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Thoughts on owning an ultrabook, part 2: My favorite PC ever

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 6:23AM Tuesday April 23, 2013
under Stuff We Like

A couple weeks ago I shared some thoughts on owning an ultrabook, ultimately trying to answer the question of whether these thinner, lighter laptops are worth the money.

See, I'd just purchased a Lenovo IdeaPad U310, which at the time seemed like a great bargain. But having spent some additional hours with not only that model, but also a Samsung Series 9, I wanted to hit this topic one more time.

As I noted previously, "ultrabook" is neither a brand nor a generic classification, but rather an Intel-created marketing term. It's used to describe a laptop with an 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 exact specs are rather vague, which is why you'll see a lot of manufacturers touting "ultrabooks" that are really just laptops that without optical drives.)

Anyway, if you're still in the market for such a system, consider these additional thoughts:

- Ultrabook prices are plummeting. I'm now seeing models as low as $500, though certainly not the razor-thin, super-light screamers that still cost around $1,000 and up. The longer you wait, the better the deal you'll get.

- That said, I just scored a killer bargain on a Samsung Series 9 13.3-inch ultrabook, which was marked down from $1,199.99 to $649. (It quickly sold out, alas, but hopefully a similar deal will emerge in the future.) It measures just 0.5 inches thick and weighs only 2.5 pounds. That's thinner and lighter than even the MacBook Air, and I found it dazzling to behold--and hold.

- Not all ultrabooks offer the amazing battery life promised by Intel's specifications and manufacturer's claims. The IdeaPad U310, for instance, turned out to have terrible battery life--only around three hours. I thought perhaps the hard drive was to blame, but after swapping in a power-sipping solid-state drive (SSD), battery life improved only to around 4.5 hours.

- A touchscreen, in my humble opinion, is a waste of money--unless you're considering a convertible ultrabook like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, which pulls double duty as a tablet. But I found zero value in having a touchscreen-enabled laptop. There's simply no point.

- A backlit keyboard, on the other hand, is a must-have feature. It seems minor, but when you're working in even a slightly darkened environment (coffee shop, den, etc.), it's great being able to see those keys.

- If you can afford it, choose a model with a straight-up SSD rather than a hybrid. My U310 used the latter, and although it booted and shut down fairly quickly, the Samsung blew it out of the water. It's remarkable to see a Windows PC go from power-off to ready-to-work in under 10 seconds. Remarkable.

- Also crazy-amazing: a 9-hour battery life. That's what BatteryBar (one of my all-time favorite utilities) reports on the Samsung, and while it will certainly vary depending on usage, it's incredible to know I can fly coast-to-coast on a single charge. How is it the thicker, heavier U310 barely lasts one-third as long?

In case I haven't made it abundantly clear, the Samsung Series 9 (specifically, the NP900X3C-A05US) is one seriously incredible PC. Indeed, in short order it's become my favorite computer ever. So thin, so light, so fast, and so long-lasting. This, my friends, is how an ultrabook should be.

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