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.
When Ultrabooks were first announced it seemed doubtful that manufacturers could turn out these wannabe MacBook Airs at the sub-$1,000 price Intel was promising. Acer put those doubts to rest with the Aspire S3, which debuted at $900. Given its relative affordability, it’s not surprising that the Aspire S3 makes a few compromises in its Air aspirations.
Add Samsung to the multitude of vendors announcing new Ultrabook models at CES this year. The company is entering the category with the Series 5 Ultra family, consisting of both a 13.3- and 14-inch model. The design of these thin, stylish portables is clearly influenced by the Series 9 laptop, which itself has undergone an update.
We have a term for technology like Toshiba’s Qosmio F755 laptop. It’s “demo cool.” It wows you in a demo, but after some serious testing, you’re not quite sure you’d want to use it day in and day out. Though we’re impressed by the technical achievement of Toshiba’s glasses-free 3D technology, it’s just not developed enough to earn our recommendation.
To call HP’s 2560p an “ultraportable” is pushing it. It has a slightly smaller footprint than the Toshiba R830, with a screen size of 12.5 inches, but it’s heavier by more than a pound. With its power brick, you’re looking at more than five pounds, including a battery that protrudes a full inch from the back of the notebook’s body. This is no dainty package.
There was a time when Toshiba’s line of Portégé business ultraportables was the epitome of sleek utility, particularly in the days of the R500 and R600. Samsung stole some of that show when it released the Series 9 (reviewed here)—the closest a PC has come to a MacBook Air to date. But while the Portégé R830, much like the R700 before it, won’t win any design contests, it offers many useful amenities in a very-portable package.