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You don't have to be weighed down to get work done while on the road

Unlike the netbook craze that stormed the PC market a few years ago (and just as quickly fizzled out thanks to the rise of the Apple iPad), it looks as though Ultrabooks are here to stay. Whereas netbooks made use of power efficient, yet pokey Intel Atom processors and slow hard disk drives (HDDs), today's latest crop of Ultrabooks make use of fast third-generation Intel Core processors and blazingly fast solid state drives (SSDs).
 
In this piece, I'll take a look at some of the factors that make the Ultrabook platform attractive for business users that need a powerful machine that is also portable enough to tote along to meetings without significantly weighing you down.
 
Performance
As previously mentioned, today’s crop of Ultrabook computers pack the latest generation Core i5/Core i7 processors and at least 4GB of RAM to conquer your most demanding business apps. No longer do business users have to resort to heavy, desktop-replacement notebooks to get serious work done.
 
And we can’t forget the importance of the SSD. Once relegated to high-end notebooks a few years ago (a 64GB SSD added $1,000 to the price of the first generation MacBook Air just four years ago), SSDs have brought incredible I/O performance to notebooks while keeping device form-factors slim and battery drain to a minimum. And with prices of SSDs falling well below the $1/GB mark, we’ll continue to see explosive growth for SSDs in all segments of the notebook market.
 
Excellent Battery Life
One of the added benefits of moving to low-voltage third-generation Core i5 processors and SSD is long battery life. Most Ultrabooks today have battery life ranging in the 5- to 7-hour range which should be plenty for a business professional to get enough work done on-the-go before scrambling to an empty power outlet on the floor in airport terminal or in the hotel room after a day of meetings.
 
Lightweight
Many people have differing ideas of what “lightweight” means in a portable computer. For some people, lugging around something that weighs 4 pounds isn’t a problem. However, to me, the sweet spot is in the 3-pound and below range.


Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
 
While most netbooks used cheap plastic to reach sub 3-pound weight levels, many Ultrabooks take advantage of all-metal chassis construction that provides a much more durable and solid basis to work from while still meeting those weight targets. Some, like Lenovo, go for a more exotic route by using carbon fiber. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon manages to weigh in at an even 3 pounds despite its 14” form-factor.
 
Wireless Connectivity and Ports Selection
Most Ultrabooks these days do away with ports and features that many business users grew accustomed to over the years. Two of those are internal optical drives and GbE ports. Most of us rarely use optical discs anymore, as we've become a "digital download" society. And materials that were once distributed using CDs at trade shows are now placed onto thumb drives. For those that still need to an optical drive for occasional use, there's always an external USB solution waiting to greet you.
 
As for GbE, the prevalence of Wi-Fi hotspots means that wired Ethernet is becoming less of "need" for business users. As with optical drives, there are always USB-Ethernet solutions (something that ASUS includes in the box with the Zenbook Prime UX31A) if you happen to be in some backwoods location that hasn't moved into the 21st century.
 
But beyond those two items, you'll find numerous connectivity choices in Ultrabooks including Bluetooth 4.0 and optional 3G/4G broadband when it comes to wireless solutions. When it comes to physical ports, USB 3.0 is commonplace now alongside USB 2.0, and Thunderbolt is an up-and-comer for high-speed peripherals. HDMI, DisplayPort, and in some cases – mini VGA – are there to handle your external graphics needs.
 
Multiple form-factors/screen resolutions to suit each user
11-inches, 13-inches, 14-inches, 15-inches… pick your poison. Although I don't think that many business users will enjoy typing on an 11" Ultrabook's keyboard for too long, having a powerful notebook option in that form-factor is a plus for those that don't mind have a slightly cramped typing area.


Zenbook Prime UX31A
 
But that's the beauty of Ultrabooks; there are enough form-factors in that Ultrabook space that it should be easy to find the perfect solution that fits your needs. For example, ASUS offers up its Zenbook Prime UX31A that manages to cram a 1920x1080 IPS screen into a 13" notebook. For those that prefer a larger screen (but don't mind a tradeoff in screen density), there's the 15" Samsung Series 9 with a 1600x900 display. It's a bit heavier than my tastes at 3.51 pounds, but reaching that weight is a remarkable feat for a 15" notebook.


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Maybe these are different...
By Silvio on 8/27/2012 6:00:17 PM , Rating: 4
But we passed on netbooks because they either were more-or-less hermetically sealed and couldn't be worked on, or they were too difficult to disassemble/repair to be worth working on. I imagine we'll pass on ultrabooks for the same reason. Ease of Repair > Ultra-portability.




