How is an Ultrabook different from the typical ultraportable notebook computer?

There is a new class of ultraportable notebook computer that is being defined through this year and next year by Intel in response to the success of the Apple MacBook Air. You may think that it is no different from ultraportables like the Toshiba Portege R830 that I reviewed on this site.

But these computers, known as “Ultrabooks”, will be intended to put the idea of a “portable-typewriter” size of laptop in the laps of most public-transport and air travellers rather than business executives.

What is the Ultrabook

Like the typical ultraportable of the same ilk as the Toshiba R830, these computers have the 13” screen and the same footprint that makes them useable on that bus or economy-class airline tray table. Yet they will be usable for creating content like typing up those documents and blog posts on the move.

But what makes them an Ultrabook is that they will have an ultra-slim chassis which has to be less than 1.8cm thick when closed and weigh in at 1.4kg or less. The battery runtime has to be longer than five hours which would cater for useable time on a long-distance air trip or a day of hotspot surfing.

The required maximum price for these units is around US$1000 which would put them in to the hands of most users. This price would be applicable to the base model in an “Ultrabook” lineup, with increases in price for extras like increased RAM, faster processors or increased secondary storage.

Functionality requirements

The goal of the functionality requirements it for an Ultrabook not to be an underpowered ultraportable computer just for document creation and basic Internet activity, but to be on a par with a typical 15” laptop that can excel at multimedia or basic gaming.

The main drivers in the design are the use of Intel Core i3,i5 or i7 processors providing the horsepower with the images on the screen painted by Intel HD integrated graphics. These units will have to use solid-state storage technology rather than the orthodox mechanical hard disk for their main secondary-storage system. They will also forego the optical drive as an integrated removable-storage option, so you will have to use a USB DVD drive if you want to view rented DVDs or turn out DVD copies of your photos. Of course there will be an SD card slot so you can download your digital-camera pictures to your Ultrabook for reviewing and editing.

Most such computers wont have the Ethernet or VGA connectivity. Here this will mean that you will need to use Wi-Fi to connect to your home or small-business network 

As well, you will have to connect the Ultrabook to the economy-priced data projector using a DisplayLink USB-VGA adaptor. Of course these units would use either a DisplayPort or HDMI external display connector, usually of the mini form factor.

These connectivity issues will typically be mitigated through the availability of multifunction docking stations that connect to the Ultrabook via a DisplayPort or USB connection. 

The typical Ultrabook will be housed in a sealed case that precludes easy upgrades. But this will typically support the “push-down and replace” practice when users want better functionality or performance. Here, the computer would be disposed of to a user with lesser needs while the user purchases a machine with the specifications that suit their current needs.

Purchasing notes

If you maintain a desktop or larger laptop computer as your main computer, it may be OK to skimp on the secondary-storage capacity if you only intend to use it as a “travel computer”. Then you use the home or small-business network, cloud-services like SkyDrive or USB-attached external storage to keep the data you are working with in step with your main machine.

Other comments

I would like to see AMD and others define a similar name and standard for ultraportables that make this goal so that the computers don’t have to be all Intel-driven. This could then lower the price bar for computers of this class.

Similarly what Windows 8 will offer with touchscreen operation may open up paths towards convertible “Ultrabooks” that are a feasible alternative to a tablet computer.

As well, I would like to see manufacturers avoid making this class of computer become a class of “MacBook Air copycats”. This could be achieved through the use of different colours and finishes or even different materials and textures.


What I like more about the Ultrabook concept is that it puts the idea of a lightweight travel-friendly notebook computer that works well for content creation as a credible alternative to netbooks or tablets.

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