there are things that ultrabooks lack today and, even though some are not deal-breakers, there are at least a couple of them that potential buyers might miss.

Those being said, in this post we’re going to talk about solutions to two of the things most ultrabooks lack: dedicated graphics and optical units. And while the later are pretty much out of the picture, but I doubt many are going to regret them, ultrabooks with dedicated discrete graphics chips are a necessity, as I’m sure many of you would like a fast laptop able to handle games or video editing software, while being as compact as light as possible.

Compact ultrabooks with discrete graphics – not that many to choose between

Many of today’s ultrabooks feature Intel HD integrated graphics, whether the older HD 3000/4000 (Ivy Bridge), HD 4400/5000/5100 (Haswell) or the newer HD 5500 chips bundled with the Intel Broadwell processors. While these chips aren’t exactly slow, as they can cope with light gaming and all sorts of video content, they can only do so much and will stumble when dealing with modern games or other graphic intense activities (editing videos, rendering 3D content, etc).

And yes, the Intel HD 4000 can handle some of the recent titles in 13 x 7 resolution with details towards low. I the clip below, as an example, I’m playing some games on the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A. And if you want to see how the newer Intel HD 4400 chip handles more recent titles, have a look here.

Still, if you want an improved gaming experience on an ultrabook, you will have to go for something with dedicated graphics. And while a pretty rare commodity, both Nvidia and AMD chips can be found on some particular ultrabooks these days, as you’ll find out from the rows below.

When talking about 13.3 inch ultrabooks, we have the Asus Zenbook UX32VD, that bundles an Nvidia 620M chip. That’s not very powerful, but is still about 2-3 times faster than the integrated Intel HD 4000 sollution and will allow you to run modern games like Battlefield 3, Skyrim or even Crysis at about 25-30 fps on 13×7 resolutions, with details set to medium.

There are also some newer entries, like the more powerful Asus Zenbook UX302LG, with Intel Haswell processors and Nvidia 730M graphics, or the Acer Aspire S3, with Nvidia 735M graphics.

The Asus UX32VD is the 13.3 inch ultrabook to get for playing games

Asus offer a few 13 inch Zenbooks that can handle games

We also have a couple of other 13 inchers with discrete graphics, as show below:

13 inch ultrabooks with dedicated graphics

ModelProcessorGraphics chip
Asus Zenbook UX32LNIntel Haswell Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 840MPrice
Asus Zenbook UX303LNIntel Haswell/Broadwell Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 840MPrice
Asus Zenbook UX302LGIntel Haswell Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 730MPrice
Asus Zenbook UX32VDIntel IvyBridge Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 620MPrice
Asus Vivobook S301 / Q301Intel Haswell Core i5/i7AMD Radeon Mobility 8530GPrice
Samsung Series 7 UltraIntel IvyBridge Core i5/i7AMD Radeon 8550M / 8570M

Stepping up a notch, to 14 inch ultrabooks, you’ll find that most ultrabooks in this class do feature dedicated graphics, with either Nvidia or AMD chips. So you could look at laptops like the Acer Aspire M3 and M5, the Dell XPS 14, the HP Envy 4, the Gigabyte U2442 or the Samsung Series 5 Ultra and at some of the Haswell models listed below (I’ve included a couple of Ultra-portable as well, with full-voltage CPUs).

14 inch ultraportables with dedicated graphics

ModelProcessorGraphics chip
Acer Aspire V7 482PGIntel Haswell ULV Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 750MPrice
Gigabyte U24F/U24TIntel Haswell ULV Core i7Nvidia GT 750MPrice
Gigabyte P34KIntel Haswell HQ Core i7Nvidia GT 760MPrice
Lenovo IdeaPad U430pIntel Haswell ULV Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 730MPrice
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14Intel Haswell/Broadwell ULV Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 840M
HP ENVY Touchsmart 14tIntel Haswell ULV Core i3/i5/i7Nvidia GT 740MPrice
Razer BladeIntel Haswell Core i7Nvidia GTX 870MPrice

The same can be said about 15.6 inch ultrabooks, and although there aren’t that many to choose from right now, the HP Envy 6t, the Dell XPS 15 or the Asus Zenbook UX51VZ are good options popping to my mind (although the latest are not exactly ultrabooks per se, according to Intel’s definition).