RE: Maybe these are different...
By Apone on 8/27/2012 7:51:12 PM , Rating: 3
The primary reason that I can think of in which a company would pass on a netbook is its CPU. Heaven forbid the Intel Atom processor could do more than barely surf the web and run Microsoft Word....


By nocturne_81 on 8/27/2012 9:45:32 PM , Rating: 2
I think it had mostly to do with size..

Would you want to pay a professional, professional wages mind you, to try to plug away on a little 7in screen? Netbooks did a good job.. helping bring Intel back to the mobile/embedded market.


By TakinYourPoints on 8/27/2012 8:54:03 PM , Rating: 3
People passed on netbooks because they were bad in many ways. Speed, component quality, display quality, keyboard quality, all in the dumps. The only good thing about them is that they are cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Good ultrabooks compromise as little as possible while maintaining good performance and battery life. You get good display, speed, an SSD, good keyboards and trackpads, everything. Machines like the Macbook Air, Zenbook Prime, and Lenovo's ultrabooks are here to stay.

Ease of repairing/replacing parts has little to do with it, it is all about quality and usage scenarios. Power and quality in a 3lb package is a much better situation for people over a garbage quality netbook.

Haswell and its vastly improved IGP will put them over the top next year.


RE: Maybe these are different...
By Wolfpup on 8/28/2012 9:40:32 AM , Rating: 2
I think it varies from model to model. Some "netbooks" are actually user serviceable as other notebooks are, and I think some of these are too.

Apple, as usual, makes these umm....not so much, although better than their "retina display" Macbook Pro, which is a new low for serviceability (along with having neither Blu Ray...nor even DVD).

But HP has some similarly sized notebooks to the Air that I think do have some user replaceable parts like hard drives and stuff, while mysteriously the Air doesn't even use a normal hard drive.


RE: Maybe these are different...
By nafhan on 8/28/2012 10:42:12 AM , Rating: 2
I was under the impression we "passed on netbooks" because they got most of their market sucked out from under them by less expensive "real" laptops on one end and tablets on the other end, and the tablets, at least, are definitely worse in regards to repairability than netbooks.

Also, for the average person, repairability DOES NOT MATTER because paying someone to repair it will cost almost as much (if not more) than buying a replacement.


Not so sure...
By apinkel on 8/27/2012 5:34:15 PM , Rating: 2
There's a pretty big difference between business laptops and boutique laptops like apple laptops, sony laptops and most ultra-books.

Business machines have a more limited and long-lived product cycle than consumer machines to make it easier and cost effective to maintain inventories for replacement parts.

Business machines have business centric features for centralized management as well as advanced security features.

Business machines are easy (comparatively) to tear down, find parts for and rebuild.

Business machines have options for extended peripherals like docking stations, swappable optical drives and extended batteries.

While I like the appeal of ultra-books in the consumer space I think their appeal is limited in the business space.




RE: Not so sure...
By Belard on 8/27/2012 6:18:59 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. A ThinkPad T-Series, even the T420/430 is servicable - yet its under 3lbs and 1" thick - its not an "ultra book"... Ultrabook to me, is nothing more than a non-Apple version of the MacBook Air.


RE: Not so sure...
By nocturne_81 on 8/27/2012 9:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
And here I thought that the MacBook Air was a non-MS ultrabook, seeing as we all know what came first..

It's sad that price is still the major issue for most. It makes the entire article moot, as 95% of businesses would sooner buy a fleet of $300 notebooks than a handful of expensive ultrabooks -- they couldn't care less about ergonomics and comfort let alone battery life, it all comes down to the bottom line.

And ironically, $1000-1300 is considered a 'steal' for the Air..


RE: Not so sure...
By Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer on 8/28/2012 10:30:43 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, the T430 is nearly five pounds with a six-cell battery...but as nice as the X1 Carbon looks, I definitely don't regret going ahead and getting the T430. The X1 costs a lot more and doesn't offer nearly as much. The one advantage--the slim and light-weight chassis--just isn't worth the sacrifices you have to make.


RE: Not so sure...
By Belard on 8/28/2012 12:56:58 PM , Rating: 2
Why didn't you get the T430s? At this moment, the S model costs $100 less than the regular 430 (when configured for WWAN and SSD). The T430S is just under 4 lbs and 1" thick. Its area is the same as the T430, you couldn't tell looking down that they are different.


