What are Ultrabooks?
Ultrabooks are a specific sub-category of notebooks that have to meet Intel’s set of criteria, including size. They also have security features built in at the chip level for identity protection and remote disabling in case of theft. Check our table to see which test models meet the Ultrabook criteria.
Ivy Bridge processors
Each of the laptops on test feature Intel’s latest-generation Ivy Bridge chipset, although only five boast the official Ultrabook designation.
Since our last laptop test, most brands have upgraded from Sandy Bridge to Intel’s third-generation of Core notebook processors (Core i5, Core i7) called “Ivy Bridge”. As with most processor upgrades, the new chip architecture produces a noticeable speed boost, even when using a chip with the same clock speed as the previous one.
For example, the previous-generation MacBook Air with 1.7GHz Core i5 (Sandy Bridge) from our last test scored 2865 in our PCMark 7 benchmark score. This time around, the equivalent MacBook Air with 1.7GHz Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) scored 4558 – a significant improvement.
Ivy Bridge processors use a 22nm (nanometer) design, rather than the 32nm design of the previous generation.
A smaller chip means greater efficiency for increased speed (including graphics), cooler running and better battery life.
Brands and models tested
- Apple Macbook Air 13" A1466
- Apple Macbook Pro 15" A1398
- ASUS Zenbook UX32VD - R3001V
- ASUS Zenbook UX32VD - R4002V
- Dell Inspiron 14z - 5423
- Pioneer Dreambook U14 - Ultraslim
- Samsung Series 9 900X3C - A01
- Samsung Series 9 900X4C - A01
- Sony VAIO T-series SVT13115FGS
- Sony VAIO T-series SVT13117FGS
- Toshiba Portege Z930 PT235A-00V00D1
- Toshiba Satellite U840W PSU5RA-002001
How we test
Performance testing includes benchmarking each laptop. Our customised PCMark 7 test uses a combination of three sub-tests that reflect everyday usage, covering entertainment, creativity and productivity tasks.
- The entertainment test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in entertainment scenarios, including recording, viewing, streaming and transcoding TV shows and movies; importing, organising and browsing new music and several gaming-related tasks.
- The creativity test workloads include viewing, editing, transcoding and storing photos and videos.
- The productivity test includes loading web pages and using home office programs.
Ease of use involves two assessments. The first, by the tester, assesses any supplied security hardware and software; options for migrating settings; monitor visibility in high and low luminance, product manuals and help, plus the ease of system recovery and support options. The second assessment involves a panel of expert users looking at battery removal/insertion, touchpad, lights and indicators, connectors, ease of opening/closing, plus general design features and overall style.
Display evaluation takes into account brightness, contrast, glare and surface reflections, plus angles of view.
Energy usage measurements include power consumption in active use and on standby, calculating an annual cost based on an average usage scenario of six hours per day in use, plus 18 hours per day on standby, costed at 26c per kilowatt-hour.
Battery life is assessed by conditioning each battery before testing to achieve optimum life then testing it under both light and heavy usage scenarios. For the heavy usage test, the power management features are set to maximum performance, screen brightness 100%, with Wi-Fi turned on and connected to a network. For light usage testing, the power management features are set to the most economical setting, with screen brightness at 50% and with Wi-Fi turned off.
Temperature testing involves determining the hottest point on the underside of each laptop with a thermal camera after a period of heavy usage on battery only. We deem 44°C as the maximum acceptable limit for laptop comfort. All models tested passed our temperature test, with temperatures ranging from 30°C for the Sony VAIO T-series with the Core i7 chip to 42°C for the Toshiba Satellite U840W.