Anyway, in this section I’m only going to list the Haswell powered Intel ultrabooks that bundle discrete graphics, and if you’re interested in more details about 15 inch ultrabooks, this article over here will come in handy.

15+ inch  Haswell ultrabooks with dedicated graphics

ModelProcessorGraphics chip
Acer Aspire V5 573GIntel Haswell ULV Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 750MPrice
Acer Aspire V7 582PGIntel Haswell ULV Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 750MPrice
Asus VivoBook S551 / V551Intel Haswell Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 740MPrice
Gigabyte U35FIntel Haswell ULV Core i7Nvidia GT 750M
Gigabyte P35KIntel Haswell Core i7Nvidia GTX 765MPrice
HP TouchSmart 15/17Intel Haswell M/HQ Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 740M/750MPrice
Lenovo IdeaPad S510pIntel Haswell ULV Core i5Nvidia GT 720MPrice
Razer Blade ProIntel Haswell Core i7 HQNvidia GTX 765MPrice
Sony Vaio Fit 15A Multi-FlipIntel Haswell Core i5/i7Nvidia GT 735MPrice

Of course, I’m expecting more ultrabooks with discrete graphics in the near future, so I will periodically update this post.

Update: This post will tell you more about the top gaming ultrabooks you could buy these days, which feature discrete graphics, of course.

Bottom point, if looking at one of these machines, you should have realistic expectations: don’t get your hopes too high, they can run games, but not really the latest titles and not on high resolutions or detail levels. If you need those, go for proper gaming laptops, not for gaming ultrabooks.

Optical drives on ultrabooks – are you sure you need them?

When you decide to design an 0.6-0.8 inch thick portable computer, it’s obvious that you will have to make a couple of compromises and cut a few corners. With the slim bodies, there’s simply not enough room on modern ultrabooks for optical drives, whether CD, DVD or Blu-ray units. Especially on 13.3 inch or smaller devices.

If you’re considering some bigger 14 inch or even 15.6 inch ultrabooks, there are some however that feature optical drives, like the 14 inch Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP530, the Acer Aspire M3 and M5, the 15 inch Dell XPS 15,  Asus S56 and Vivobook S550 and a couple of others. However, when compared to other ultrabooks in their classes, these are a bit bulkier or pack smaller batteries, mainly because the precious space inside the case is now occupied by the optical drive.

This post will show you all the ultrabooks with optical drives available right now in stores, so you should definitely check it out.

To be frank, I haven’t used a CD or DVD in years, so the lack of optical drives on ultrabooks is not really an issue for me. But, if you really want to buy such a computer and need to use DVD/CD or Blu-ray discs with it, there’s a solution: get an external optical unit that can be easily connected to your laptop via USB. I’ve got a selection of good such optical drives over at TLBHD.com, so you should check it out.

Bottom point, I wouldn’t worry too much about optical drives on my ultrabook, you’ll hardly need it anyway, so you’d better get something that uses the space for something else. And if you do need to read those discs, a good and simple external drive costs less than $50 and will work with any computers, as long as they have an USB port.

Be honest, when's the last time you used one of those? Oh, you don't remember? I wonder why...

Be honest, when’s the last time you used one of those? Oh, you don’t remember? I wonder why…

Wrap up

In the end, you have to understand that ultrabooks are meant to be sleek and portable, thus will lack some of the features you get on bigger laptops, like discrete graphics or optical units, as there’s not enough space inside them for those.

However, several manufacturers do offer ultrabooks that will feature these as well and as technology improves, we’ll probably see more options (and here I’m mainly talking about options with discrete graphics, not optical units, which are more or less obsolete these days).

You’ll usually find dedicated graphics on many 14 inch or bigger laptops in this class, while this feature is probably going to be quite rare on 13.3 inchers or smaller machines in the near future as well.

Once again, if you’re after my list of recommended ultrabooks for gaming, you’ll find it via this link.

With optical units, you only get them on a hand-full of ultrabooks right now, all of them 14 or 15.6 inchers. And you’ll also notice that the DVD drives are only present on budget ultrabooks, that tend to be more massive than the premium members of their families.

