Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Ultrabooks and Windows 8 Tablets

Copyright © 2012 Richard Beaty

This month, I’m going to introduce you to a new class of laptop computer. Then I’ll compare and contrast these new laptops to the upcoming Windows 8 tablets. As you’ll see, the line between the laptop and the tablet is blurring. Does this foretell the death of the laptop?

I also want to remind you to occasionally check out ToolsToysAndTechnology.com. Every month some things come up that I want to tell you about. Sometimes they are things that come and go in between the Two’s News editions. The only way to be aware of these things is to be a ToolsToysAndTechnology.com reader.

New Class of Laptop Computer … Introducing the “Ultrabook”

You may have already heard of the new Ultrabooks. These are basically a new class of high-end laptop computer … faster, lighter, thinner, sleeker. They are made possible by a new Intel low power consumption processor, solid-state drives, and other innovations that give you top performance and reduced power consumption. Did I mention they are also pretty snazzy looking?

Of course, all this technology and style comes at a price, pushing and even exceeding the $1,000 price point. Lately, I’ve noticed that prices are coming down a little. I’ve seen a couple of models at $699, and there are probably some more price cuts to come.

But “you get what you pay for” still applies. The lower priced Ultrabooks may have a Core i3 processor, vs. the more powerful Core i5 or Core i7 processors in higher-priced models. Other bargain-priced notebooks may even stretch the definition of Ultrabook to the point of not being able to use the Intel trademarked moniker.  The minimum specifications for a laptop to be called an “Ultrabook” are strictly defined by Intel. I’ve see the term “ultra portable” used to describe a laptop. Terms like this should tell you that the product definitely does not measure up to what an Ultrabook is supposed to be.

So, what does constitute an Ultrabook? While there is variability among manufactures and models, here’s what separates an Ultrabook from your run-of-the-mill laptop computer.

  1. Form Factor – Ultrabooks are smaller, thinner, and lighter than previous laptops. They also tend to be more stylish with stunning aluminum cases.
  2. Processor – All have recent Intel low power-consumption processors, either the current “Sandy Bridge” or the latest “Ivy Bridge” architectures. (Don’t worry about the terms. Just read “latest and greatest.”)
  3. Solid State Drives – I’m not sure this is an actual requirement, but if it’s not, it should be. Solid state drives (SSD) are destined to completely replace hard disk drives (HDD) someday. All the advantages (save one) lie in favor of the SSD. They are smaller, lighter, generate much less heat, have no moving parts, and are faster at data retrieval than the classical HDD. The disadvantage of SSD: they are significantly more expensive. For that reason, some Ultrabook computers use hybrid drives, where the bulk of the storage comes on an HDD with smaller SSD drives used for the most frequently accessed data.
  4. Battery Life – One of the practical benefits of the lower power consumption processor and SSD is that the battery will last longer. A minimum of 5 hours is an Ultrabook requirement.
  5. Faster Startup – Ultrabooks are supposed to deliver very fast startup, especially from hibernation.
  6. Software and Firmware – Ultrabooks include the latest Intel innovations, including anti-theft and identity protection features.

Other features that characterize Ultrabooks that are not part of the specifications include:

  1. Lack of an optical drive – The physical size of CD and DVD drives makes it pretty much impossible to meet the thickness specifications for an Ultrabook. Yes, Intel actually defines how thin a laptop must be to be called an Ultrabook.
  2. Smaller screens – Most Ultrabooks have either 13 or 14-inch screens. Samsung offers a 15-inch model at a whopping $1,800.
  3. Limited number of ports – Again, because of the small thickness requirement, Ultrabooks have fewer ports available. Most seem to be limited to 2 USB ports.

Who should buy an Ultrabook? If you travel a lot, and you want the smallest, lightest, and fastest laptop available, and you don’t mind paying premium prices, then an Ultrabook is for you. I used to travel a lot on business. Had an Ultrabook been available then, I would have been first in line.

But, thank goodness, those business travel days are over for me. I did just buy a new laptop, and it’s NOT an Ultrabook. I wanted the most powerful laptop with the biggest screen I could find. A few extra pounds were not important to me. Money was. I have a brand new top-of-the-line Core i7, 17-inch laptop, and it cost me $799 … way more computer than I could have gotten in an Ultrabook for the same money.

Windows 8 Tablets … Are Laptops and Tablets Merging?

I guess I could end this discussion right here with one word … YES!

I am as intrigued as the next guy with these tablet devices: the iPad, the Kindle Fire (both reviewed last month) and many, many more. But I don’t own one yet. I’ve been waiting for one thing. I want a tablet that is actually a full functioning computer.

Yes, watching movies on a tablet seems like a neat idea. I definitely like reading books on these convenient devices. I’ll probably find a use for some of the other apps that are available for tablets, too. But, I want a tablet that can do all that plus run my full version of Microsoft office, design Websites, upload stuff to the Internet via FTP, access databases, etc. etc. Basically, I want a tablet/laptop hybrid. When that’s available, I’ll break out my credit card. “Don’t leave home without it,” because that day has come.

You may have heard about Windows 8 by now, even though you may not have seen it. Windows 8 is a complete redesign of the Windows user experience. It’s been out in a “consumer preview” version for a little while now, so quite a few people have seen and reviewed it. As you’d probably expect, some love it; some hate it. Nobody I’ve read is neutral on the subject.

The thing about Windows 8 is that it is optimized for the touch screen. That means tablets. And it is a full blown Windows operating system that runs on home computers and laptops, as well as tablets. That means that tablet/laptop hybrid I’ve been waiting for is now a reality.

Actually, it’s been reality for a little while on a select few tablets. Last month at the SaddleBrooke Computer Club User Group meeting, I saw a demonstration of the Acer Iconia Tab running Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I was impressed. The Acer Iconia can operate as a stand-alone tablet, or dock with its own keyboard to work much more like a small laptop. Tablet/laptop hybrid … it’s definitely here.

While the technology is here, I’m waiting just a bit longer. This fall, once Windows 8 is formally available, many new Windows 8 tablets are bound to hit the stores. I want to see and compare those latest models before my credit card comes out. But, come out it will. You’ll undoubtedly hear about it.

Is This the Death of the Laptop?

There are always people who will rush to say that innovations like the Windows 8 tablet will kill the previous competing technology. A full-functioning tablet computer will undoubtedly affect laptop sales. But I don’t think laptops are in danger of total obsolescence any time soon.

After all, the new Ultrabooks rival tablets for portability, and some people are just going to be more comfortable with the familiar clamshell design. And then there are people like me, who’ll buy conventional big and clunky laptops to get the bigger screen/high performance combination at the best price.

In addition to my 17-inch laptop, I will own a Windows 8 tablet sometime soon. The two devices will serve different purposes. The laptop will be my serious portable computer. The tablet will be my weekend travel computer. Oh yeah, the tablet will be a really neat toy, too.