RE: Not so sure...
By TakinYourPoints on 8/28/2012 2:51:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Why didn't you get the T430s?

...

The T430S is just under 4 lbs and 1" thick.


There you go. 1" thick is big these days, it is worth a couple extra bucks to get a better chassis.


RE: Not so sure...
By Apone on 8/27/2012 8:01:28 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed as well. However I think perhaps ultrabooks might be good for small businesses, consultants, and other mobile professionals who could keep critical data backed up on the cloud or offline (e.g. flash drive, external hard drive, etc.) just in case said ultrabook cannot be easily torn down, upgraded or repaired.


Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By Mitch101 on 8/27/2012 4:59:04 PM , Rating: 1
I feel the Windows 8 x86 Tablet is an Ultrabook and a Tablet all in one.

Windows 8 Pro
903 g
13.5 mm
10.6” ClearType Full HD Display
42 W-h
microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2x2 MIMO antennae
Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
VaporMg Case & Stand
64 GB, 128 GB
http://www.microsoft.com/global/surface/en/us/rend...

Best of both worlds all in one.




RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By corduroygt on 8/27/2012 5:41:52 PM , Rating: 2
Anything less than 13 inches is too small to type on or use as a mobile workstation.


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By Mitch101 on 8/28/2012 10:29:31 AM , Rating: 2
Thats why there is a video out so you can connect it to a decent sized monitor when one is around. Im not sure if it has dual screen mode or it must be a clone. Time will tell.


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By TakinYourPoints on 8/28/2012 2:53:47 PM , Rating: 2
Not true. An 11" Macbook Air has a full size keyboard with the same size and spacing as the rest of the MBA/MBP line, and it rocks an SSD and i5 CPU. For most work it is fine. If you need a mobile workstation for graphics then it obviously doesn't work, but neither does anything else under 15".


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By mcnabney on 8/28/2012 4:23:55 PM , Rating: 2
No, it has laptop-sized keys - the same as the Macbook. Not the same as a full size keyboard - which many laptops do have, but you almost have to have a 15"+ display for those keyboards. There are all kinds of options available when your shopping list doesn't start and end with Apple.


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By Belard on 8/27/2012 8:08:31 PM , Rating: 1
As an iPad owner... the formfactor of a tablet is not a replacement as a work device. As a touch-screen device, its life-span is limited compared to a notebook.

The 10" screen is TOO small for serious WORK. I use a 24" display for my desktop (Win7). But I do like to relax and surf the web on the ipad... even in the same room. Or in the living room if I want to look up something quickly. As it takes 1-2 seconds to turn on an ipad and have access to the web vs. 30 seconds to boot Windows (or walk upstairs). etc.

While the touch-cover is a step up from a touch screen, its no real keyboard. I've typed up my responses here from my iPad... nowhere near as fast as my REAL full size keyboard.

The Ultrabook won't be a major factor in notebook sales... they are more expensive than the market cares for. On Amazon, checking out the top 20 Win7 notebooks, only 5 were $1000+ Most popular notebooks are in the $400~600 price range. This is far higher than the $800~1200 MS-x86 tablets or entry level "ultrabooks". Apple notebooks on Amazon are typically $1200~2500... the cheapest top 20 is a 13" model at $1160.


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By Belard on 8/27/2012 8:10:58 PM , Rating: 1
(part 2)
I sell ThinkPad computers, because of the quality and support. Most are in the $1200~1800 price. My own was a bottom in $600 model that handles my needs.

The general market *IS NOT* going to spend $1000 for a tablet. MS has been selling tablet/hybrid computers since 2002. ($1500~3000) and they NEVER sold many units. The X86 Win8 tablet should do well in specific business markets... maybe.

The $400~600 Win8 tablets are far more limited and offer nothing over Android and iPads. It looks like MS will be selling their tablets for $200 at first (at a loss) to grow their market ASAP. They may lose $50~100m dollars doing it, but its the only way to grow the platform.

But you see, MS is NOT Apple... they are just another copy-cat company that is not good at all things. When Apple launched the iPhone, Apple had about 200 stores world wide.

Microsoft has about 25 stores, world-wide in order to sell their $200 tablet... which WILL ONLY BE SOLD directly from Microsoft. MS can try to copy apple, but they are not Apple.

I think one of 3 things is going to happen:
A) Windows8 is a home-run. People flock to buy Windows8 tablets and phones, selling out. Within 3 years, Win8 dominates the desktop, has about 30% of the phone and tablet markets. The Next OS is strictly Metro, no more Windows... no Win9, no Win X.