Still, ultrabooks are not really meant for games, and if you’re looking to run some simple titles, the integrated Intel HD 4000 chip on the Ivy Bridge architecture is powerful enough to handle them (and the future Haswell graphics will be even better). As for the optical units, you can buy external drives for cheap and solve the issue for good.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure more ultrabooks featuring discrete graphics or integrated optical drives will be launched in the future. However, don’t expect those to be featured on all ultrabooks on the market, that’s not going to happen.

Andrei Girbea, Editor-in-Chief at Ultrabookreview.com. I never liked carrying big laptops around and that fueled my passion for mobile computers back in the 2000s. Things have changed much since then, but I'm still interested in the topic and in the meantime I've owned and tested hundreds of thin and lights, so I know a thing or two about them. You'll find mostly reviews and guides written by me here on the site.

21 Comments

  1. jim jones

    January 25, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    re. optical drive, I still use mine all the time. Streaming for watching movies is still slow or unreliable with many wi fi sources. It’s still so nice and convenient to slip a favorite cd or dvd into the laptop without having to connect an external drive. And, if one is a serious photographer, still better imo to burn a disc if you have a bunch of hi res photos. And, just try to send then over the net. Takes forever, or sometimes never because the connection breaks down.

    • Mike

      January 26, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I could agree on the movies part, although streaming is fast over here on pretty much all the existing services.

      I can’t on the other, it’s a lot easier to use a Flash drive or even some external Hard-drives. They are fast and quite affordable these days. Flash drives are like 1-2 bucks per GB these days

  2. jim jones

    January 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for the response. Well, I am a professional photographer in my current life (aerospace engineer before that), and I like to back up my “memories” with archival dvd’s which cost about 2 bucks apiece–cheap considering the cost of the trip or the shoot. Easy to organize, label, and, as far as I can tell from a bit of research, flash drives are still not archival.

    And, you don’t have to be a pro. Ever look back on those family prints from the old days? We love them. Doesn’t matter if they were kept in a dark place, They still are fade. Sure, you can archival prints and albums made. But, what about the original media for those irreplaceable moments–1st bday party, first steps.
    external drives, I have too many gadgets without cords, cords without gadgets as it is.

    Finally, I don’t see a hard spec re. thiickness and weight for ultrabooks. I’ll bet the clever designers can add an optical drive without adding more than 3/8 of an inch and less than 0.5 pounds. Still pretty ultra in my book.

    I guess we will have to respectfully disagree.

    • Yu

      February 24, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Though commenting a bit late due to finding the article late: Please note, that DVDs are NOT a good long-time storage, when we’re talking about decades. I already have DVDs, that are degraded to the point of not being readable by normal drives anymore. I remember vaguely having read, that even reasonably good storage conditions, a DVD might not be usable after 10 years. The DVD is a reasonable backup solution though, e.g. in addition to an external hard drive.

      @ matte screens: While I have yet to find a matte screen protection foil on par with a natively matte screen, I have found the foil from the Germany-based company “Folix” surprisingly good; It enables me to use my smartphone even in bright summer sun and was easy to apply (though one should heed the practical tips delivered with the foil). I found a 15″ from them one for about 20€ with reasonably low shipping costs to Austria (note that they also cell on the UK Amazon). For comparison: My foil was 6€ and 1.50€ shipping — for low-price products shipping from Amazon.de to Austria commonly is more expensive than the product.

  3. Phil

    February 3, 2012 at 1:28 am

    I personally would love to see an “ultrabook” with dedicated graphics, however you may like to know that ultrabook is a marketing term coined by Intel, (they claim a trademark on the name). One of the requirements to use the ultrabook brand is an integrated graphics card….

  4. bhawini

    July 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    how can i watch a dvd with ultrabook.can any additional accessory help out this with ultrabook

    • Mike

      July 13, 2012 at 7:38 am

      you can use an external DVD player that connects to the ultrabook via the USB port

      • jim jones

        July 14, 2012 at 12:35 am

        Sorry, but having to keep track of an extra piece of equipment and a cord defeats in my mind the whole point of an ultrabook. Give us the choice and make us pay for it. Really dumb of Apple and the pc vendors following like lemmings.

