Header Ads

Ultrabooks : Ultimate Test & Review

Let's puts 10 fast, slim and super-light laptops through their paces.

Touchscreen tab lets may have stolen the thunder of netbooks, but Intel recently sparked renewed interest in the traditional laptop computer with the launch of its Ultrabook range. This new category of computer consists of powerful laptops that are slim and light, have fast boot times and a long battery life.

We've tested and compared all the Ultrabooks on sale in the UK at the time of writing. For good measure, we've also thrown in a handful of ultra-portable laptops that don't make the Intel specification but have all the characteristics of official Ultrabooks. These include the MacBook Air - Apple's super-thin laptop that originally set the standard for ultra-slim laptops.

£1,000 - uk.asus.com

The Asus Zenbook UX3l's slim, brushed aluminum chassis gives it a tough look that's reminiscent of Apple's MacBook Air. It contains most of the ports we'd expect, with two USB sockets (one of which supports USB 3.0), a multi-format memory-card reader and a headphone socket, but no Ethernet port. It has HDMI and VGA ports, but both are mini versions that need special cables or adapters.

Its 13.3in display looks fantastic. It has a 1,600 x 900 pixel resolution that's the best in this group, making text look sharp. The contrast is good too, showing fine detail, even in darker images. The only niggle is that it's very glossy, so reflections can be visible.

The keyboard is spacious and comfortable to type on. Even better is the touchpad, which is made from a single piece of aluminum. The integrated buttons work well and don't interfere with the position of the mouse, which is a flaw we saw too often on other laptops in this test.

The computer is powered by a dual-core i7-2677M processor. It has 4GB of memory and a fast 128GB SSD (solid-state drive). This combination powered it through our 2D benchmark tests, putting it in second p lace behind the vastly more expensive Lenovo Think Pad Xl. It was also second to the Toshiba Portege in our 3D-gaming test with 14.5 frames per second, about half the ideal minimum frame rate of 30fps. However, none of the laptops in this group performed well in this test, so anyone buying a computer for its gaming performance should steer clear of Ultra books.

The only thing that stopped the UX31 getting full marks for performance was its battery life. In our tests, this lasted seven hours and six minutes, which is just below average.


The Asus Zenbook UX31 isn't the cheapest Ultrabook in this group, but it has the performance and features to make it good value for money. The most disappointing thing about it is its battery life, which was the sixth-longest here, lasting over seven hours. That's a little disappointing, but the superb screen, comfortable keyboard and smoothly responsive touchpad more than make up for it.

Features : 5/5
Performance : 4/5
Ease of Use : 5/5
Value of Money : 4/5

£680 - www.acer.co.uk

Most Ultrabooks cost around £1,000, but Acer has lowered the specification of this laptop to make it the second-cheapest model in this test.

The most significant compromise is that the Aspire 53 uses a small 20GB SSD alongside a traditional 320GB hard disk. Most Ultrabooks come with a single, larger SSD, running all the computer's functions from this faster drive.

Other internal components have also been downgraded to drive down the p rice. The processor is an i5-2467M, which runs at 1.6GHz. The Asus Zenbook UX31 and Dell XPS 13 Ultra books come with an Intel i7 chip, which performs better but makes them more expensive. The 53 has 4GB of memory, the same as all the other models bar the 8GB ThinkPad X1 and 3GB Pavilion DM1, but unlike the Asus and the Dell laptops, it can't be upgraded to 8GB.

In our tests, the 53's performance was average. It came fourth in our 3D-gaming test, which doesn't sound too bad, but running at 13.4fps is nothing to get excited about. It ended up in the middle of the group in our 2D-benchmark test, but battery life was below average at 5.5 hours. Take the price into account, however, and these results become more acceptable.

The number of ports on the chassis also reflects the cheaper price. It has an HDMI port, two USB ports, a memory card slot and a headphone socket, but there are no USB 3.0 or Ethernet options.

