Given their roots -- luxury machines like the original MacBook Air ($1,800) and last year's Samsung Series 9 ($1,649) -- you'd be forgiven if you initially dismissed Ultrabooks as being too extravagant for a college-bound student. Thankfully, though, prices have sunk so low that you can now find a thin, fast, ultraportable laptop for as little as $700. The only problem, perhaps, is a paradox of choice: the selection is already crowded with dozens of contenders, and there are 100-some-odd more models in the pipeline, according to Intel. Fortunately for you, dear readers, we've had the chance to handle or even review many of them, and were able to whittle down the offerings to a handful of promising contenders. Whether you're prepared to spend $750 or $1,400, we have something that'll fit the bill.
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5
Even with so many Ultrabooks on the market, it's rare to find one with graphics good enough for more serious gaming. That's why we like the M5 notebooks, which can be configured with NVIDIA's new Kepler-series GPUs. The M5 laptops, available with 14- and 15-inch screens, also have 0.81-inch-thick metal frames and narrow bezels -- better build quality, perhaps, than you would have expected for $680. Just keep in mind that for that entry-level price you'll be getting a last-generation Sandy Bridge processor; for an Ivy Bridge chip and discrete graphics, you'll need to pay at least $780.
Key specs: 1366 x 768 resolution, 0.81 inches thick, 500GB hybrid hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M LE graphics, 4.03 pounds / 5.07 pounds.
Price: From $663 on Amazon
You might also like... Lenovo IdeaPad U310
How often do we chide Ultrabooks for having shallow keyboards or flaky trackpads? The U310 won us over with a smooth touchpad and a cushy set of keys, making it supremely comfortable to use. Be warned, though: that lower price point means making do with shorter battery life and more middling performance (SSDs aren't an option).
From $750 on Amazon
Sony VAIO T13
Fair or not, Sony catches a lot of flack for selling overpriced gadgets that rest too much on the company's brand cachet. The T13, though, starts at a reasonable $770. In our review, we praised the metal-clad design and found the performance to be fairly solid, but felt that given its relative heft the keys could've had a bit more travel.
From $760 on Amazon
Apple MacBook Air
When Apple refreshed its MacBook lineup recently, it didn't touch the industrial design. And that's a good thing: the Air continues to offer one of the most comfortable keyboard-and-trackpad combos. The chief difference is that both the 11- and 13-inch models pack Ivy Bridge chips, and feature Apple's slimmer MagSafe2 power connector. (You'll need an adapter if you want to use your older power brick.) In our tests, that new chipset provided a nice boost in performance, and the battery life is a bit longer, too. The Air remains our favorite all-around ultraportable, though competitors are starting to best it in categories like display quality and port selection.
Key specs: 1366 x 768 / 1440 x 900 resolution (11-inch / 13-inch), 0.68 inches thick, 64GB to 256GB SSDs, 2.38 pounds / 2.96 pounds.
Price: From $950 on Amazon
You might also like... HP Envy Spectre XT
The XT is one of HP's highest-end Ultrabooks and it looks the part with its 0.57-inch-thick metal frame. It also comes loaded with full versions of Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Elements 10, and is covered by a two-year warranty. As you'd expect, Ivy Bridge CPUs are standard, and you can configure it with up to 256GB of solid-state storage.From $1,000 on HP.com
Dell XPS 14
The big brother to last year'sXPS 13 ushers in some welcome improvements, including longer battery life, a refined trackpad, crisper 1600 x 900 display and discrete NVIDIA graphics. The tradeoffs attendant to that kind of horsepower? A heavier-than-average build, relatively weak disk speeds and a bit of fan noise.
From $1,100 on Dell.com
Money's no object
Samsung Series 9
One of our favorite Ultrabooks available right now, the Series 9 comes in 13- and 15-inch versions, each thinner than most other ultraportables. Neither version comes cheap, but for the money you get a stunning unibody aluminum design, epic battery life, solid performance and a bright 1600 x 900 display with a glare-free matte finish. So what's not to like? The flat keyboard, perhaps, which offers less travel than competing models. And while the trackpad has benefitted from some driver updates, it could still use some more fine-tuning.
Key specs: 1600 x 900 resolution, 0.5 / 0.58 inches thick, up to 256GB of storage, 2.55 pounds / 3.5 pounds
Price: From $1,300 on Amazon
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HP Envy 14 Spectre
Though it makes for a heavier design, the Spectre's metal-and-glass chassis is one of the most memorable we've seen. It's not all about looks, though: the Spectre also offers a high-res IPS display, comfortable keyboard and generous two-year warranty. Full copies of Photoshop and Premiere Elements are also included.
From $1,400 on HP.com
ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD
We're fans of ASUS' entire line of Zenbook Prime Ultrabooks, thanks to their 1080p IPS displays, lovely build quality and much-improved keyboards. But we're especially intrigued by the 13-inch UX32VD, which adds a discrete NVIDIA GT 620M GPU for some extra graphics might.
$1,300 on Amazon
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