        • Yu

          July 15, 2012 at 11:13 am

          Well, it’s not like vendors don’t give us a choice. There are now some devices falling into that cross-over cathegory (Sony Vaio S13, Lenovo Thinkad S430, Samsung Series 7). Obviously though such devices will be slightly heavier than ultrabooks and not necessarily cheaper. The Sony can even be ordered with SSD (but not hybrid solution) and actually has a replaceable HDD and battery and a nice extension-battery concept.

          It will remain to be seen from the response of the market, whether the “ultraportable with optical drive” or the “ultraportable at all costs” is preferred by customers, so I guess those of us who don’t entirely like the ultrabook concept just have to wait an see.

          By the way, I just wish the companies were copying Apple’s screen quality… Amongst current 13″ and 14″ devices, screens with HD+ (1600×900) or more might get more and more common, but brightness is often just barely acceptable (slightly above 200 cd/m²) for a portable device and contrasts a bad joke (180:1 in Vaio S13 and 130:1 in Samsung Series 7 Chronos 700Z3C).

          • Mike

            July 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm

            Yu, I’m sure we’ll see way better screens on laptops in general in the next years. I for one, getting used to the IPS panel on my Lenovo X220, will never buy a laptop without an IPS screen. Luckily, the premium Windows laptops will feature it. Take a look at the Asus UX31A for instance, I’ve played with it and that screen is gorgeous.

            So for me, the issue is not necessarily the brightness of the screen, I tend to use my laptop inside most of the time. Viewing angles, colors and contrast however are something I’m very sensitive about and like I said, you just can’t beat IPS panels for that. If you’re not planning to run games of course, as IPS screens tend to be a bit ghostly these days.

            There is however one more aspect: in order to keep the prices lower, manufacturers usually compromise on the screen’s quality. So, if IPS panels are to become popular, I’d expect them to be featured only by premium laptops, somewhere in the same price-range as Macbooks. But then, is there a proper market for solid $1500+ laptops?

  5. Vin

    July 3, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Great mini reviews and analysis of various ultrabooks! I was shopping around for one but ultimately decided that I didn’t really need a dedicated GPU and sprung for a Lenovo U310. I enjoyed reading your article though!

  6. Laneybosh

    August 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Hi there, do you have any info on when the Acer Aspire V7 482PG and/or HP ENVY Touchsmart 14t will be available in Europe/UK? Any idea on prices too?

    Thanks.

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 19, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Not for the time being, no, but i”ll keep an eye for any listings. Should see them by September in Europe as well

  7. Laneybosh

    August 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Hi Andrei, thanks for you previous reply. Do you know anything about the Acer Aspire V7-482PG-6662?

    (http://store.acer.com/store/acerna/en_CA/pd/ThemeID.30483300/productID.281539100)

    Is it a good ultrabook for the price? Battery life?

    Cheers

    • Andrei Girbea

      August 22, 2013 at 8:19 am

      I’ve heard good things about it but haven’t tested it YET. Laptopmag reviewed the new V7 a while ago, not sure if the 15 or the 14 incher though, you could have a look

  8. Agustin

    September 2, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    I think the ultrabook concept is missunderstood. How can it be a laptop that weights 5.5 pounds called ultrabook? Arent ultrabooks supposed to be light?

    • Andrei Girbea

      September 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      they are supposed to be thin. weight is not a factor, according to the official requirements imposed by Intel

  9. Nick Robinson

    September 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Hi,
    I really want an ultra light thin laptop with a minimum of a 14″ screen but an included optical drive, can you recommend anything now or coming in the future? (From September 2013 onwards)
    Many Thanks
    Nick

  10. Shekhar

    September 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    hi Andrei
    i am looking for a powerful 13 inches with at least 2gb dedicated graphics card. have reached a dead end in my search. any suggestions?
    ciao
    shekhar

    • Andrei Girbea

      September 6, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Asus UX303LN. Asus Zenbook UX302LG and the Acer Aspire S3-392 are 13 incher with a 1GB graphics card, although judging graphics chips based on memory alone is very misleading.

  11. Arshad

    June 19, 2017 at 3:08 am

    i have been searching for this kind of articles …. thank you very much

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