B) Windows8 is a stink-bomb. People return Win8 PCs. Corporations stick with XP and Win7. fanboys buy some of the Win8-86tablets and the WART tablets gather dust - except those that sell for $200. By Jan~March, MS releases a 8.1/SP1 patch which restores the option for a proper desktop with option to gut or reduce the functionality of Metro. In which case... Win8 PC sales will go back to normal ho-hum levels (no excitement), Win8 Tablets and Phones grow to 5% of the market in 3 years, at best.

Windows 9 comes out, with same option for Desktop and/or Metro.

C) Windows8 is a stink-bomb. People return Win8 PCs. Corporations stick with XP and Win7. fanboys buy some of the Win8-86tablets and the WART tablets gather dust - except those that sell for $200. MS refuses change, will keep the course. Win8 PCs stagnate or like Vista all over again. WART tablets go away other than MS surface, Win8 x86 tablets is limited to business markets. After 3 years Win8 phone and tablets hit 3~4% market share. Techie types move to Linux/Android. No Windows9, next OS is Metro only... while Win7 owns the desktop market. Apple and Linux desktop grows some market share. Android/iPads continue to eat into Win7/Win8 desktop & notebook market share.

I'm guessing MS will go with the B-Path if they are smart, C-Path if they are dumb A-Path if they did their homework and us techies are wrong.


RE: Windows 8 x86 Tablet
By nocturne_81 on 8/27/2012 9:35:21 PM , Rating: 2
I was going to vote you up, until I saw the perpetuation of the ill-informed thought that you somehow have to use any piece of the 'Metro' interface or any of it's apps in Windows (outside of the charm bar and start menu in the rare occasion you need them, which besides being too 'touch'-centric are actually quite useful in keeping out screen clutter).


What business users exactly?
By Johnmcl7 on 8/27/2012 5:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
As someone who supports business users, I disagree with most of this article particularly the bizarre lack of connectivity being a positive when it's clearly a big negative - I still find wired ethernet is used extensively in business. Many of the Ultrabooks do not appear to be aimed at business use and lack onsite warranty support, standardised peripherals and design across the range, no docking interfaces (I don't find thunderbolt anywhere near replacing the current docking systems business laptops offer) and lack of serviceability. Easily accessible standardised drives and ram which I find very important on business laptops are far from standard on Ultrabooks which may opt for soldered ram and proprietary drives hidden inside.

John




RE: What business users exactly?
By nocturne_81 on 8/27/2012 9:50:28 PM , Rating: 2
I was wondering about that too.. I can't imagine that all businesses are switching over to pure wireless (instead of as an ad hoc network) -- the unfathomable security implications being the obvious thing that comes to mind.

If you want to know what businesses want -- look at what they buy. I've seen thousands of cheap plasticy utilitarian vostro laptops (in business settings) for each ultrabook I've seen (in any scenario).


RE: What business users exactly?
By Solandri on 8/28/2012 7:54:45 AM , Rating: 2
Have you taken a closer look at a Vostro laptop? Except for the memory access plate on the bottom, it's an all-metal chassis. Plasticky it is not.


I'll bet money AMD steals the Ultrabook's lunch
By Beenthere on 8/27/12, Rating: 0
By Concillian on 8/28/2012 3:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
AMD isn't going to steal anyone's lunch in the business world. Most IT departments do not entertain ANY AMD options. The cost of keeping 2 sets of images (one with AMD drivers and one with Intel) and training techs to recognize the differences easily offsets any hardware costs.

As much as anyone wants to see it happen, it's just plain not going to.


By Belard on 8/28/2012 8:01:03 PM , Rating: 2
Image and driver sets from different Thinkpads in the same generation does happen. This is moot.

There is even an entry level AMD ThinkPad available. (okay, its junk by real ThinkPad standards) But yes, its easily possible for OEMs to make an "ultrabook" with an AMD A-series CPU low power... and sell it for about $200 less than the intel version.

Windwos 7 and 8 will run more than fine for most people with a modern AMD CPU with an SSD. Even my very OLD core2 still runs fast enough for most of my needs (Yes I want an i5-3570).


Gigabit
By Jeremy87 on 8/28/2012 8:36:58 AM , Rating: 2
Ethernet is not just for "some backwoods location that hasn't moved into the 21st century". Wireless can't do Gigabit speeds yet.




RE: Gigabit
By Belard on 8/28/2012 1:00:59 PM , Rating: 2
Yep... Less settings, faster, more reliable, more secure.

