Thoughts on owning an ultrabook: Is it worth the money?

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Recently I decided to buy an ultrabook. This may seem surprising, given my preference for dirt-cheap–rather than premium-priced–products, but I had my reasons. Recently I decided to buy an ultrabook. This may seem surprising, given my preference for dirt-cheap–rather than premium-priced–products, but I had my reasons.

First, because I write about technology for a living, I needed a computer running Windows 8–preferably one with a touchscreen so I could use the OS the way Microsoft intended.
Second, although my current laptop, an HP Pavilion dm1z, has been largely wonderful, its 11.6-inch screen feels increasingly cramped these days, especially when I’m working on lengthy Word documents.
Finally, as someone who prizes aesthetics, I just plain wanted an ultrabook: a slim, shiny, sexy PC with cutting-edge features like solid-state storage, USB 3.0, and the aforementioned touchscreen.
After a good deal of research, I settled on the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, which, incidentally, Newegg still has on sale for $599.99 shipped–including a $50 Newegg gift card. Now, having used it for a few days, I’d like to share some thoughts on ultrabook ownership.
(FYI, “ultrabook” is Intel’s marketing term for a laptop that meets a somewhat vague set of specifications: ultra-low-voltage processor, a thickness of no more than 0.7 inches (for a model with a 13.3-inch screen), battery life of at least five hours, and so on.)
- The IdeaPad U310 is downright gorgeous, with a bare-metal aluminum finish and a slightly boxy design that’s easy to mistake for a MacBook Pro. On the style front, it’s a winner.
- Ultrabooks promise lightning-fast startup. This one was alarmingly slow the first couple times it booted, but after Windows finished its initial setup procedures (and I removed the unnecessary McAfee security trialware), it now goes from off to the sign-in screen in exactly 20 seconds. My aforementioned HP takes well over a minute to boot.
- Although most reviews pegged its battery life at at least five hours, my system seems to peter out after about four hours of non-strenuous use. That’s troubling, especially considering that as with most ultrabooks, this one has a non-removable battery.
- The touchscreen is pretty cool, at least for things like scrolling documents and Web pages without reaching for the touchpad or a mouse.
- That said, the U310′s oversize touchpad is even better, allowing silky-smooth scrolling when I drag two fingers. I’m finding it a lot easier to use that than to reach for the screen — or a mouse.
- Windows 8 remains, for me, a baffling, annoying, and ultimately undesirable operating system. I’ve bypassed the worst of it by installing a third-party Start button, which also lets me boot directly to the Desktop. I’m trying my best to like, or at least tolerate, the OS, but it’s tough. More on that in a future post.
- The U310 relies on a hybrid hard drive, meaning it has a 32GB solid-state cache for faster start and wake times and a 500GB traditional drive, which for me is more than ample storage. I’d have preferred a straight-up solid-state-drive (SSD), even one with only, say, 128GB of space, as it would net me faster overall performance and longer battery life. I may end up swapping out the drive for one for exactly those reasons. I did that on my HP, and the improvements were substantial.
Ultimately, I’m happy with my purchase–though I wouldn’t have paid a higher price for this system. This is what I’d call an entry-level ultrabook, and with that in mind, it’s a great system. I could have paid a few hundred dollars more for something thinner, lighter, and faster, but for me that’s overkill.
So, should you consider an ultrabook for your next laptop? I’d say yes, but I don’t think a touchscreen is a must-have feature. I do think an SSD is a better option than a hybrid drive–unless you need a lot of storage space. In the end, your budget is your best guide. The good news is that for as little as $600, you can score a pretty sweet system.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.

(Source: Savings.com)

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