My Top 3 Ultrabooks

Posted on 05 December 2011, Last updated on 05 December 2011 by

It’s crunch time. I’ve been without a decent notebook for months and with CES fast approaching, I need to make a decision. I have a short-list of Ultrabooks and because there’s no-one in this room to discuss it with, I’m going to talk to myself.

Why Ultrabook?

I’ve tested three devices on the ultra-low voltage 2nd-gen Core platform so far and I really like what I see. The dynamic range of processing is just what I need; Quick Sync Video is the solution for my on-the-go video crunching and upload tasks, 1080p video playback is going to be great for home use and at around the 1KG mark, it meets my portability requirements spot-on. 5hrs is the battery life target for average use although anything more than that makes a day on the road less stressful! The Ultrabook platform delivers the perfect balance that I need right now.

I have considered the MacBook Air 11.6” The price is right and it’s got style. The battery life and performance are both a little above what you get with an Ultrabook too due to the focus that the OS-X engineers can have on the few platforms that it’s targeted at but I’m a Windows user and unable to switch to OS-X at this stage. The learning curve would knock me back a long way. There’s also a problem with Intel Quick Sync video. As far as I know, iMovie is CPU-bound and doesn’t support hardware acceleration. You may correct me on that if I’m wrong.

I’ve also looked up and down the range of Ultrabook alternatives too but I’ve set my lower CPU limit at Core i5 because I want the Turbo Boost feature so that cuts out many of the lower cost solutions, especially when your target weight is 1KG / 2.2lb. In fact, that weigh limits it down to very very few solutions outside the Ultrabook category and in the $1000 price bracket!

SO at $/€1000 this week we have the following:

Acer S3. Low cost but the HDD is a no-go for me. It might boot fast but I need an SSD all the time.

ASUS UX21. The price is right for a Core i5 Ultrabook with a super fast 128GB SSD but I’ve tested it and couldn’t get on with the keyboard. That’s a serious showstopper that one can not work around.

Toshiba Z830. This was my favorite device until I read about the slow write speed on the SSD. It’s slower than an average hard drive although boot times and application startup times do seem to be relatively quick due to fast read-speeds. I love the ports, the weight is fantastic for a 13” notebook and at 1000 Euro, it’s coming with 128GB and a Core i5. That SSD is not a show-stopper but it does worry me that I won’t be getting the best out of the system.

ASUS UX31. I haven’t tested this but I hear that it has the same keyboard mechanics as the UX21. I can’t risk that.

Lenovo U300s. There’s no keyboard backlight or SD card but I can live without that. At 1.3KG it’s not the lightest either although it has a 54Wh battery. There’s quick-charge too if you are able to take the charger with you. I wonder how much that weighs! Reports on the keyboard are very positive.

Coming soon…The HP Folio DM3 is one to watch but it’s really relatively heavy at 1.5KG. Yes, it has a bigger capacity battery but it’s 50% more than my ideal weight. It’s not in my top-list.

One non-Ultrabook solution that did climb right up my wish-list this week was the Samsung Series 9 900X1B. It’s a fantastic bit of kit and has a wonderful screen, great keyboard and is super efficient.  I’m using it now and in battery saving mode I could continue typing from a full charge for at least 7 hours. Like other solutions though, there’s a gotcha. The WiFi isn’t the best. At home I don’t have any issues as I have hotspots in all the right places but in a walk-away test I saw it drop in speed faster than many other devices I’ve seen recently. It’s going to be a real problem in a press-conference situation – exactly where I might need it. The other problem for me is that I wanted a full-size SDXC slot. It has a useless micro-SD card slot. I’m not a fan! There’s a silly little Ethernet adaptor cable too but that won’t worry me too much.

My Top Three



I’ve got three Ultrabooks in my sights right now. Strictly it’s two but the Samsung Series 9 is so close to an Ultrabook that I’m bundling it in. (hey, 5 second startup instead of 3 seconds and only 5-10 days standby – I can put up with that!) Remember, I’m located in the EU.

#1 Toshiba Z830. (13.3”, Core i5, 128GB) I’ve enjoyed hands-on with the Z830 and read great reports about it. The ports, weight and features match my requirements well but that SSD write speed is something that worries me. I’m testing the Z830 in about a weeks time. The price in the UK is a little higher than in Germany where 1000 Euros is spot on. I may even be prepared to have the German keyboard/language at that price!

#2 Lenovo U300s. (13.3", Core i5, 128GB) I’ll give-up the SD card and keyboard backlight if the U300s has a great keyboard and battery life but do I want 30% more weight than the Samsung Series 9?  The price is right at 1000 Euro. Hoping to test before Christmas.

#3 Samsung Series 9 900X1B (11.6”, Core i5, 128GB) is available now in my price bracket. I’m confident that the screen, keyboard and design fit my requirements and the 1.06KG weight is so light that it’s hard to believe what’s packed inside. That WiFi is a major worry though and the price is the same as the Z830 above.

I have a few weeks to make a decision but not much longer as I leave for CES on the 7th Jan and I need a week or two to get everything set-up just as I need it!

Got thoughts on the my Top 3? Let me know below.

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