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
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
After a good deal of research, I settled on the Lenovo IdeaPad
U310, which, incidentally, Newegg still has on sale for $599.99
--including a $50 Newegg gift card. Now, having used it
for a few days, I'd like to share some thoughts on ultrabook
(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
- 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
- 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.