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MacBook Air vs Ultrabooks specs showdown

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first_imgWhile laptops have always been portable, they used to be lumped into one of three categories: 1) powerful, hulking monstrosities, 2) small, lightweight notebooks with abysmal processing power or 3) middle-of-the-road do-it-all machines. When Apple introduced the MacBook Air in 2008, it began to combine the best of both worlds. It wasn’t immediate, though, as it took a few generations for the MacBook Air to become the computer that it is today. Now that the Air has become the notebook of choice for many consumers, Windows finally has its equivalent: the UltraBook. Let’s take a look at how the MacBook Air compares to two of the top UltraBooks.For simplicity’s sake, we limited the comparison to the base 13-inch model of the MacBook Air. The other notebooks we looked at are the Acer Aspire S3 and the Asus Zenbook UX31E-DH52, aka the UX31.DimensionsYou’re looking at three razor-thin laptops. Differences in the dimensions are minor. The biggest difference is the Zenbook’s slightly longer frame, but even that isn’t by a large margin.WeightAs much as the new UltraBooks emulated the Air’s dimensions, Apple’s notebook still has the advantage in terms of weight. It isn’t a gargantuan difference, but it is half a pound lighter than the Zenbook.DisplayAll three displays measure 13.3 inches diagonally. The Zenbook has the highest resolution, at 1600×900 and 138 pixels per inch.CPUAre you seeing a pattern here? The specs have been nearly identical so far, and the processor exemplifies that perfectly. All three notebooks pack dual-core Intel Core i5 chips. The main difference is that the Aspire has a 1.6GHz CPU compared to the 1.7GHz in the other two.GraphicsAnother category, another draw. The GPUs in all three laptops are identical: Intel HD Graphics 3000.This integrated graphics processor will give you OK gaming capabilities. You should be able to play most current-generation games, but it obviously won’t pack as much gaming power as a more expensive discrete GPUs will. If you want the most hardcore, future-proofed graphics capabilities, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.RAMWell what do you know, another category where we’re evenly matched. 4GB of RAM in each computer. Moving along…StorageHere we finally have a category with some differentiation. While the MacBook Air and the Zenbook both sport 128GB solid-state drives, the Aspire combines a 320GB hard drive with a 20GB SSD to help speed up some operations.While the Zenbook has the clear advantage in terms of storage capacity, the HDD dictates that it won’t be as speedy as the other SSD-exclusive notebooks.Battery lifeAs always, you’ll want to take these advertised run-times with grains of salt, but the actual battery lives should be within an hour of these numbers (provided you’re only using it moderately, with backlighting at 50%, WiFi on and so forth).PriceFor many customers, price is the most important detail. The Aspire S3 undercuts the other two, and that’s directly related to Acer passing on full SSD storage. The hard drive allows the notebook to offer more storage for a cheaper price, but the aforementioned inferior speed could be dealbreaker for some.Meanwhile, in the land of solid-state drives, the MacBook Air is still $200 more than the Zenbook. Mac fans will say that Apple’s smooth, intuitive design is well worth the premium, but others will be happy to save a few bucks on Asus’ computer.The rest…The MacBook Air has the most intangibles on its side. If you appreciate attractive, simple design, then both the hardware and software (Mac OS X Lion) will make you happy. It also packs an extremely fast Thunderbolt port, though the relative dearth of Thunderbolt accessories makes it a future-proofing measure.Possibly the biggest extra advantage that the MacBook Air has, though, is its trackpad. Somehow, PC manufacturers haven’t nailed the trackpad the way that Apple has. The touchpads on the two Ultrabooks machines are better than those on many Windows laptops, but they still don’t match the industry-leading offering on Apple’s MacBooks. This is, of course, a largely subjective observation, but in terms of touch sensitivity, palm correction, and button resistance, we believe that the Air hits all the sweet spots.The Acer Aspire’s biggest differentiating factor is the price. If you don’t mind a slight drop in speed, it will let you save $200-400 over the other machines.What separates the Asus Zenbook? Its hardware is nearly identical to the MacBook Air, but it’s cheaper and it runs Windows. Whether you see this as an advantage or not will say more about you than about the notebook, but many will jump at the chance to have a cheaper MacBook Air that runs Microsoft’s OS.Summing upWhich ultra-thin notebook comes out on top? We aren’t here to provide a definitive answer, as one size doesn’t fit all. If you want the cheapest quality Ultrabook that money can buy, pick up the Aspire. If you want the machine that most closely resembles the MacBook Air — but you prefer Windows — then snag the Zenbook. Apple fans and those who appreciate the company’s less-is-more approach to design and usability will gravitate towards the Air.No matter which you prefer, I think we can all agree that the choice that a competitive field offers benefits everyone. It will be interesting to see if the prices of the MacBook Air and Ultrabooks drop over the next couple of years.More on MacBook Air vs. Ultrabooks at PC Maglast_img read more