As we learned with the Acer Timeline M3 we reviewed last month, Ultrabooks are not only growing in number, but in size. That’s the case with Samsung’s new Series 9, which comes in both 13.3- and 15-inch flavors. We took the latter for a spin to see how a larger footprint impacts the overall experience.
The Series 9 comes with support for Intel’s Wireless Display, so you can wirelessly stream 1080p content to a larger HDTV or monitor, provided you pony up $100 or so for the necessary adapter.
WHEN LOOKING FOR a tagline that will easily sell a boatload of Acer Timeline M3 notebooks, it doesn’t take much more than: “an ultrabook that will play Battlefield 3 on Ultra setting.” And it’s true, too.
The Timeline M3 will indeed play BF3 on Ultra, provided you’re comfortable with 30 frames per second. That dips a bit below our thresholds for a shooter. We preferred playing Battlefield 3 on High, which gave us 50–60fps in online play. Granted, we were only playing at the 1366x768 native resolution of the machine’s 15.6-inch panel, but that’s pretty good for a so-called ultrabook.
We say so-called ultrabook because even though it’s within the very loose parameters set by Intel, a lot of people who encounter the Timeline M3 aren’t going to think this widescreen notebook is an ultrabook. Most people equate ultrabooks with PC clones of a MacBook Air. But the definition is broader. Ultrabooks must be within a certain height, run a certain proc, reach a certain battery life rating, and come out of hibernation in a certain amount of time. The Timeline is wide—just shy of 15 inches across—so wide that it has enough space for an optical drive. There’s even room in the Timeline to sport a 7mm, 2.5‑inch drive bay. Acer doesn’t use the bay, though, instead opting for a teeny-but-fast SATA 6Gb/s Lite-On SSD in mSATA trim. Storage hogs hoping to use both bays will be heartbroken—installing a drive in the 2.5-inch bay turned off the mSATA drive.
Dell’s XPS 13 certainly isn’t wanting for style. Sporting a slick wedge profile that measures .24–.71 inches front to back, the XPS 13 is all matte-silver, machined aluminum up top, with a carbon fiber base. A soft-touch surface on the bottom makes the device easy to grip and two rubber “feet” that run horizontally along the underside will surely hold it in place on any surface and promote airflow. Dell even took care to construct a thin metal door on the XPS 13’s underside to hide the Windows certificate of authenticity sticker and sundry other unsightly logos.
An embedded magnet keeps the lid securely attached to the base when the laptop is closed, but opening it can be a challenge—it’s a two-handed affair. Inside, the XPS 13 continues its logo-free theme (save for the “XPS” on the screen bezel). The black, soft-touch palm rest is void of third-party branding. It’s kept company by a black magnesium clickpad and a shiny black island keyboard, which is backlit. The screen consists of edge-to-edge Gorilla glass. As with the HP Folio 13, it’s 13.3 inches with a 1366x768 resolution. The TN panel displays all the typical weakness—move your head or the screen beyond the narrow sweet spot and see contrast and colors diminished.
While HP’s Folio 13 is sized similarly to the other ultrabooks we’ve tested, sporting a 13.3‑inch screen and measuring 12.54x8.67x.7 inches, it’s a bit heavier than the others, but not by much. With a lap weight of 3 pounds, 4.8 ounces, it’s 3.7 ounces heavier than the Asus Zenbook, although its battery is nearly twice the size and weight of the latter’s.
Aesthetically, the Folio 13 is pleasing. The lid, keyboard deck, and palm rest are all brushed aluminum. Screen bezel, trackpad, and keyboard are black, as is the Folio’s underside, which sports a rubberized finish that makes the laptop nicely grippable. In all, it’s a handsome and well-contructed device.
The Folio 13’s port selection is comparatively generous for this class. Ethernet, full-size HDMI, and a media reader are all welcome inclusions, and one of the two USB ports is a 3.0 variety, although the driver for the Fresco Logic USB 3.0 controller wasn’t installed in our model (d’oh!). When it was, performance for the port was in line with expectations, giving us reads and writes to an external USB 3.0 drive of 217.7MB/s and 184.4MB/s, respectively.
IT MIGHT SEEM like ultrabooks have overtaken the laptop landscape, what with all the attention they’ve received lately in the press and at CES, but there are still plenty of folks who prefer a more substantial laptop for general-purpose computing. These are the folks Samsung’s Series 7 Chronos is aimed at.