Wireless has its place, as does wired.


By Concillian on 8/28/2012 2:58:25 PM , Rating: 2
#1) Performance? This is clearly only available to ultrabooks? Wat?

#2) Excellent battery life?
- Again, not restricted to ultrabooks. Put the same stuff in a normal notebook and run 2 batteries like my boss used to before:
- Every conference room has eleventy notebook chargers in it, so you're pretty much never away from a power source anyway unless you travel on business.

#3) Lightweight is a plus. This is the only true benefit of an ultrabook. It's also an enormous cost adder.

#4) Wireless connectivity / port options? Clearly limited to ultrabooks... not.

#5) Lots of form factors...If you include non-ultrabook form factors you have even more choices

This list looks as if it was written by someone with a vested interest in ultrabook form factor success.




By Belard on 8/28/2012 8:05:55 PM , Rating: 2
The issue with power that I have, is that by default - while on AC power - the notebook runs slower and the screen darker... so I tend to run them off AC to get as much performance as possible.

But, how you use your notebook can also kill the battery much faster. For example, if the notebook is used more like a portable computer (operates 90%+ while connected to a wall)- your battery's life is reduced. Lenovo has added software that asks how you use your notebook so it'll charge the battery different to give more life.

With most, if not ALL Ultrabooks - the battery is NOT end-user replaceable. So it's more than a $100 replacement.


Article Misses the Point
By Kornfeld on 8/28/2012 6:15:00 PM , Rating: 2
This article kind of misses the mark in a lot of areas. A lot of the factors that would go behind a decision like this depend on the type of company and the operations. So, a small business may simply use systems with an OEM image and make a few changes before deploying the system to the user. You can get into other issues in large enterprise environments that make Ultrabooks harder to deal with and this is where this article loses touch with the real world.

Complications that make Ultrabooks undesirable.

1. Does your primary vendor sell a suitable system? If the answer is "no", do you want to deal with additional vendors that may not be able to handle global supply and have separate procurement and warranty claims processes?

2. Most OEMs treat Ultrabooks as consumer devices. Some complications from this are that very few have support for XP (granted this is a moot point starting next year), but many don't event support Vista. You're not going to be able to deal with managing application lifecycles and getting people to update apps just so you can buy a new hardware form factor.

3. Port replicators. I did a pretty comprehensive search for Ultrabooks that support a port replicator (and don't start with the POS USB port replicators) and found exactly one Ultrabook that supports a normal port replicator. People want to be able to dock to use larger screens or multiple screens and to have an ergonomic friendly workspace. You don't get this with any notbook without having a port replicator.

4. Price. My experience with this is that it isn't so much of a barrier for entry, but it does prevent adopting an Ultrabook as normal consideration. So, Execs can get Ultrabooks because they kind of get what they want, but so what if 200 people out of 20,000 get this. For now, prices prevent these system from really making a big entry.

5. Wired Ethernet. How are you going to do OS deployment on an Ultrabook? Without wired ethernet, this becomes more challenging. USB ethernet adapters can be annoying to get in global supply and won't necessarily work with PXE boot. Also, you're giving up on vPro support in at least some scenarios.

I don't think any of this will matter in time. The early info on the Haswell/Shark Bay systems show a trend towards thinner devices with lower power consumption components. If the normal "Thin and Light" business model, like a Latitude E6430 or ThinkPad T430 is slimmed down to a thinner profile and 3.5 lb, then the norm is already going to be approaching Ultrabook form factors. Take systems like that and make a 13.3" model with no optical drive and that basically is a present day ultrabook.




RE: Article Misses the Point
By Belard on 8/28/2012 7:52:38 PM , Rating: 2
All find all your points valid. I'm sad to see that not even Lenovo added a proper dock for the X1 Carbon. They really wanted to reduce the weight and size I guess. Their connector is not that big, but like you said - I don't think anyone is taking them seriously, not even I do. They are consumer.

I have an X61 (nowadays known as the X230) which has a 12" screen, under 3lbs. They have full dock and other PRO features.

The ThinkPad 430S (Slim) is 1" thick A quarter of an inch thicker than the X1 / some ultra books... and its not shaped like a wedge (so?) It costs about $400~500 cheaper than an Ultrabook of equal stats with expansiblity, you can change out the drive storage or memory as you need. Besides replacing the optical drive for another battery or drive.

Yes its about 1lb heavier (under 4lbs).. but it a full blown notebook with an optical drive (something that ultra books dont have).


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