Computers are a part of our everyday lives, but most of us don't actually need the amount of processing power available to us in large, hefty desktops or laptops. The idea of the Ultrabook is to make laptops a bit more convenient, but powerful enough for most tasks.
The term "Ultrabook" is actually pure marketing, dreamt up by Intel for a new generation of portable PCs featuring its technology. The best way to think of an Ultrabook is a 13-inch MacBook Air that isn't made by Apple, a netbook that isn't underpowered or a laptop that's been on a crash diet.
The term Ultrabook was coined by Intel, and it specifies laptops with particular specifications, separating them from other ultraportable laptops. They all have Intel Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processors, fast SSD storage to some degree, and now USB 3.0 connectivity, for speedy file transfers.
Ultrabooks are made with design in mind, so they tend to start from around $999 (around £584, AU$1,064) in the lower end, going to nearly $2,000 (around £1,169, AU$2,131) at the very high end. Ultimately, you're likely to spend between $899 and $1,500 for a newer model, though you can get some older models for good prices. Below are our five favorite Ultrabooks at the moment, based on our comprehensive reviews.
Acer Aspire S7
For 2014, Acer has updated it's luxury laptop with a super sharp QHD display. This 2560 x 1440 panel is prepared for the day when hyper-HD content is finally viable to watch over wireless internet. In the now, text looks gorgeous, as do images – thus adding to the near-future feel of this device.
The build quality on display here, from the Aspire S7's aluminum and Gorilla Glass frame is palpable. That goes for the snappy keyboard, with its fancy electroluminescent lighting, too.
The Acer Aspire S7 (starting at $1,349, £1,199, AU$2,599) truly feels like a machine built for the now, 2014, and one that you won't mind using well into 2016, possibly longer. So, love the Aspire S7 for its cutting edge build, fine typing experience and premium specs.
- Read our Acer Aspire S7 review
Dell XPS 13
Dell has really got serious with the internals of the Dell XPS 13 (starting at $1,299, £1,099, AU$1,699). Haswell (4th generation) Intel Core processors, at least 8GB of RAM, an SSD for fast performance and a snappy keyboard all combine to make this an attractive laptop.
It's brilliantly thin and light, and 13-inch screen still gives you room to work. This time around, Dell offers a 1080p touchscreen to keep up with the competition. The Dell XPS 13 remains one of the best laptops you can buy, offering top-notch performance and excellent build quality.
- Read our Dell XPS 13 review
Acer Aspire S3
Adding dedicated graphics to an Ultrabook makes for an intriguing differentiator, especially since it doesn't detract from the Aspire S3's slim and light body. Plus, a 1080p, IPS screen is just what we're after in a laptop like this. Performance is sound, too, thanks to an Intel Core i5 processor and 16GB SSD cache.
The battery life on offer here is not great for an Ultrabook, missing out on all-day use away from the power plug. But what do you expect from a machine with a dedicated GPU? The point is to ride the line between two types of machines, which Acer managed to do well here.
The Acer Aspire S3 isn't a top performer in any category, but it's an interesting splicing of an Ultrabook and a less portable laptop with its hybrid hard drive and dedicated GPU. For those looking for a marriage of both portability and power on the cheap (relatively), it's a combo that works.
- Read our Acer Aspire S3 review
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Samsung was one of the very first PC manufacturers to jump on the Ultrabook bandwagon. It's done a fine job of representing Intel's baby ever since, with some stunning offerings, including the Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch and, more recently, the top-of-the-line Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D.
Samsung's new Ultrabook: the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus (starting at $1,399, £1,412, AU$2,259), might keep the company ahead of the game for a while, at least if its on-paper abilities are anything to go by.
It's a wonderful-looking unit. It's thin and carefully crafted, with shiny, chamfered edges lining its all-aluminium chassis. But its plain black exterior might lend some clues as to its intent: This is premium-priced Ultrabook focused as much on the business user as the coffee shop regular.
- Read our Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (starting at $1,186, £1,198, AU$1,699) is a business laptop that straddles the line between form and function more than ever after this update. For those with a penchant for aesthetics, here's a brand new design with some fantastic new features. And to keep the no-nonsense business user happy, this is a plenty powerful piece of hardware.
The connectivity on offer through this Ultrabook's super slim design profile alone is impressive. And the adaptive keys, while divisive, add a ton of function in a limited amount of space and an attractive presentation. Look out, MacBook Pro, you're no longer the only thin and light business option on the block.
- Read our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review