Should You Get an Ultrabook?


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If your current computer is wearing out and you are in the market for a new one, you should consider an ultrabook. Ultrabook is Intel’s term for “Windows laptops that are thin and light like the Macbook Air.” For convenience, when I say ultrabook, I mean the Macbook Air, too, for people who like Macs.

At FindLaw Technologist, Stephanie Rabiner says you might want to look at an ultrabook if you find it difficult to get work done on your tablet, as well.

So do ultrabooks have enough power to replace a full laptop?

For reference, I recently reviewed two ultrabooks, the Samsung Series 9 (which I liked), and the Toshiba Portege Z830 (which I didn’t).

Super portable

Laptops are built to be portable—at least in theory. Until recently, many Windows laptops were bulky, heavy things. As far as I am concerned, anything above five or six pounds is only portable in the sense that a suitcase is portable. You can haul it around, but you can’t toss it in your bag and go.

That goes double for a power cord. If you have to haul along the cord, you have to add the weight of the power brick, and you are still tethered to the wall wherever you go. Battery life is important, and batteries that stick out the back and weigh an extra pound or two don’t really count.

Ultrabooks are under three pounds by definition, making them extremely portable by weight. And they have great battery life, thanks to modern low-power processors and solid-state hard drives, which don’t waste power on spinning disks. Most start at about 4.5 hours in real-world use. That’s enough to get you through a morning away from the office—or on the couch. That makes them ideal for any lawyer who has to access files or get work done away from the desk, whether it is in a court room, at a client’s office, or in a coffee shop.

Powerful enough

The compromise with thin-and-light laptops used to be that they were severely underpowered as a result of their size. You just couldn’t squeeze much of a processor into a tiny chassis. Now, some processors are able to run at respectable speeds in small spaces. Plus, solid-state hard drives run substantially faster than regular-old spinning disks.

Ultrabooks typically have processors in the 1.6 GHz–1.8 GHz range. You can get much faster processors in “standard” laptops, but ultrabooks are fast enough to handle most tasks. You won’t have any trouble running Word or watching YouTube.

If you are a high-end gamer or you do a lot of video editing, then an ultrabook (obviously) won’t cut it. But for lawyers doing legal work, an ultrabook has plenty of horsepower.

My only concern with ultrabook speeds is longevity. I’m used to buying high-end laptops so that they will still feel speedy after four or five years. In fact, my two-year-old ThinkPad is still faster than the ultrabooks I have reviewed. So it makes me wonder how long I will be satisfied with the speed of an ultrabook.

However, if you generally buy middle-of-the-road laptops (i.e., you generally buy in the $500–900 price range), you will probably be perfectly happy with the speed of an ultrabook.

No CD/DVD drive?

I mentioned this in my previous reviews, but a lot of people freak out about the lack of an optical (CD/DVD) drive. The thing is, you probably never use one unless you are sitting at your desk. Hauling one around everywhere else is just wasted effort. An external CD/DVD drive is cheap, and you can keep it at your desk for when you need it. Plus, external CD/DVD drives are small and light, so you can bring it with you on the occasions you are likely to need it.

Should you get an ultrabook?

For the majority of computer users, the answer is yes. Ultrabooks are a much better choice because they are very portable due to their small size and great battery life. And they have plenty of power.

For demanding users who want a laptop for gaming or video editing (or, I suppose, use a CD/DVD drive constantly), an ultrabook isn’t a great choice—at least as a primary computer, and it makes sense to look for a more-powerful (albeit heavier) laptop.


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  • Dan

    The HP Folio 13 Ultrabook is available for $799 on special right now:$799-at-wal-mart/?tag=mncol;editorPicks

    To quote CNET, “$100 less than the standard HP price, making one of the most highly rated ultrabooks to date also one of the least expensive.”

  • Simon Canick

    Thanks for this post, Sam. I agree with your observations, but I’d add that most of the ultrabook lines will get refreshed shortly when intel’s ivy bridge chip set gets released. The new chips offer speed improvements, but apparently the real benefit is with significantly upgraded integrated graphics.

    Various reports have new machines within a couple of months… I might wait to buy an ultrabook until summer.

    • Fair point. The graphics bump will be welcome.

      I’ll try to get review units as quickly as possible when they do come out.

  • I just got to spend a few minutes with the HP Folio 13 at TechShow, and I am impressed. It’s very polished, with a keyboard and mouse that made a good first impression.

  • neural_physics

    Ultrabooks are stupid, I would rather have a Faster, Bigger screen Laptop that has more than 2 USB ports, an Optical drive, Ethernet, removable battery, bigger hard drive, more RAM, and Upgradable RAM / HDD than a “thin and light” POS with long battery life. That’s the only thing ultrabooks have going for them.

    • Thin and light is exactly what some us want most.

      • neural_physics

        Well, thin and light is only a viable solution if your constantly on the move 24/7. But then again, most average laptops these days aren’t that thick, I don’t see what you would put an ultra book in that a normal laptop wouldn’t fit in.

        • You and I just have different needs. I don’t want to carry a 4+ pound laptop, or even a power brick. And yes, I move frequently.