Ultrabooks, a new laptop category introduced by Intel, are thecomputers of the future. They’re less than .8 inches thick and lighterthan 3 pounds, and anyone who has used one will tell you it’s hard togo back to a heavy, boxy, full-sized laptop.
While Apple has so far dominated thiscategory with its 11-inch and 13-inch Macbook Airs, a large percentageof businesses, especially larger ones, haven’t considered them for afew important reasons. Apple is a sole supplier; Macs won’t run manybusiness software packages out of the box; and Macs won’t integratewith many business systems.
Fortunately, if you’d like an ultrabook to run Windows and themany Windows-based programs, you won’t be limited to running Windows ona Mac using Parallels, VMWare or Boot Camp. Companies like Acer, Asus,Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba have announced a number of ultrabooks. Sowhether it’s a Mac or PC, there are ultrabook hardware options foreveryone.
The biggest selling point of ultrabooks is portability. Being small insize and lightweight makes them easy to carry around, like a tablet, but with a full keyboard,file system, and the capability of running standard business software.Whereas you might not want to lug a full-size laptop into a vendor orclient’s office, a slim ultrabook no larger than a paper notepad allowsyou to easily have all the necessary data at your fingertips. The smallsize also makes it easier to use in small places, like the front seatof your car while in the parking lot of your next sale, or the traytable of a plane on the way to a conference.
Netbooks were the previous attemptat a small, lightweight laptop. Built to run Web apps, netbooks hadscreens as small as 9 inches and mini-keyboards to match. Though manyhad reasonable battery life, most didn’t have enough processing powerto run the database, spreadsheet, and word processing programs useddaily in most businesses.
With ultrabooks, performance isn’t a major concern. Intel providesprocessors like the Core i7 that are capable of serious work, andcombined with fast SSD drives, the performance of these tiny computersshould rival that of much larger systems.
Though a laptop with a 9-inch screen is portable, it’s also a bit of apain to work on, having a less-than full-size keyboard and a lowresolution screen. Manufacturers have learned from this, and the11-inch and especially 13-inch sizes offer a good balance of usabilityand portability.
Cost is always important to business, and could be the sticking pointfor some. Despite using a fraction of the materials of a full-sizelaptop or desktop computer, building something small generally costsmore for manufacturers. Ultrabook prices have been high, with some ofthe most capable machines costing up to $3000. Prices are coming down,though. Toshiba’sPortege Z830 will be available in November for less than$1000, and Intel is strongly pushing all ultrabook makers to keep costsbelow $1000.
With increased volume will inevitably come lower costs. Unfortunately,though many ultrabook makers are releasing new models, most are onlydipping their toes into the market, afraid to compete head-on withApple’s popular products. Until they gain more confidence and see anon-Apple manufacturer succeeding, availability will be limited, andprices will be higher than they should be.
The performance is there; a well-configured ultrabook can do all butthe most demanding of tasks. The selection is improving; Apple’sofferings are excellent, and a few PC models are already on the marketwith many more appearing in the next two months. The costs could bebetter; you can get far better value with a larger laptop, but asvolumes and competition increase, prices will come down.
Should you buy an ultrabook? If you’re looking for a new laptop, your job requires lots oftravel, and you have a few extra dollars to spend, then run, don’t walkto get one. If you’re looking for an occasional take-it-home desktopreplacement, you’re better off waiting for the options to increase andthe prices to drop. Just looking for a lightweight way to browse theWeb? Go with a tablet; it’s even lighter, better for battery life, andcheaper.