They may not dominate the market (the price tags can indeed be daunting), but ultrabooks are the latest evolution of the ultra-portable computer. Intel invented the concept in response to Apple’s MacBook Air, bringing to market laptops with 11- to 15-inch screens that are less than 2 cm thick and weigh under 2 kg. The most recent models have IPS displays for a better image and solid-state drives to boost performance and power. The ultrabook has allowed Intel to almost entirely outsell AMD in the 11.6- to 14-inch laptop product range.
Laptops with 15-inch screens and above are fairly large and not as easy to carry around in a backpack. The biggest evolution on these computers has come in the form of processing power (CPUs and 3D graphics cards), which has continued to increase as the prices remain steady.
Unlike desktop computers, when you buy a laptop you’re stuck with the screen attached to it. That’s why the screen quality is a deciding factor in how we rate laptops. Models with bad screens (i.e. with contrast ratios under 300:1) automatically get no more than three stars in our overall rating. To get five stars a laptop has to have over 600:1 contrast.
But before you can choose which altar to pray to, first you need to choose your religion: Apple or Microsoft. Roughly 12% of our readers prefer Mac OS for its simplicity and ease-of-use, and around 75% prefer Windows for its range of applications. Then there’s Linux for the adventurous, the lovers of free software, customisation and DIY.
We feel that operating systems are really a matter of personal taste, so when we rate a computer we do it independently of our own preference in OS (we just take into account how well the machine runs the given system).
With good levels of processing power, a high-contrast Full HD IPS screen with accurate colours, and a sleek ultra-slim aluminium casing, the UX31A is a top choice ... so long as you're not too into gaming.
Best of the rest
Excellent But Pricey
Apple 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2012)
After the stellar 15" version, this year's 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display won us over with its impeccable finishing, quality screen, silent fan, battery life and processing power. All Apple has to do to reach perfection is add Ethernet and lower the price... Hey, you can always dream, right?
Dell Inspiron 14z (2012)
Seeing as audio quality could be better and the screen isn't great, the Dell Inspiron 14Z only gets a three star score in our review. However, this 14" ultrabook works quietly, has a built-in DVD drive and a set of standard connections. What's more, it sells at a reasonable price..
Acer Iconia W510
The Iconia W510's astonishing 18-hour battery life (with the keyboard plugged in) makes this convertible netbook/tablet a top choice for users on the move. The W510 will get you where you're going and offers a fluid experience, as long as you stick with basic office computing and web browsing.