What is an Ultrabook?
Thin, light and powerful, Ultrabooks (or high-end laptops) are almost as portable as today's tablets (especially the ones that come with keyboards docks) while being able to perform a much wider range of tasks. They debuted in 2011, roughly the year that the term became synonymous with models built on Intel architecture and running Windows.
An Ultrabook can typically run for at least five hours on a single charge, is less than 21mm thick and houses an SSD inside for storage. In the early days, Ultrabooks had to come with ULV (ultra-low voltage) processors designed to balance decent performance with efficiency and battery life.
However, advancements in processor tech culminating in the launch of Skylake CPU laptops in 2016 means that you can now pick up an Ultrabook with a powerful Intel Core i7 processor and it stands just as much chance of going the distance compared to one with a comparatively more efficient Core M chip inside.
Something to consider
There are very few drawbacks to opting for an Ultrabook over a normal laptop. The first one is that it's likely to come with fewer ports due to their comparatively thin chassis designs.
Some manufacturers like Dell (with the XPS 13) and Asus (with the UX305) understand that, in addition to new-fangled ports like USB-C, people still need good old traditional USB ports to hook up peripherals and charge smartphones.
Whereas if you go with Apple and pick up the latest 12-inch MacBook, you'll only get a single USB-C port and will have to use an adapter to connect your regular USB devices.
The other drawback, of course, is that Ultrabooks are more expensive than normal laptops. It's only natural, then, that you might be wanting to make your money go further on your hunt for an Ultrabook. There are several ways to do so, starting with…
The first way to make your money go further when buying an Ultrabook is to go refurbished. Many people confused refurb with secondhand or reconditioned but it's actually a much safer way to get a high-spec machine that you just can't justify buying as new.
You can find excellent deals right here on eBay. Check out our article here for more tips on what to look for when buying a refurbished laptop (link from other advertorial). But the short version is:
Refurbished products are customer returns that can't be sold again as new. They may be a repair job but they may also be an 'as new' return because the box was damaged or the customer decided the product wasn't for them.
Manufacturer refurbished items undergo stringent health and quality checks from approved technicians. The maker does not want to see these items coming back again.
Refurbs come with a 12-month warranty when bought on eBay's Refurbished Technology Hub.
Get a non-touchscreen model
As we mentioned earlier, it used to be the case that Ultrabooks adhered to a specific specification to earn the Ultrabook tag, one of those being that it had to come with a touchscreen. That has increasingly gone out of the window in the intervening years, and getting an Ultrabook without a touchscreen is a good way to get one cheaper.
Models without touchscreen are often a little lighter too as they don't need the components that facilitate touch input. The Asus UX305, which retails for £599, is a great example of a solid Ultrabook that's thin, light and packs an incredible display while being offered at a great price - partly thanks to not having a touchscreen.
Lower your screen resolution
If you're only bothered about browsing the internet, typing up the occasional document and chatting on social media then you aren't going to need an Ultrabook with a high-resolution display. Ultrabooks that come with QHD, QHD+ or 4K displays are aimed at people who either like screen fonts to look pretty or need a high-resolution screen to do professional work such as photo and video editing.
To make your money go further, look at models with a Full HD (or 1080p) display instead. The lowest we would recommend is 1,366 x 768 as anything below that resolution means that you can see less of websites and the viewing experience can become uncomfortable.
Opt for flash memory storage over an SSD
Solid-state drives (or SSDs) are the fastest type of storage that come in Ultrabooks, but they're not always necessary. If you're really strapped for cash, consider plumping for a value-style laptop with Ultrabook-style dimensions that might not be as powerful as a typical Ultrabook but is equally as portable.
These bargain basement Ultrabooks include models such as the Acer Aspire ES1, Asus Vivobook E200HA, Lenovo's IdeaPad 100S and HP's Stream. They come with "eMMC" storage – a type of flash storage that usually comes in a 32GB capacity.
The downside here is that you won't get anywhere near as much data to store your files on and you will have to rely on cloud-based storage services (such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox) to house your vast collection of media files. However, it will still be much faster than an old-style hard drive.
The truth is that you're going to have to make compromises to get hold of an Ultrabook. The Asus UX305 has long been held in high regard as the best budget Ultrabook, and at just short of £600 it's still far from cheap. However, in addition to the points listed above, there are ways to make your money go further yet.
The first is to opt for a slightly thicker model. Are you really going to notice those extra few millimetres of thickness on an Ultrabook when it's in your bag? The answer is likely "no", and you can save money by opting for a model that's a little chunkier while remaining portable. Check out Dell's Inspiron 15 3000- and 5000-series models, which are inspired by the company's higher-end XPS models yet come with a more palatable price tag.
Something else to look out for is build quality. A magnesium-alloy, carbon-fibre body combo is as nice as it sounds on an Ultrabook, but one made of plastic isn't going to fall apart either. Toshiba's Satellite C55-C5 and S55-B5 are good examples of Ultrabooks that are affordable while packing basic build quality. For gamers, Dell's Inspiron 7559 and Acer Aspire E5 series Ultrabooks come with basic graphics cards for gaming on a budget.
The fact of the matter is that you're unlikely to get your dream Ultrabook packing all of the features you want if you're on a strict budget. It's worth taking half an hour to sit down and write down the features that you need and will help you on a practical level.
Visit various Ultrabook makers' websites and make a note of models within your price range and the features that come with them. You'll likely come across at least a few models on sale that get you a bonus feature or two compared to others listed at full price and remember the refurb route to get closer still to your target spec.