If you’ve been following along the last few days, you saw us highlight plenty of Ultrabook deals for those looking to snag a machine on the cheap for Black Friday or Cyber Monday. The deals came in many shapes and sizes and often spanned the gap between first generation (Sandy Bride) and second generation (Ivy Bridge) Ultrabooks. If you haven’t been following the Ultrabook space closely, as we have, you might be confused about the difference. This article aims to clear that up and tell you how to identify one from the other.
Continuing my Ultrabook game-testing, I wanted to highlight a game that’s free-to-play and worth a shot if you’re a fan of strategy-based games rather than twitch-based first-person shooters. The game in question is League of Legends  which is a standalone game based on the immensely popular Defense of the Ancients mod which ran within Warcraft III  and began its rise to fame in 2003. This is a multiplayer action-RPG which is highly strategic and can take some time to master. In my testing on the UX31 with Core i5 CPU, HD 3000 graphics, and 4GB of RAM, League of Legends runs flawlessly.
Lately we’ve been getting asked, “should I buy an Ultrabook now or wait for Ivy Bridge?”. Here I’d like to give my recommendation to help out those who might be ready to pull the trigger on an Ultrabook purchase.
Early in January I put forward an article which highlighted the differences between the ‘ultra low voltage’ CPUs you get in Ultrabooks and the ‘low voltage’ CPUs you get in many laptops. I gave some comparison figures for two devices in different usage scenarios by measuring ‘system’ power drain and it was only in the high-end tests where we saw the ULV processor being significantly more efficient. In this article I continue the testing and compare the LV and ULV cores directly. The results are blow.
Measuring ‘system’ drain on two different systems isn’t the most scientific of tests so a discussion broke out in the comments about how we could measure a true difference in efficiency between ULV and LV processors and whether it could be possible to run low-voltage processors at slower clockrates and get the same efficiency as a ULV processor.
The theory says ‘No.’ If you run a CPU at the same frequency but with a higher voltage, the power usage goes up.
Brad Linder of Liliputing has an article up today about the lack of Dell Netbooks on the US site. After a follow-up by Joanna Stern of The Verge, Dell has now confirmed it is dropping netbooks and, apparently, any development of notebooks on the Cedar Trail platform. The focus in 2011, according to the Dell spokesperson, is ‘Thin and Light.’
I have two thoughts. Number 1 is that the Cedar Trail platform doesn’t exactly equate to netbooks and I think there’s space for 11.6” ultralights on that platform. They would offer reasonable CPU power and with an SSD and a redesign have every chance of riding on the coat-tails of Ultrabooks to offer a very cheap and stylish thin and light solution.
The second thought, of course, is when are the Dell Ultrabooks coming?
I’ve posted a detailed review of the ASUS UX21 over at Ultrabooknews and even if you think the device is too big, I encourage you to read the article to learn about the platform and it’s differences to Oaktrail, Cedar Trail and other low-power platforms. The UX21 idles down well and gets things done so fast that the total battery used for tasks is, in many cases, less than on a low-power platform. The effect is known as ‘HUGI’ by Intel – Hurry Up Get Idle – and it seems to work.
The platform provides a high dynamic range of operating modes from simple web-based work in a netbook-like 8W power to gaming and video editing to a quality that you would never achieve on an Atom-based platform.
It’s interesting to think of where this could lead to. Will Atom-based devices just dissolve into a low-cost category? Will there be an interesting option for ‘Ultraslates’ in the future? Could Intel create an even more efficient, smaller and small platform based on their leading technologies. My feeling is ‘Yes’ and I talked about it in an article earlier this year.
I suggest reading the UX21 article though for more details and proof that there are some Ultra Mobile possibilities with the high-end mobile computing platforms.
The more I test Intel Sandy-Bridge based systems the more I am becoming convinced that laptop silicon will eventually extend as a high-dynamic-range platform into to ultra-mobile PCs and tablets. The reason is that the new laptop platforms are using advanced processes and techniques and are extremely efficient at getting things done. ‘Hurry Up Get Idle’ is a simple concept that means if you can get the same job done quickly, you can turn off or idle a pc and thus reduce the power used. The area under the power curve is smaller.
In practice, its difficult to make HUGI work because a lot of the tasks we do are either very short, can only work as fast as a human can input or rely on data coming from other sources. PC’s aren’t very good at idling either but from my recent video editing tests, I can see that there’s at least one scenario where it works very well.