The keyboard is comfortable to type on but the touch pad is cramped, and its integrated buttons make it tricky to use accurately.

The screen has a resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels, which is average for the group. The image quality and contrast are good, but the viewing angles are disappointing, so it's only at its best when viewed face-on.


The Aspire S3 is the cheapest official Ultrabook available. Of course, you can't slash £200 off the price of a PC without taking something away, but Asus has gently pruned back features rather than hacking at them mercilessly. The reduction in SSD size is the most significant cut and it makes the boot time noticeably slower than on the other Ultrabooks we tested. Most of the other cuts have less impact, but still result in a slightly less impressive all-round performance.

Features : 3/5
Performance : 3/5
Ease of Use : 4/5
Value of Money : 5/5

£270 - www.hp.com/uk

At £270, the Pavilion costs £410 less than the next-cheapest Ultrabook, the Acer Aspire 53. HP can sell it so cheaply because it doesn't have many of the advanced features that Intel stipulates Ultrabooks must contain, including an SSD and Intel processors. But the DM1 has some typical Ultrabook qualities, so it's worth considering if you're on a tight budget.

Its 11in screen keeps the overall size of the unit down. HP has squeezed in a 1,366 x 768 pixel resolution display, so it has as much detail as the larger laptops we reviewed, with the exception of the Gold Award-winning Asus Zenbook UX31.

It also has an impressive number and variety of ports, including three USB ports, an Ethernet port, a multi-format card reader, and full size HDMI and VGA ports. This makes life a lot easier, since you won't need to use adapters to connect the laptop to a wired network, TV or monitor.

Despite all the ports, the chassis is remarkably slim. However, at 1.6kg, it’s heavy for its size. The keyboard is comfortable to type on, but the wrist wrest is small due to the compact size of the laptop. The touchpad is also a b it puny and can get in the way of typing. It's easily disabled by double-clicking the top left corner, but it's annoying to have to keep turning it on or off.

Its battery life was the longest in our tests, lasting for 9 hours and 10 minutes. It came bottom in our 2D performance test, though, scoring just 10. This is a long way behind every other laptop tested here, so we wouldn't recommend it for images and video editing. It’s fine for word processing and web browsing, though.

3D performance was second from bottom, but there's only a frame or two per second to separate it from most of the others.


The HP Pavilion DMI has a similar size and shape to an Ultrabook but lacks some key components. However, by skimping on features, it has a much lower price. Its Windows performance isn't overly impressive, but its battery makes it great for travel. The biggest drawback is that, as a result of its small size, the wrist rest and touch pad are less comfortable to use than on the larger laptops we tested.

Features : 4/5
Performance : 3/5
Ease of Use : 3/5
Value of Money : 4/5

£TBC - www.dell.co.uk

At the time of going to press, Dell hadn't announced a release date or price for its first Ultrabook, the XPS 13. However, the early sample we tested performed well and would make a good purchase, as long as the price is right.

In our benchmark tests, its 2D performance was good, coming a close fourth. Its 3D-games performance wasn't quite as impressive, but the battery lasted nearly eight hours, which is excellent.

The screen has a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, which is average for an Ultra book, but it was brighter and clearer than many other models on test. Although it has a 13.3in screen, it's fitted in a more compact body than the other 13in models reviewed here. The keyboard and trackpad are both comfortable and easy to use.


If you can find the XPS 13 available for around £900, we would recommend buying it ahead of the Asus Zenbook UX31. However, with no information on price or availability at the time of going to press, we can't give it an award yet.

Features : 4/5
Performance : 4/5
Ease of Use : 5/5
Value of Money : N/A

£938 - www.lenovo.com/uk

The price of the Lenovo Idea Pad U300s just undercuts the Gold Award-winning Asus Zen book UX31. However, it didn't do so well in our performance tests, with scores in both the 2D and 3D tests lagging behind others. The battery life was good though, running 24 minutes longer than the Asus laptop.

