Intel's ultrabooks – a laptop specification coined by the company – are feather light and elegant in design but also powerhouses under the hood: upgrades to Intel processors and tiny solid-state drives enable the super-slim laptops to do anything from video editing to intensive gaming. A few of the ultrabooks we looked at even have dedicated video cards, which are far superior to integrated graphics for gaming. Screen sizes range from 12 to 15 inches, big enough to make watching videos enjoyable.
Performance upgrades aside, ultrabooks still have to maintain certain specifications, such as resuming from sleep mode in 3 seconds or less, a maximum width of 0.8 inches at its thinnest spot and at least six hours of battery life under load. Top ultrabooks such as the Dell XPS, Apple MacBook Pro and Samsung ATIV Book 9 are, above all, portable. For more information regarding these machines as serious contenders for work and leisure, read our articles on ultrabooks.
Because of Intel's standard features for ultrabooks, there are a few things you can expect in any model. Along with slim cases, ultrabooks are built around options such as touch functionality and WiDi, Intel's wireless home theater technology.
Performance & Specifications
The best ultrabooks feature Intel's Haswell fourth-generation processors, which use less power than older models and include onboard graphics processors. Haswell processors have speeds of 1.8GHz to 3.2GHz.
If you want a dedicated graphics card for graphics-intensive gaming or video-editing work, look for an ultrabook that features a card with its own memory (GPU or video RAM) that is separate from general system memory (RAM). You should also find models that let you upgrade to 8GB of system RAM, making your computer smooth and efficient.
The first thing you’ll note about ultrabooks is their thin and minimalist design. In addition to fitting easily in your backpack, the best ultrabooks also feature excellent build quality. These ultrabook laptops feature lightweight cases and excellent battery life. When they're bearing a heavy processing load, top ultrabooks keep cool and cycle heat out without becoming uncomfortably warm.
As premium laptops, the best ultrabooks typically have a minimum resolution of at least 1920 x 1080. However, resolution isn't the only indicator for display quality. The screen's brightness quality can vary greatly depending on the ultrabook manufacturer. In addition, ultrabooks frequently feature models with touchscreen support and convertible form factors.
As with all mobile computers, standard features include Wi-Fi capabilities, a webcam, Bluetooth support and a memory card reader. Look for an ultrabook that has USB 3.0 ports, which are 10 times as fast at transferring data than the USB 2.0 ports. However, manufacturers occasionally have to make compromises on an ultrabook's connectivity options because of their slim dimensions. Optical drives are a common casualty and Ethernet or HDMI slots can occasionally be omitted.
Help & Support
Laptop technology is always changing, so look for a manufacturer that makes it easy to find BIOS and driver updates and downloads. All of the ultrabooks we looked at have at least a one-year warranty, but the best systems give you up to three years. And we know that you don't have time to waste if you should need help from the manufacturer, so we look for companies that respond to questions and concerns quickly and helpfully.
In just a few years, ultrabooks have become a powerful class of laptops that balance portability and performance. These thin laptops are packed with enough CPU power, storage space and memory to make compromising between work and play a nonissue.