They may not dominate the market (the price tags can indeed be daunting), but ultrabooks are the latest evolution of the ultra-portable computer. Intel invented the concept in response to Apple’s MacBook Air, bringing to market laptops with 11- to 15-inch screens that are less than 2 cm thick and weigh under 2 kg. The most recent models have IPS displays for a better image and solid-state drives to boost performance and power. The ultrabook has allowed Intel to almost entirely outsell AMD in the 11.6- to 14-inch laptop product range.
Laptops with 15-inch screens and above are fairly large and not as easy to carry around in a backpack. The biggest evolution on these computers has come in the form of processing power (CPUs and 3D graphics cards), which has continued to increase as the prices remain steady.
Unlike desktop computers, when you buy a laptop you’re stuck with the screen attached to it. That’s why the screen quality is a deciding factor in how we rate laptops. Models with bad screens (i.e. with contrast ratios under 300:1) automatically get no more than three stars in our overall rating. To get five stars a laptop has to have over 600:1 contrast.
But before you can choose which altar to pray to, first you need to choose your religion: Apple or Microsoft. Roughly 12% of our readers prefer Mac OS for its simplicity and ease-of-use, and around 75% prefer Windows for its range of applications. Then there’s Linux for the adventurous, the lovers of free software, customisation and DIY.
We feel that operating systems are really a matter of personal taste, so when we rate a computer we do it independently of our own preference in OS (we just take into account how well the machine runs the given system).
The Dell Inspiron 17R Special Edition offers excellent processing power and gaming capabilities. It also has a Full HD display with great contrast, above-average sound and well-finished hardware. This is a choice laptop—as long as you don't need too much battery life.
Best of the rest
Apple 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2012)
Apple pulled out all the stops with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The screen, processor and graphics card are all high-calibre, the battery lasts nearly 6 hours and the finishing is tip-top. As it stands, the few shortcomings (such as the connectivity) aren't enough to warrant anything less than our best rating.
Samsung Series 3 NP355V5C
Without excelling in any particular area, the Samsung NP355V5C does have enough power to handle a relatively wide range of tasks (office stuff, games, reasonably demanding programs). It has good connectivity, satisfactory battery life and more than enough storage space. Too bad about the low contrast.
Dell Inspiron 15R (N5110)
While the Inspiron 15R (N5110) doesn't do all that well in gaming, its CPU is effective in terms of everyday usage. It can also perform well with applications that have higher processing demands (3D modelling, 1080p video encoding and so on). Its connectivity also covers all the bases and it has excellent battery life.