Its brushed-metal case is extremely hard-wearing and should stand up well to the rigors of travel. Its attractive screen has a lower resolution than the Asus model, at 1,366 x 768 pixels, but that’s not out of line with the rest of the Ultra books we tested.

The keyboard is comfortable to use, but the Enter key is half the normal size - the height of a standard key - and during testing, we regularly pressed the wrong key.


This is a well-built Ultrabook with a good battery life that will appeal if you're regularly away from a wall socket. It isn't as powerful as the Asus Zen book UX31, though. The keyboard has a half-height Enter key, which sounds like a small problem, but we were surprised by how often we hit the wrong key.

Features : 3/5
Performance : 4/5
Ease of Use : 3/5
Value of Money : 4/5

Best of the Rest

Toshiba Portege Z830-104
£1,097 - uk.computers.toshiba-europe.com

Despite having lots of ports, including Ethernet, USB 3.0, HDMI and VGA, the Toshiba Portege is a super-thin 16mm. Its matt display doesn't suffer from reflections, unlike most of the other Ultra books we tested. However, the contrast isn't as strong and the colors appear muted. It's the best for 3D gaming by a small but significant margin, but the dull screen takes its edge away.

Asus Zenbook UX21
£830 - uk.asus.com 

If you'd p refer a smaller, more compact Ultrabook, the Zenbook UX21 has an 11in screen and overall proportions to match. The resolution is the same as the larger models, so text looks smaller, but the screen is bright and clear. The smaller case means there's no memory-card slot or Ethernet port, but the tough aluminum chassis squeezes in some surprisingly powerful Altec Lansing speakers. Sadly, the battery life lasted just over 4.5 hours, which was the second-worst in our tests.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Air
£1,349 - www.apple.com/uk 

The MacBook Air may have inspired the Ultrabooks, but its specification hasn't c hanged since November 2010 and it's starting to show its age. Its battery life was only a few minutes short of the best in our test, but the 2D and 3D performances were both close to the bottom. Its aluminum case is second to none and it's famously easy to use, as long as you don't want to run Windows. It's expensive, though.

Samsung Series 9
£1,183- www.samsung.com/uk 

The Series 9 laptop has been updated to conform to the Ultrabook specification. The case is small, so you don't get the variety of ports found on some of the other models. The 13in matt screen is sharp, but colors are muted. It didn't perform well, beating only the much cheaper HP Pavilion in our 2D benchmark, with average speed in the 3D test. It's got a good battery though, lasting over 7.5 hours in our tests.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
£1,624- www.lenovo.com/uk 

The ThinkPad Xl got the best score in our 2D benchmark, thanks to its excellent processor and 8GB of memory. But it was only above average in the 3D test and its battery lasted just over four hours. It's crammed with features, including lots of useful ports and a 3G modem. However, the touchpad has no buttons, so it's awkward to use. You have to tap the pad with one or two fingers for left and right clicks, but we found it too sensitive to work well. At £1,624, it ought to perform better.

Test Result Charts

Final Verdict

Our favorite Ultrabook is the Asus Zenbook UX31. At £1,000 it doesn't come cheap, but it provides a good balance of performance, features and quality. If you've got the budget, it's the model we'd recommend, so we've given it our Gold Award. If the price is out of your range, you can pay over £300 less by opting for an Acer Aspire 53 (£688). A few features have been compromised to bring the price down, the most significant being a small 20GB SSD, but this Ultrabook is still an attractive buy, and we've given it our Silver Award. That's still a lot of money, but you won't get an Ultrabook for much less. However, if you're happy with something that looks like an Ultrabook but don't care whether it conforms to Intel's specification, the HP Pavilion DM1 might appeal. Its AMD E-350 processor and small memory meant it came bottom in our performance tests, but at £270, it’s superb value for money, and gets our Bronze Award for this reason.

Click to Enlarge Image