Ultrabook vs laptop: Is an ultrabook worth £500 more?

Ultrabook vs laptop: Is an ultrabook worth £500 more?

Summary: Are slim and light ultrabooks slim and light enough to justify their hefty price tags? And what's the real difference between an ultrabook and a skinny laptop? We look at the HP Envy 14 Spectre and the HP DM4 Beats Audio Edition

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  • HP Envy 14 Spectre front

    We get to hear about a lot of new devices at ZDNet and it could scarcely escape our attention that, over the course of the last year or so, the term 'ultrabook' is being attached to a growing number of laptops. But is it just hype and marketing, or is there a real need for a new category of thin and light devices?

    Intel introduced the ultrabook category a year ago promising the first machines would be less than 20mm in depth and cost less than $1,000 (£605 at the time, about £645 now). Since then, a number of different manufacturers — Acer, Asus, HP and Toshiba among them —  have speedily launched their own versions in an effort to stake their claim in the ultrabook world. Pictured is the Envy 14 Spectre ultrabook from HP.

    However, the definition of what constitutes an ultrabook seems to have widened as the category has matured — with devices up to 23mm thick now allowed to be called ultrabooks if they meet other specifications — leading me to wonder what the real difference between an ultrabook and a skinny laptop really is.

    So what does a machine have to do to make it into the ultrabook category? There are specifications on minimum battery life and depth, namely more than five hours and less than 18mm, 21mm or 23mm thick depending on screen size.

    However, in its most recent revamp of the ultrabook rules, Intel brought in stipulations that devices running the third-generation Ivy Bridge chip must include USB 3.0 options and Intel's Thunderbolt I/O port for faster data transfers.

    Ultrabooks also need to integrate Intel's anti-theft and identity protection technology, as well as its vPro enterprise PC management tools.

    Image credit: Ben Woods

  • HP Envy Spectre vs Dm4 Beats Audio

    All useful stuff, but you don't need to buy an ultrabook to get those specs — prompting the question, is there anything else an ultrabook can deliver that an average laptop can't?

    In order to give it the new category a fair crack of the whip, I decided to take a look at two different machines from the same company, one ultrabook and one normal laptop, to see how the two compare.

    For the ultrabook, I took a first-generation HP Envy 14 Spectre (left), and for the laptop, an HP DM4 Beats Audio Edition.

    Image credit: Ben Woods

  • HP DM4 Beats Audio from the front

    Both devices have a 14-inch display, although the Spectre offers a slightly higher resolution at 1,600x900px full HD screen, compared to the DM4's slightly lower-res 1,366x768 display.

    On the surface, the two devices were similarly specced. Both had an Intel Core-i5 processor, although the Spectre's is an Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) version. The Spectre also comes with, and can support, slightly less RAM, shipping with 4GB as standard in comparison to the DM4's 6GB RAM.

    However, in the ultrabook's favour, the Spectre had a 128GB SSD. In contrast, the DM4 had a traditional 500GB hard disk drive, which should have resulted in faster boot time.

    I say 'should' as the boot time for both was abysmally slow, taking literally minutes every single time either of them went to sleep.

    I'm putting this down to some sort of software glitch on both machines that is the result of the pounding given to review units. If I'd had more time, or inclination, I would have formatted both, put on a fresh copy of Windows — the pair both shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium — and started from there. However, it occurred to me that, over time, this is exactly how PCs become: slower, less responsive husks of their purchase-day glory.

    Image credit: Ben Woods

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Topics: Mobility, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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3 comments
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  • "But is it just hype and marketing...?"
    You nailed it right there. Case closed.

    Warmest regards...
    bakerdriver
  • ->'However, it occurred to me that, over time, this is exactly how PCs become: slower, less responsive husks of their purchase-day glory'

    We're not allowed to blame Microsoft for this, were constantly told that incompetent users are solely to blame for this. (MS, if you stick everthing in the 'spinal' Registry, which has to be updated and constantly scanned by Windows, then users add more applications - it gets bigger, more to scan - what did MS expect to happen?)

    The new Macbook Pro 15 with Retina Display, has just redefined the word 'Ultra', though the updates to other models, while keeping their unibodys the same, have some good port upgrades like USB 3.0. The Macbook Pro 15 with Retina is slightly narrower and is a far amount thinner (no optical drive) than the the older unibody Macbook Pro 15 without Retina (still sold but upgraded to Ivybridge).

    If the screen is the same screen technology as the new ipad (the retina display is genuinely superb), but scaled up - users will be in for a treat.

    If you can afford one, and you need a powerful laptop all day, every day - the macbook pro with retina seems the laptop to get. (and you don't have issue carrying around £1799 worth of laptop).

    Doesn't come with Mountain Lion to start with, so better off purchasing in July. Doesn't seem to be missing too many future updates, a pretty complete laptop. I personally was waiting for USB 3 + Retina + Mountain Lion + Ivybridge. So its got everything I was wanting, come July with Mountain Lion.
    SoapyTablet
  • Isn't this all about the demise of DVDs and Blu Rays? How much would Apple and Microsoft want them to die off? A lot is the answer! They would prefer us to buy films and music online from them and them only! Ultrabooks do not have optical drives, just like the new Macbooks.
    ians1