Like its ultrabook brethren, which inevitably draw comparisons to the MacBook Air, the Chronos bears a strong resemblance to an Apple product: the MacBook Pro. The 15.6-inch laptop is just shy of an inch thick; its lid, display bezel, and palm rest are all made of silver brushed aluminum; the island keyboard is backlit; and it features a large, 4.2x3-inch glass touchpad with integrated right and left buttons. The Chronos is not the paragon of industrial engineering that Apple is known for (the edges and bottom of the rig, for example, are made of plastic), but it has an attractive, refined aesthetic and its build quality feels solid.
The Chronos also costs a lot less than a comparably equipped MacBook Pro. The model we reviewed, sporting a 2.2GHz Core i7-2675QM processor, 8GB of DDR3/1333, an AMD Radeon 6750M GPU, and a 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive (plus an 8GB iSSD for fast boot and app loading), is fully $500 cheaper than the closest 15-inch MacBook Pro—and that model is limited to 4GB of RAM, a 500GB 5,400rpm drive, and a 1440x900 display (vs. the Chronos’s 1600x900). It’s a no-brainer if you’re into value.
WE REVIEWED Eurocom’s top-of-the-line mobile workstation, the Panther 2.0, in our June 2011 issue. That high-end behemoth weighed more than 15 pounds and cost upward of $5,000, but it sported a desktop Core i7-980X CPU and a pair of Radeon HD 6970s in CrossFire. This time around we’re taking a look at the company’s lighter-weight mobile workstation, the Neptune 3D.
While also billed as a high-end desktop-replacement, the Neptune 3D is far more modest than its beefy big brother. It’s based on a mobile Sandy Bridge CPU (Intel’s Core i7-2760QM) and a single mobile GPU (Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 580M). The Neptune 3D weighs less than nine pounds, but its defining feature is its 17.3-inch, 120Hz, 3D display.
You’d have to actively be avoiding the tech media over the past several months not to have heard about Ultrabooks. Their coming has garnered a boatload of buzz, fueled in no small part by Intel’s $300 million fund to get hardware and software makers behind the cause.
Ultrabooks are Intel’s answer to the spread of ARM-based tablets—a way to capture the hearts and minds of the masses with an x86-based portable device (of the Intel persuasion, natch). To that end, Ultrabooks are required to meet a few key “desirability” standards. They must be slim, lightweight, have generous battery life, and boot and resume from hibernation in brisk fashion. It’s also understood they should look cool. As Apple products so clearly demonstrate, style sells. And sure enough, Ultrabooks—at least those that have debuted so far—are heartily infused with MacBook Air influence.
So are these new, “cool” devices the next must-have products? Is all the hoopla warranted? We review the first four Ultrabooks to kick off the category. All are 13.3 inch models, but each brings its own brand of hot-newness to the table, with varying degrees of persuasiveness, as you’ll see when you click the jump.
Lenovo also brings its A-game to the Ultrabook party. And well it should, since it’s asking almost $1,500 for the IdeaPad U300s. That’s premium, business-ultraportable price territory. It’s therefore apropos that the U300s has the most businessy aesthetic, although not at the sake of sleek design. Like the Asus UX31E and the MacBook Air, the U300s is crafted from a single-sheet of aluminum. It eschews the wedge form factor established by Apple and instead uniquely mimics the lines of a hardbound book, with the top and bottom edges protruding slightly all the way around the perimeter, the way a book’s covers protrude past the pages. It makes for a distinct and pleasing silhouette.
With the Asus UX31E, all the fuss about Ultrabooks starts to make sense. Its all-metal chassis, cut from a single sheet of aluminum, is undeniably handsome. And while this attractive metal wedge that’s just .71 inches at its thickest brings to mind the fine craftsmanship of a MacBook Air, it’s by no means a knockoff. The UX31E possesses a unique character that’s admirable in its own right. And at $1,050, it’s $250 less than its similarly spec’d Apple counterpart.
Toshiba does Acer $100 better, offering the Z835, a Best Buy exclusive, for $800. Its low price is matched by its light weight. At two pounds, 6.6 ounces, it beats all the others here by a good half-pound. But the Z835 also looks and feels the cheapest of the bunch. Its construction seems less solid—particularly the lid, which has a disconcerting amount of flex.