Best Ultrabook: top thin and light laptops to choose from
8th Oct 2013 | 14:21
All the top ultraportable PCs in one place
Though computers are a part of our everyday lives, most of us don't actually need the amount of processing power available to us in large, hefty desktops or laptops.
The idea of the Ultrabook is to make laptops a bit more convenient, but powerful enough for most tasks.
The term Ultrabook is actually pure marketing, dreamt up by Intel for a new generation of portable PCs featuring its technology.
The best way to think of an Ultrabook is a MacBook Air that isn't made by Apple, a netbook that isn't underpowered or a laptop that's been on a crash diet.
The term Ultrabook was coined by Intel, and it specifies laptops with particular specifications, separating them from other ultraportable laptops. They'll all have Intel Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processors, fast SSD storage to some degree, and now USB 3.0 connectivity, for speedy file transfers.
The idea is to offer something with the long battery life and and instant-on convenience of a tablet, without having to sacrifice a real, good-sized keyboard or the desktop software you rely on. That said, with Windows 8 touchscreen capabilities, we're starting to see the lines blur between Ultrabook and tablet.
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Ultrabooks tend to be made with design in mind, so come in more expensive than most mid-range home laptops.
They tend to start from around £699 in the lower end, going to nearly £2,000 at the very high end. For the most part, you're likely to spend between £800 and £1,000 for a newer model, though you can get some older models for good prices.
So which of the many Ultrabooks should you consider? These are the very best ones we've reviewed.
Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch - £722/AU$915/US$700
We first crossed paths with the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 around this time last year, finding it to be a very tidy little package, even if it strained the Ultrabook name a little. Its mid-range price belied some rather useful specs, though, such as a dedicated graphics card and an uncommonly large hard drive.
While the name change from the original Lenovo U410 to the Lenovo U410 Touch here might draw attention to the touchscreen, it's not the special part: it's everything else in it that's noticeable.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch review
Toshiba Satellite Z930 - £780/AU$1,290/US$1,200
The Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X manages balances power with affordability. Thin, light and powerful enough to handle a wide range of tasks simultaneously, it boasts a wide range of connectivity options and an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor.
If you want an Ultrabook exclusively for entertainment then we'd recommend looking elsewhere, since it lacks a Full HD resolution and has integrated graphics and fairly weak audio compared to other Ultrabooks. But as a mobile workstation for offices, the Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X is an excellent purchase.
Read our Toshiba Satellite Z930 review
Dell XPS 13 - £1,100/US$1,500 (around AU$1,670)
Dell has really got serious with the internals of the XPS 13. An Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, an SSD for fast performance and an absolutely staggeringly large battery life all combine to make this pretty much the ultimate road warrior's laptop. It's brilliantly thin and light, and the 13-inch screen still gives you room to work. It's a bit of a shame it doesn't offer a touchscreen, but the Dell XPS 13 is still one of the best laptops you can buy, offering top performance, brilliant battery life and excellent build quality.
Read our Dell XPS 13 review
Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus - £1,300/AU$1,600/US$1,400
Samsung was one of the very first PC manufacturers to jump on the Ultrabook bandwagon. It's done a fine job of representing Intel's baby ever since, with some stunning offerings, including the Series 5 Ultra Touch and, more recently, the top of the range Series 9 NP900X3D.
Samsung certainly knows its stuff when it comes to Ultrabooks, but the goal posts are always moving. So what new trick can it pull out of its sleeve?
Well, it's new Ultrabook: the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus, might keep the company ahead of the game for a while, at least if its on-paper abilities are anything to go by.
It's a wonderful-looking unit. It's thin and carefully crafted, with just a slither of the all-aluminium chassis peaking through the dark outer casing. But its plain black exterior might lend some clues as to its intent: this is an Ultrabook focused as much on the business user as regular Joe on the high street.
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - £1,350/AU$1,700/US$1,420
When Ultrabooks were first introduced by Intel, one of the first models to show us that it could stand up to the gauntlet laid down by the MacBook Air was the Asus Zenbook UX21. The Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A continues the styling of its predecessors, and adds a Core i7-3517U processor, Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4GB of RAM.
But the most notable change is its screen - a 1080p IPS wonder that dwarfs its competition's resolution. It falls down on battery life, so you should consider if that's a big issue for you. It's also expensive, but its performance is admirable.
Read our Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A review
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch - £1,779/US$2,139 (around AU$2,538)
The original 2012 Lenovo X1 Carbon was the best ThinkPad money could buy, but now Lenovo has added a touchscreen panel and changed Windows 7 Professional for Windows 8, bringing last year's model right up to date.
The result is a formidable machine that not only offers the best usability and performance, but also a fantastic Windows 8 experience. However, the eye-watering price tag means this experience doesn't come cheap.
Asus Zenbook UX32A
The original Asus Zenbook was an Ultrabook that took some beating, so we always knew its successor would be a great offering. Like its predecessor, the Asus Zenbook UX32A is also slim and light enough to carry around all day and the range of connections, especially the three USB 3.0 ports, is excellent.
Read our Asus Zenbook UX32A review
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga isn't just a great device in itself, but also a superb flagship for Windows 8. This convertible touchscreen laptop has a 13-inch screen, making for rather a large tablet, but a great-sized Ultrabook. It's a brilliantly flexible machine all around, and offers good battery life in general use. It's not particularly powerful, but it's certainly fast enough for most people, and it looks great, too.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review
A gaming Ultrabook might seem like too much to ask - it's a lot of power to fit into a small chassis - but Gigabyte has done it with the U2442F. A strong Intel processor is combined with an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics chip to give really impressive gaming results, getting superb framerates even in new games such as BioShock Infinite. The games look great on the 14-inch 1600 x 900 screen, and the U2442F even manages to deliver good battery life - and all still within a thin and light frame.
Read our Gigabyte U2442F review
It's fair to say that the Asus Taichi is one of the more unusual Windows 8 devices so far. This 11.6-inch laptop has two screens – one on the front, to use like normal computer, and one on the back of the display, so you can use it as a tablet when it's closed. Both are crisp 1080p screens, with Core i7 processor to power them. Yet there's no major hit on the design – the Taichi weighs just 1.1kg.
Read our hands-on Asus Taichi review
Gigabyte's first dip in the Ultrabook waters hits an excellent balance between power and affordability. The inclusion of discrete graphics and a load of RAM means performance is exceptional, while clever additions to the OS make day-to-day performance easy – even if you're new to computing. The screen is a strong point too, but all this mean you'll end up paying over £1000 for the Gigabyte U2442. It's not an unreasonable price, but it may be too high for many.
Read our Gigabyte U2442 review
Acer Aspire S7
Coming in both 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch versions, the Aspire S7 is one of the hottest Ultrabooks yet to be released. Designed with Windows 8 in mind, the S7's screen can fold all the way back so it's flat in line with the keyboard, and offers a 10-point touch display with Corning Gorilla Glass 2 to protect it. It's even a 1080p screen, as if it wasn't impressive enough already, and is one of the lightest Ultraportables we've seen yet.
Read our Acer Aspire S7 review
HP Spectre XT TouchSmart
As befits the Spectre line, the Spectre XT TouchSmart is packing some notable technology. As its name suggests, it offers a multi-touch display, which means you can make full use of Windows 8, but it's very much an Ultrabook, boasting the latest Intel processors inside. In fact, it's HP's first lapop to offer Intel's ludicrously fast Thunderbolt connection. The 1080p screen is the real draw, though - it makes it an excellent work machine, and is great for HD movies.
Read our HP Spectre XT TouchSmart review