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.