Since Intel's introduction of the category last year, ultrabooks poured into the market this year. But while the term may be new, the laptops themselves aren't a mutation of some sort. Intel simply put a new spin on an evolving category of laptops that are incredibly thin, battery-efficient, and use low-voltage processors. Interestingly enough, these laptops were previously known as CULV laptops (CULV stands for consumer ultra-low-voltage processors), but Intel decided, and rightly so, that CULV doesn't exactly sound sexy to consumers. In fact, it doesn't sound like anything at all. Voila, ultrabooks.
But what exactly comprises an ultrabook? Intel has a long list of specifications on its blog. While the specifications are still evolving, the main ones are a low-voltage Intel Core processor, a frame no thicker than 0.83 inch, at least five hours of battery life, and fast boot times. The last rely on an Intel technology called Rapid Start, which makes use of flash storage embedded on the laptop's motherboard.
Intel also expects touch screens to be an integral part of the ultrabook spec, with all eyes on Windows 8 and how Microsoft's forthcoming operating system will drive this segment. That's not to say that we expect to see touch screens on the first wave of ultrabooks released (and indeed, none that we've seen so far offer the feature). Rather, Intel is probably waiting for Windows 8 to launch later this year to add the feature to its checklist for the category. By including touch, though, Intel is essentially anticipating that its ultrabooks include tablets and convertibles or hybrids as well.
An unspoken factor is that Intel would like prices for ultrabooks to come in well below the $1,000 mark. What we've seen so far doesn't really bear that out. Sure, there have been a couple of ultrabooks that are retailing for less than that, but most are just above—or way above—the $1,000 price point, depending on the configuration. Keep in mind, however, that this is a nascent category, with but a handful of systems that fall within its specifications.
Are ultrabooks for you? You can figure that out by reading our primer on the category and then studying our buying guide. But before you do, check out our picks for the 5 best ultrabooks on the market today.
FEATURED IN THIS STORY:
Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71
$1,099.00 at Microsoft Store The Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD-DB71 adds a speedy 3rd-generation Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce graphics to the ultrabook formula. What Asus has wrought is the thinnest and lightest 1080p HD power system on the market. It's the ultrabook to buy if you want to get real work done.
HP Envy 4-1043cl
$829.99 at HP The HP Envy 4-1043cl ultrabook offers plenty of fine features, like Beats Audio, WiDi 2.0, and generous offerings in software and warranty, not to mention a strong performance boost from Intel's latest third-generation processor. Still, we expected a higher quality display and longer battery life from HP's premium laptop line.
OLYMPUS LI-40B Digital Camera Battery brand new 3.7V, 660mAh only AU $9.86
Lenovo IdeaPad U310
$803.19 at PCConnection The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 consumer ultrabook delivers strong performance, thanks to a third-generation Intel Core i5 processor, but we wish it lasted longer on the road.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
$1,399.99 at HP The Lenovo X1 Carbon is an ultrabook tailor-made for business. It has IT-friendly vPro built in, the ThinkPad TrackPoint, weighs under three pounds, and has over seven hours of battery life. For the medium to large business that has multiple departments, the X1 Carbon is the ultrabook that you should purchase to equip your constantly traveling high-up executive.
Sony VAIO T13 (SVT13112FXS)
$765.00 at PCNation The Sony VAIO T13 (SVT13112FXS) is a fast, handsome ultrabook for the value price of $800. It comes with a 3rd-generation Intel Core i5-3317U chip and 500GB hard drive. Battery life is fine, and fit and finish are wonderful, making this ultrabook the look and feel of an executive-status-symbol laptop costing much more.