When Apple launched the wafer-thin MacBook Air in 2008, it seemed like an expensive, underpowered novelty. Now, superlight computers have hit performance parity with traditional laptops and prices have plummeted, with the rest of the PC industry hopping on the ultrabook bandwagon. What do you need to know before you buy? Let’s look inside.
1 SCREEN The monitor determines the size and weight of the computer. To keep ultrabooks slim, manufacturers typically laminate LCD screens in place without a glossy protective top layer.
2 BATTERY Open an ultrabook and you’ll see that half the real estate is occupied by a battery. These PCs can run 5 to 7 hours on a charge – accept nothing less.
3 UNIBODY CHASSIS When you build something this thin, rigidity becomes an issue. Look for a firm metal (aluminium or magnesium) structure. Avoid plastic chassis, which can bend or break.
4 PORTS Prepare to make do with fewer of these. Ultrabooks have no optical drive and rarely more than two USBs (make sure at least one is USB 3.0), plus an SD card reader. At the 11-inch size, you often lose the SD, too.
5 WI-FI Unless you want to carry around a USB or proprietary Ethernet dongle, the built-in Wi-Fi card is your only path to the Internet – most ultrabooks have no built-in Ethernet jack.
6 CPU The ultrabook’s secret ingredient is a low-power processor with integrated graphics. Newer PCs should be using
Intel’s Ivy Bridge CPUs, which stretch battery life and improve video performance.
7 RAM In a typical computer, RAM is the most user-upgradable part. Not in ultrabooks. The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so plan for the future by buying a machine with at least 4 GB.
8 HARD DRIVE Most ultrabooks use solid-state drives (SSD) in the new mSATA format – essentially, that’s a small circuit board with fl ash memory on it. SSDs are speedy, but capacity is low.
INSIDE THE PM LAB To take apart this ultrabook, we had to remove dozens of miniature screws. We counted 74 tiny
1,6 mm screws in the keyboard alone. – Anthony Verducci