Scores in depth
Maingear Pulse 14 review
Maingear Pulse 14 review
Maingear Pulse 14 review
Maingear Pulse 14 review
Maingear Pulse 14 review

The UltraNote II is a 15-inch mid-range laptop from PC Specialist, a British system builder that has been producing mobile and desktop PCs for what seems like forever.

An analogy that could sum up the UltraNote II is that it's the unremarkable middle kid of laptop designs. Neither the cheapest, nor the most dear; not exactly powerful, but not particularly underpowered either. Almost every aspect of it fits squarely between expensive, high-end systems and cheap mobile computers.

The analogy can be extended to its design too. At 2.2kg it's not especially light, but not ridiculously heavy, and its 25mm chassis is neither chunky nor portable. The black and dark grey plastic chassis doesn't look bad at all. It has an executive-style gunmetal grey lid, although it's fairly bland, with no real distinguishing features – not even a company logo or branding.

UltraNote II lid
If you like black and dark grey, you're in luck

This middle ground is exactly what PC Specialist is targeting, at least with the configuration I received. The UltraNote II is for people who are willing to pay for a laptop that's not merely sufficient, but gets the job done well, at least when it comes to basic computing tasks. There's a range of options, starting at £387 inc VAT for a low-end model, but the unit sent to us was configured with a few select upgrades that bumped the price up to £516 inc VAT.

A 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i3-4110M processor runs the show, with a generous 8GB of DDR3 memory. Graphics are powered by Intel's HD4600, a chip that lacks the sheer gaming grunt of the Iris range, but still functions reasonably well. The 15.6-inch screen was upgraded from the base 1,366 x 768 option to a 1,920 x 1,080 IPS display. It has a matte finish too, which is great news if you're one of the many folk who loathes the reflectivity of glossy displays.

Tough choices

There's no option of discrete Nvidia or AMD graphics for added gaming oomph. For that, you'll want to look at PC Specialists' Cosmos II range. But you can choose a smaller display if you like, since there's a 14-inch version of the UltraNote II. Preference of screen size is like Pepsi or Coke, a purely personal choice, and I always choose portability over added screen real estate, but equally, some people are more comfortable with the extra desktop space.

UltraNote II angle
A 2.6GHz Intel Core i3-4110M CPU runs the show

PC Specialist didn't bother with an SSD in this review sample, but if I was buying this laptop, I would have paid a bit extra to include one. If you're not aware of developments in the technology industry over the last few years, SSDs are a replacement storage technology for traditional hard disks. They make a huge difference to the overall performance of a computer, since they feed data to the system much quicker than a hard disk. Applications load faster, and Windows boots quicker.

The storage section of the UltraNote II's configuration page is chock full of options, with larger hard disks, hybrid disks, and a range of full-sized SSDs from Intel, Samsung and Kingston, with capacities up to 960GB. You can also add an SSD to its mSATA slot, to be used in conjunction with a hard disk. I picked out a 128GB Plextor PX-128M5M, which adds less than £50 to the final price.