Holiday 2012 Ultrabook and Ultraportable Guide

So far this holiday season, we’ve provided some buyer’s guides for system builders—Trinity-based desktops, Small Form Factor builds, and even DIY Workstations. Today we’re going to ditch the DIY sector and instead look at pre-built laptops, with a focus on Ultrabooks and other ultraportables. Not everyone needs or even wants an ultraportable, so we recognize that the recommendations here are for a specific subset of users, but if you’re looking for something highly portable and you don’t mind paying a bit more for quality, we have some suggestions.

Before we get to the recommendations, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between an Ultrabook and other ultraportables. Simply put, Ultrabook is Intel’s big initiative right now to get more of their silicon into laptops, along with some requirements designed to make such laptops more responsive. Unfortunately, the same things that make an Ultrabook faster also tend to make it cost more, and so we have a split between Ultrabooks that have pure SSD storage and those that use a hybrid arrangement with a small caching SSD and conventional hard drive storage.

On the non-Intel side of the equation, AMD’s low-power Trinity APUs tend to have less CPU performance with perhaps better GPU performance, but they’re almost always targeted at the value market. That means that in addition to swapping out the Intel CPU for an AMD APU, you also typically lose the SSD storage. Still, if all you really want is something portable with great battery life that can be a viable compromise.

Ultrabooks and ultraportables do tend to cost more for a similar level of performance compared to regular laptops—just like laptops cost more for a similar level of performance compared to desktops. Making computers smaller is more difficult, and often manufacturers need to bin parts to find those that run cooler and/or use less power. Just like a Core i7-3770K and an i5-3570K are fundamentally the same part—the i7 part just has Hyper-Threading turned on and slightly higher clock speeds—most ULV parts are the same core design as standard voltage chips, but they’re selected to find those than need less power and/or run properly at a lower maximum clock speed. Instead of paying more for a part that can run faster, you end up paying more for a part that doesn’t use as much power and runs cooler.

With that out of the way, we’re targeting three price categories for these Ultrabooks/ultraportables: under $750, around $1000, and the no-holds-barred $1250+ range. We’ve tried to get a feel for everything currently available for the various categories, and we’ve selected a couple options for each price bracket (as well as some honorable mentions where appropriate).

“Budget” Ultrabooks and Ultraportables
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  • ajp_anton - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    Why do you disqualify the Macs solely on the fact that they're Macs? Just add a note that if you don't already own Windows, it will add some extra cost, but besides that, is there anything wrong with them as Windows machines? The trackpad was the only thing I used to have an issue with, but that's fixed with Trackpad++.
  • Jamezrp - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    That's what I'd really like to know. What Ultrabook has the best keyboard. Most of them are only half decent. I want something excellent.
  • bogieworf - Thursday, December 13, 2012 - link

    The Lenovo Twist has the best keyboard I have personally tried
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    I like both the Dell XPS 12 and the ASUS UX31A keyboards -- both have good key travel with reasonable layouts. The Acer S7 keyboard is severely lacking IMO.
  • R3MF - Friday, December 14, 2012 - link

    the 13" ivy-bridge model (X3C) with windows 7 is currently available for £850 which includes a free Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 v2.

    A steal.
  • jonjonjonj - Saturday, December 15, 2012 - link

    the real solution is to format the computer and install windows 7. ClassicShell or Start8 doesnt solve the problem of windows 8 sucking. i also agree that a messing with the keyboard and making dumb changes is a sure fire way to not sell one to me.
  • dja - Sunday, December 16, 2012 - link

    lots of interesting info in here, and some good, and not so informed opinions.

    Ill never go back to apple, i use them for work everyday, and i just hate the OS, that's what it comes down too.

    I bought a samsung NP900X4C and with 256ssd and 8g ram it handles everything i can throw at it, battery life is about 7-8 hours, it does some video coding for me, and a bit of gaming, as well as my daily duties no problem.

    Im hidden down in australia, and even with our insane prices i paid $1400 about 3-4 months ago for it.

    Thin, light and powerful enough for me.

    Some people will buy these for looks, status symbols etc, but for me (a pro in the It field) it actually hit right where i needed it

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