The problem with getting laptop silicon into a handheld product is the thermals. Intel leads the way in this market and their products provide plenty of thermal monitoring and control but it will take a little bit more than what is currently on offer to be able to easily design and produce a 7″, tablet running a laptop-style processor. It’s been done before though. Samsung, experts in electrical engineering, produced a 7″ Tablet running a 1.3Ghz Core SoloÂ but that was at a time when there was noÂ competitionÂ from ARM-based devices, $1200 tablets were common and thereÂ wasn’tÂ an Atom processor around. The latest tablet example would be the Eee Slate EP121Â and for a 1.06KG laptop, the Samsung 900X1A gets close but that’s a little larger and heavier than a handheld device should be.
As silicon processes get better though and thermal control, dedicated silicon and single-chip solutions become more common, you can expect both Intel and AMD to try to offer the ultimate processing power in the handheld space. You can expect these products to have premium prices and to be targeted at niche markets but with Windows 8 as a catalyst and competition increasing from the latest ARM designs, offering these niche product is one way that the X86 chip makers can retain an advantage and one way manufacturers can differentiate their products.
I know that 1.3KG can feel different in different form factors but the thin and light laptops shouldn’t be ignored if you’re thinking about ultra mobility. For example, if you need a device to operate for 7-8 hours while typing offline but want to turn up the power dial to 11 now and then for a bit of 720p editing and rendering or gaming, the Samsung 900X3A is one to take a look at. It’s a smart device in its own right but it also gives us a good idea how Ultrabooks will perform when they arrive in the next few months.
In the full Samsung 900X3A review I’ve just published over at Ultrabooknews you’ll see some impressive, netbook-like battery life possibilities, gaming and video editing and some thoughts about moving up from the netbook category. For example:
Video editing and processing
Fine-grain thermal management that allows ‘turbo’ scenarios
A wide-dynamic range of operating modes. From netbook to desktop
Faster busses, faster disk, faster startup
Video streaming and video calling in high quality
Fast batch processing of images
A wide range of reliable video playback capability
Fast web rendering
Ultrabooks are a category I’m personally very interested in as one that fits well with my three device (smartphone, pad, laptop) strategy. I’ll be writing up a new article about ultra-mobile video editing using the Samsung Series 9 and you’ll see it in the next few days here at UMPCPortal. Hint: 5x high-end netbook rendering speeds. 3X Fusion E.350 rendering speeds for 720p content and output.
Let me be up-front about my experience with €1600 laptops – I have none. In fact, I’ve never owned a laptop. Netbooks and ultra-mobile PCs and Tablets, yes. Since 2006 I’ve owned a number of them and tested probably hundreds through my work running UMPCPortal.com. Having ‘just enough’ processing power for my tasks in the smallest, best value package with the longest battery life possible was more important than all-out power. Because of a series of changes in the marketplace and in my own requirements though (think 720p video editing) I’m now extremely interested in something with more power. That’s why Ultrabooks caught my attention, that’s why I sold my last netbook recently and that’s why I started this blog. I also feel that many others are going to end up in the same boat as me. Intel thinks 40% of their laptops will be Ultrabooks before the end of 2012 and I can see why. It’s all about pro-sumer laptopping; Doing what you do on a desktop, in a lightweight, highly portable form factor. I call it high-dynamic-range computing.
Thanks to everyone that turned up to watch me mess about with the Samsung 900X3A yesterday evening. We spent a good 2 hours going over almost everything except Bluetooth 3+HS and USB 3.0 which we couldn’t test.
Were there any surprises? Not really. We had no issues and found no major showstoppers. The battery was hit hard during the tests though and it does highlight how easy it is to be focusing on working while forgetting that the battery might be suffering. In the 2 hours we tested, we saw 32% battery loss which is about 4hrs total battery time. Considering that we were testing gaming, 1080p YouTube videos and doing CPU and GPU tests, it’s not surprising but it goes to show that there’s quite a range of capabilities.
The other point I noted was that 1080p videos from YouTube played full-screen to a 1080p monitor worked smoothly along with 1080 samples (H.264) at 10 and 12mbps average. In fact, h.264 is handled perfectly by the hardware video decoder. The CPU barely moved!
I’m still writing up the full review of the 900X3A but while you’re waiting, here are three recorded sessions (recorded from the live stream so not the best quality) from last night. The first impressions post (with higher-quality overview video) is here.
I’m typing this article on a 1.4Ghz Core i5 2357M device. It’s fast and efficient and representative of the type of performance that you’re going to get from Ultrabooks. It’s not quite the platform that the Asus UX21 will use when it launches though. On that you can expect one of the three new Sandy Bridge ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) CPUs that CNet highlighted today. There are two additional Core i3 parts I see too which brings the total to 8 CPU/GPUs, one of which is for embedded markets.