For the last few months Intel has been marketing the Ultrabook brand as a fast, sleek and light version of full laptops. Unlike the subpowered and underwhelming "netbook" rage underpowered, Ultrabooks are actually running energy efficient versions of Intel i3/i5/i7 processors.
Ulttrabooks are coming out from all sides, and to have a go at one Intel arranged for me to have an ASUS ULTRABOOK here for a few weeks.
First impressions count a lot, so here is one: beautifully designed and executed machine. Brushed stainless steel all around, although the silver square keys seem to be too small for that colour. Incredibly light at only 1.1 Kg and thin: only 3mm on the front, going up to 9mm on the back.
With a 11.6 inch screen and one USB 3.0 port (in addition to a USB 2.0 port), the model I have here (ZENBOOK UX21) is the small brother, different from its bigger version the ZENBOOK UX31 which comes with a bigger 13.3 inch screen size and a SD card reader.
The ZENBOOK UX21 comes with different processor options, including Intel Core i3, i5 and i7. The model I have here came with an Intel Core i7 (Sandy Bridge) running at 1.8 GHz, 4GB on board RAM (non-expandable) and Intel Graphics platform. This is the Windows Experience Index for this netbook - note the processor is actually just a bit faster than an Intel Core i3 desktop version:
Power efficiency is one of the characteristics of the ultrabook series, and the ASUS ZENBOOK UX21 can run for up to five hours on a full battery charge, and be left on stand by for up to five or six days (yes, it does). When you open the lid the ASUS ZENBOOK will come back alive in a matter of a couple of seconds. It also helps that this model comes with SSD (in my case a 128GB ADATA drive), improving the power savings and operations
The USB 3.0 port is a great addition: not only it works in faster mode than the USB 2.0 ports (as expected), but it can also be used to recharge mobile devices (smartphones, players) even if the ASUS ZENBOOK is off or in sleep mode (providing the power cable is connected). Easily reached 80MB/s when copying a 10 GB file from an external HDD, four to five times faster than the same file being copied through the USB 2.0 port.
This means the ZENBOOK UX21 is a great travel companion, obviously suitable for executives, roaming project managers, and those who really need to a PC that is easily carried away.
The review unit came with Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed, Office 2010 Starter Edition (Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel free with option to purchase an upgrade online to include other tools such as PowerPoint, Outlook), antivirus and a series of ASUS utilities, including a tool to keep the ultrabook updated with the latest drivers and software, a face logon utility that uses the built-in camera to identify the user and automatically login to the desktop and a recovery tool to create restore a CD/DVD that allows you to return the ASUS ZENBOOK to factory defaults.
I used the recovery tool to create ISO files (which I then manually copied to a bootable USB key to restore the ASUS ZENBOOK). It works, but I would be happier if ASUS actually included an option to create the bootable USB key in addition to the DC/DVD, seeing these ultrabooks don't have optical drivers anyway.
Talking about "missing" things, you won't find an ethernet port on this ultrabook, but the next best thing is a USB-to-ethernet adapter that comes in the package - helpful in case you go to a place where a wireless network is not readily available (some hotels still provide free ethernet but charge for WiFi for example). It also comes with a small video adaptar
- Light. So light you won't even notice you are carrying it
- Very fast Windows boot and even faster resume
- USB 3.0 and USB Charger Plus port in addition to USB 2.0
- Fast Intel processor for business use and suitable for students too (if you can afford more than a netbook)
- Touchpad automatically disabled if a mouse is detected
- On board memory means you can't just open the case and add more memory