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An Introduction to Ultraportable Laptops

Over the next few days we’re going to take a look at a new generation of laptops – ultraportable laptops – and show you how you can leverage ultraportable laptops for your digital lifestyle, what to look for when buying one, and how to know when you’re buying the right computer.

What is an Ultraportable Laptop?

Ultraportable laptops are a newer breed of laptop that has been introduced to consumers in the last few years. These computers, aimed at providing the full experience of a normal laptop, typically apply the “less is more” approach in design so they can be more easily carried around than your 6-10 pound brick of a laptop.

Standard classifications for ultraportable laptops have yet to surface but Intel is leading the way with their Ultrabook standard to create a standard among PC makers. While less is more, the features of ultraportable laptops allow users to go farther and be more mobile than they can be with traditional laptops. Ultraportables are defined as laptops whose screens are less than 13.3 inches and weigh less than 4 pounds. Although screen sizes might vary and be as little as 7 inches, the emphasis of an ultraportable is its weight which determines, many times, what features are or are not included in the laptop. Battery life, overall thinness, and memory/hard drive space are also determining factors that make classify a laptop as an ultraportable.

Read on for more defining characteristics, netbooks are now considered defunct, and an overview of the various types of ultraportable laptops.

Due to the varying factors that define an ultraportable laptop, hardware configurations can be wide-ranging and even seem ‘revolutionary’ or just foolish (depending on your perspective) when compared to normal laptops. For example, some ultraportable laptops like the MacBook Air completely leave out optical drives (DVD and CD drives) in lieu of wireless connection points and the dependence on external drives. Some also replace high-quality, high-definition graphic chips with lower-end chips designed for less processing capability making functions like gaming less desirable. Keyboards may also be smaller than normal as the overall laptop size is reduced but this does not typically affect the higher end models which have higher resolution displays.

One last criterion that is being used to define an ultraportable laptop is the type of hard drive used, which may or may not seem like a big deal but it is a trend that is reshaping the price and usage of computers. SSD (Solid State Drives) hard drives are being used in ultraportable laptops as way to cut down on weight, conserve space, and maximize hard drive performance. Though the differentiation from traditional hard drives is nuanced, the key thing to remember is that traditional hard disk drives (HDD) are made of multiple, moving parts and are more prone to shocks and vibrations while SSD hard drives are compact in size, boot up faster, use less power and typically microchip based flash memory, much like a flash drive, smartphone, or other mobile device.

How are ultraportable laptops different from netbooks and tablets?

Ultraportable laptops are normally sized laptops that are built with portability in mind – minimizing the use of ‘heavy’ or extra components in the form and functions of the laptop itself.

Netbooks are much smaller than laptops in size, have a lot of extra components and features, and are only viable for a few activities such as surfing the internet, etc. Netbooks, for the most part, have been replaced by tablets including the iPad, the Samsung Tab, and others.

Tablets share many similarities with ultraportable laptops such as hardware and function. Ultraportable laptops, though, retain the laptop form factor and are treated more as a new type of laptop rather than an intermediary step between the smartphone and the laptop. Many of the features and components used in making tablet mobile devices are finding their way into the new class of ultraportables as both strive for portability and ease of use.

Stay tuned to our series for a more indepth look at the different types of ultraportable laptops, including models to buy for business/personal use and what to look for when buying one.

Got a question about ultraportables, netbooks, or tablets? Share it in the comments section and we use your feedback as we continue our ultraportable series.