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Is an Ultrabook Better Than a MacBook Air?
A hot category at CES this year was Ultrabooks, with at least 20 new models announced. A bold new prediction from analyst group Juniper Research anticipates that tablets will fall out of favor and Ultrabooks will come to replace them. We’re not so sure we agree however; meanwhile, Intel is betting that 2012 will be the year of the Ultrabook, so we thought it would be useful to take a closer look at this hot topic. Keep in mind, we're only looking at hardware for this comparison although we recognize that for many the OS will be the major deciding factor.

What is an Ultrabook?

Ultrabooks, in a nutshell, are being touted as the ideal combination of tablet and laptop. Intel dictates the features that make a laptop an Ultrabook and they mostly center around dimensions like thickness and of course an Intel chip set. The idea is that Ultrabooks offer the full functionality of a laptop - running full versions of Windows, which netbooks often do not and tablets never do - in a light, well-designed body that is reminiscent of a tablet. IBM's Core i3, i5, and i7 are the processors that are allowing the Ultrabooks to be fully functional and compete directly with the MacBook Air.

A Year Old MacBook Air
Competes Well With Ultrabooks

One of the arguments kicking around our office is whether or not we can fairly compare a year old product (the Air) against a category of brand new devices, but we found that in overall performance the Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air were on par, with the MacBook Air even doing better in terms of graphic performance. Ultrabooks and MacBook Airs are also comparable on price with the Airs tending a little over $1000 and Ultrabook pricing running from well under $1,000 to close to $2,ooo.
Modeling Apple's design
One of the key points to take into account is design, and it's hard to go up against Apple here. Apple offer some of their best construction in the unique aluminum unibody of the MacBook Air. Lenovo and Asus have both attempted to bring their own version of the all-metal chassis: Lenovo crafts the IdeaPad U300s' body from a single sheet of metal, and Asus has sandwiched together the palm rest and the underside of the chassis and bolted the two together, calling it a monoshell. “This and light” is the primary design mantra of an Ultrabook - Acer’s Aspire S5 Ultrabook is just .6 inches thick at its widest point, and the HP Envy Spectre 14 is .8 inches thick. They also favor solid-state hard drives that start up very quickly and don’t add nearly as much weight to a device as traditional laptops.
Ultrabooks and Airs By the number

MacBook Air 13/11

Dell
XPS 13

HP
Envy 14

Samsung Series 9

Sony
Vaio Z

Toshiba Portege Z830
PRICE $1299-1599
$999-1199
From $999.00 $1,400.00 $1,399-1,499 $1,950.00 From $699
SCREEN SIZE 13.3" and 11.6" 13.3" 14" 13" and 15" 13.1" 13.3"
PROCESSOR Dual Core i5 Core i3, i5, i7 Dual Core i5 Core i5 Dual Core i5, i7 Core i3, i5, i7
RAM 5GB
2-4GB
4GB 4GB8GB 4GB 4GB
6GB
8GB
4GB
6GB
STORAGE 128GB-256GB SSD
64GB-128GB
120GB SSD
256GB SSD
256GB SSD 128GB SSD 120 GB SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
128GB SSD
BATTERY 7hrs/5hrs 8hrs 9hrs 6hrs 7hrs 8hrs
WEIGHT 2.7lbs/2.38lbs 2.99lbs 3.79lbs 13" - 2.5lbs
15" - 3.3lbs
2.5lbs 2.42lbs
Spec-wise the MacBook Air is only coming in average at this point, so what this says to us is that it is starting to look like it's in need of another update. Just as Apple recently updated the components in its MacBook Pro line of laptops, offering more power and space at the same prices, ditching that 64GB SSD in the least expensive Air would be an excellent first step.

It’s the Little Things That Count

Numbers are important of course, but technology is greater than the sum of its specifications. There are areas that can't be compared in a spreadsheet. For example, reviewers have been impressed with Dell's XPS's trackpad and keyboard, an area where the MacBook Air has traditionally been incomparable. The rubberized palm rest seems to be preferable to the smooth one on the Air, the XPS also has an auto backlit keyboard and delicate trackpad that supports all of Windows 7 gestures.
What’s Missing in Ultrabooks and Airs?
Of course, all of these devices ask you to make a few compromises. They don’t have room for optical drives, so you might need to add a USB DVD or Blu-ray drive to load software or play movie discs. The cramped sides and back mean fewer ports, and a greater reliance on mini connections, such as Mini HDMI or Mini DisplayPort (apart from the Air which doesn't offer any of these). Most don’t have ethernet jacks; it’s Wi-Fi or nothing, short of breaking out another USB peripheral. The MacBook Air offers 2 USB ports, an SD Card slot (only on 13inch), and a Thunderbolt port which is worth mentioning but arguably useful.

How Will Ultrabooks Compete?

But keep in mind that this market is still emerging and Intel is being aggressive in defining the category; they have previewing some pretty awesome features that will further distinguish Ultrabooks from the MacBook Air, such as Microsoft Kinect-like motion controls and voice-recognition control.
And of Course You Ask, “How Much Do They Cost?”
The way things stand now Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air don't differ that significantly in price - most more or less range from around $900 to $1,500. Intel's ideal is that companies making Ultrabooks will likely undercut each other to get a piece of the demand for ultra-portable computers. According to Ovum analysts Ultrabooks will come down to the $600 to $700 range, but so far we haven't seen many in that range.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately none of the current slate of Ultrabooks appear to be the famed and elusive “MacBook Air killer”, and expect Apple to bring out the next generation of MacBook Airs any time now but it can't be argued that increased competition in this category is only going to provide positive results for the consumer.

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Awesome info

Awesome info

Argument

Not wishing to start one, but...

"arguably useful" means there's a case for it being useful
"it can't be argued that" means that there is no case for what follows.

In both examples, I suspect you mean the opposite.

Cheers!

Come on competition!

Good to see the competition, but really now, who's going to outshine Apple?
I priced out the Sony for the even up options on an Mac Air and it is priced higher!?
For fun I fully maxed out the Sony and it $3,769.
Yes, a one year old Mac Air still is champion. I have the one year old maxed out,
and it DOES have the i7 processor and their memory is 4G with 256G SSD.
Love it, it is how a laptop light should be. Can't wait for their new releases of Mac Book Air's
since I can upgrade and still get a great price on the resale market on the Apple, :)
j

Why? Do these people ever

Why? Do these people ever learn?--Just buy the real Thing! The OEM's don't get Apple! I-Pad,I-pod,I-Phone--- If you have to pay about the same Why not get the best These NEW U.B.'s just do hold up to a year old Computer and the OS...

jcliroykvu

Mac Air vs Ultrabooks

I did not realize that IBM Made ti i3, i5, and i7 processors. Also my MacBook Air has a i7 processor, 256GB SSD and 4GB RAM. You listed them with only an i5.