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Top Ultrabooks in 2014

Updated on December 29, 2013
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aa lite is a self-confessed geek and gamer fanatic who has put together her own gaming rigs for the past 15 years.

The Macbook Air sets the standard for ultrabook excellence.
The Macbook Air sets the standard for ultrabook excellence. | Source

Why it Might be Wise to Delay Buying an Ultrabook Right Now

If you are looking for an ultraportable laptop, then there are really exciting developments just around the corner. At the same time, if you want to buy a really excellent model, and you don't need to buy right now, it might be a good idea to wait. Soon there should be a much wider choice of new laptops with significant improvement over the current computers.

Not just any light and thin laptop can call itself an ultrabook. There are very specific standards, set by Intel that it must meet. The specify things like the maximum weight, maximum start up time, and the minimum battery life.

Ultrabook Improvements from the Haswell Processor

It is in the last criterion that a big improvement is about to happen due to Intel's newest processor, the 4th generation Haswell, that is much more efficient. Because the ultrabook's battery cannot be easily removed, people who use their laptops away from possible wall sockets will definitely appreciate this.

Only a few computers now have the Haswell processor. One of the the Macbook Air now has an amazing 12 hour battery life. This was partially achieved by improving the battery itself, it is not solely due to the new CPU, but it indicates that big improvements in usability are on their way.

Sadly there are not many models sporting the new processor at the moment. This is why waiting a few months might be wise. Of course you will not pick up a model with the newest generation processor at bargain prices, so if you are looking for a moderately priced model, it is likely that you will be getting one with the older Ivy Bridge processor anyway.

Another advance is in integrated graphics. The Haswell may come with Intel integrated graphics HD 5000. Intel claims a 25% improvement over the HD 4000 graphics performance as measured by benchmarks. Although in real life games this can vary from an insignificant 2.5% to 40%, it definitely makes it possible to play some games or use graphics card dependent applications on an ultrabook.

Apple MacBook Air MD760LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION)
Apple MacBook Air MD760LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION)

1.3 Ghz Haswell core i5 processor. 4 GB RAM. 13.3" 1440x900 LCD display. weight=2.96 pounds. 12 hours battery life.

 

The Newest Macbook Air Already Comes with a Haswell CPU

The Macbook Air (MBA) has always been a sort of Ultrabook standard against which other laptops were measured. The 2013 version is also one of the first to come with Haswell. It comes in 11" and 13.3" versions (although there is no version with a retina display sadly). I have the 13.3", I just didn't feel that an 11" screen would be large enough, although there are people who choose it for its portability.

The Haswell version appears to be a major improvement over older models. Apart from the much improved battery life, it is faster, and has a faster startup time due to an improved SSD. Of course the beautiful aluminium unibody design has not been altered and the other specifications are pretty standard for an ultra book.

In terms of connections it comes with 2 USB ports (3.0), one thunderbolt, and an SD card reader. Obviously you do not expect a DVD drive in an ultra-portable.

You have a choice of a 128GB or a more spacious (and expensive) 256 GB SSD drive. The Macbook Air also comes with the new Intel HD5000 integrated graphics. One thing that often gets overlooked, but that I really value, is the incredibly comfortable keyboard.

On the negative side, you end up paying a premium for an Apple product. Also some people really want a windows machine. So what choice is there for people who need a Windows super thin laptop, but want it to come powered by a Haswell CPU?

Acer Aspire S7-392-6832 13.3-Inch Touchscreen Ultrabook (1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-4200U Processor, 8GB DDR3, 128GB SSD, Windows 8) Crystal White
Acer Aspire S7-392-6832 13.3-Inch Touchscreen Ultrabook (1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-4200U Processor, 8GB DDR3, 128GB SSD, Windows 8) Crystal White

Haswell 4th generation Core i5 1.6 GHz processor. 8 GB RAM. 7 hour battery life. 13.3" 1920x1080 display. Intel graphics HD4400. Weight=2.87 pounds.

 

The Haswell-Powered Acer Aspire

The Acer Aspire S7-392 (the 392 distinguishes it from last year's version) cannot quite claim the same battery life as the Macbook Air, it lasts a relatively modest 7 hours under medium load, but it does have a better, full HD IPS touchscreen, something the macbook air lacks.

This ultrabook is also fractionally lighter than the macbook, weighing in at 2.87 pounds. It is very solidly built, aluminium covered with gorilla glass, which gives it a solid, rigid feel.

The 4th generation Haswell core i5 processor is also slightly faster with 1.6 GHz, and it comes with 8GB of RAM. On the graphics side, however, it only has the Intel Graphics 4400 chip, which doesn't quite have the same improvement over last year's Intel Graphics 4000. Of course unless you are planning ot play games, or other graphic-intesive applications, you will not notice a difference.

It did score very highly in reviews, and if you need a windows ultrabook right now, and can afford it is definitely a good choice. Unless you want to wait and see whether something better and/or more competitively prices will appear in the shops soon.

Sony VAIO Pro SVP13213CXB 13.3-Inch Core i5 Touchscreen Ultrabook (Carbon Black)
Sony VAIO Pro SVP13213CXB 13.3-Inch Core i5 Touchscreen Ultrabook (Carbon Black)

Haswell Core i5 1.6 GHz CPU. 4 GB RAM. Intel HD graphics 4400. 13.3" 1920x1080 IPS touchscreen. Weight=2.34 pounds.

 

The Sony Vaio Pro13

The Sony Vaio Pro 13 is very light, weighing in at 2.34 pounds, which it owes to its carbon fibre body. This material also give it some flex, which apparently does not affect its durability but does freak out some users.

Like the Acer above it comes with 13.3" 1920x1080 IPS LCD touchscreen. The IPS technology produces vibrant true colours and very good viewing angles. The Sony Vaio has a better colour gamut coverage than the Acer, which could be important for photographers or graphics artists.

Other than that there is little to separate the performance of the two laptops. You can watch the video below for a very thorough comparison.

One major issue is that the laptop runs hot, resulting in loud fan noise, even when not under particularly heavy load. This is something that I find very annoying in a laptop.

This model got some bad reviews because early users experienced some problems with the wi-fi. However Sony appears to have fixed that with new drivers, so it should not be an issue anymore.

The Acer and Sony Ultrabooks Compared

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