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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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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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