For those in the market for an ultra portable laptop, the names that come up again and again are the MacBook Air and the Ultrabook. While the MacBook Air is the single-most successful ultra portable laptop ever manufactured, the “Ultrabook” is neither a laptop manufacturer nor a model. Rather, it’s a trademarked term based on a set of specifications defined by Intel.
Unlike the MacBook Air, which is a single laptop model produced by Apple with 11.6” and 13.3” configurations, Ultrabooks are produced by most of the world’s major laptop manufacturers. This includes Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, Samsung, Lenovo, Toshiba, Gigabyte, and others.
What Ultrabooks all share in common is that they must meet a set of minimum size and performance requirements set out by Intel. The current generation of Ultrabooks must meet the following minimum requirements:
Ivy Bridge micro-architecture Intel Core Models
.72” maximum thickness for 13.3” or smaller models
.84” maximum thickness for 14” or larger models.
At least 5 Hours of battery life
Must use SSD for booting up or as the primary storage medium
Must resume from hibernation within 7 seconds
Minimum storage transfer rate of 80 MB/S
Must use Intel’s software/firmware suite (Management Engine 8.0+, Anti-Theft, Identity protection)
Thus far, the Ultrabooks have failed to meet Intel’s lofty sales projections , whereas the MacBook Air has been a hit ever since its release. However, the current generation of Ultrabook offerings are a significant improvement on the first generation of Ultrabooks released at the beginning of the year.
Have the Ultrabooks finally caught up to the MacBook Air in terms of performance? Below, we’ll see how the latest generation of Ultrabooks fare when compared to Apple’s iconic MacBook Air.
Pricing & Value
Whether you’re shopping on a limited budget, or you’re simply looking to get the most bang for your buck, the Ultrabook proves to be the better choice hands down when it comes to price.
While the cost of an Air has fallen dramatically since their initial releasein 2008, Ultrabooks such as the Dell Inspiron 14z can be found for as little as $599. On the other hand, the entry-level 11.6” MacBook Air starts at $999, and the 13.3” version starts at $1,199. While the base specifications of the Inspiron 14z can’t compare to the basic 11”Air (it lacks full SSD storage for starters), the price makes the Dell offering accessible to the wide range of buyers who are unwilling to shell out $999 in the name of portability.
When it comes to straight up value, the Ultrabook – free of the premium Apple pricing model – also proves to be the better choice. For example, the $850 13.3” Toshiba Portege Z935 boasts similar specifications to the MacBook Air $1,199 13.3” MacBook Air, despite costing 30% less.
There was a time when the MacBook Air was marketed as the thinnest laptop in the world. The current iterations of the Air – at 2.38 lbs and 2.96 lbs for the 11.6” and 13.3” versions respectively – still offer tremendous performance in a sleek, lightweight package. But the true king of portability at the moment is the Gigabyte X11; with an all-carbon fibre body that brings its total weight to a mere 2.14 lbs.
Furthermore, the X11 is not the only Ultrabook that can boast greater portability than the Air; the 13.3” Toshiba Portege Z935 weighs in at 2.4 lbs, while the 11.6” Acer Aspire weighs in at 2.2 lbs.
A mere 6 months ago, the MacBook Air boasted the highest quality display of any ultra portable laptop in the market. However, Apple’s decision to leave its famous Retina display out of the 2012 Air lineup has allowed the newest generation of Ultrabooks to catch up to, and indeed surpass the Air.
The 11.6” 2012 MacBook Air possesses a 1366 x 768 resolution, while the 13.3” model carries a 1440 x 900 resolution. However, the top Ultrabooks now feature full HD resolutions; the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A/UX21A boasts a 1920 x 1080 resolution screen, as well as a brilliant IPS display.
The integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 solution employed by the Air is fine for browsing, casual use, and even light gaming, but those who want reasonable gaming performance from their ultra portable will be looking for something a little more powerful. A growing number of Ultrabooks offer the Nvidia GT600M series GPUs – a much better choice for those who want respectable gaming performance without sacrificing compactness or portability.
Apple currently offers an 11.6” and a 13.3” version of its MacBook Air. Each is available in a “lite” version or an upgraded version with more processing power and Ram. On the other hand, there are over a dozen 2nd generation Ultrabooks on the market, with more on the way.
In the Ultrabook market, you can find an ultra-portable laptop with a 15” display in the Samsung Series 9, budget options that offer standard harddrives rather than full SSD storage, additional port offerings, and advanced graphics cards. When it comes to selection, the Ultrabook line gives buyers flexibility that the MacBook Air simply cannot.
Although style is subjective, no Ultrabook has yet come close to capturing the cult appeal of the Air. Whether it’s the beautiful sleek, silver design, or simply an attachment to the Apple aesthetic, the MacBook Air continues to stand out when it comes to style While Ultrabook manufacturers have produced some pretty slick designs of their own lately, Apple’s MacBook Air continues to stand in a class of its own.
Winner: MacBook Air
Which Should You Choose?
If you love the sleek, minimalist design of the Air, are devoted to the Mac OS, or even if you’re just a shameless Apple fan – and you don’t mind paying a premium for the Apple brand – then the MacBook Air is a solid ultra portable that will likely put a smile on your face. But for those seeking the best bang for their buck, more options, or who are shopping with a limited budget, the current generation Ultrabooks are the clear winners in this showdown.