Computex 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan has wrapped up, but not before unleashing a spate of new Ultrabooks onto the market. Coming into the electronics show, only a handful of Ultrabooks were available from a few manufacturers. Computex saw that number rise to over 100, as tech giants unveiled their new plans for Ultrabooks, while lesser known regional companies threw their hats into the ring. Besides the size and technical specifications Intel requires for a notebook to be considered an Ultrabook, the new offerings on display at Computex were unified in one big way – Windows 8.
Computex 2012 made it clear that Intel sees the future of the laptop in Ultrabooks – thin, lightweight, portable notebooks that are still capable of carrying high-powered processors; specifically, Intel’s line of Ivy Bridge processors. When you consider that Windows is still the most-used operating system by an overwhelming margin, the Ultrabooks of the near future start to take shape as an endeavor dominated by Intel and Microsoft.
Those that have seen the Metro UI of Windows 8 often suggest it is one better tailored to touchscreens. As we found out at Computex, the touchscreen is officially no longer restricted to just tablets and smartphones. Once Windows 8 hits this fall, scores of Ultrabooks sporting touchscreens will be hitting the market.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call that feature a little gimmicky on its face. After all, if you’re going to use your laptop’s touchscreen, why not just use a tablet? That’s where the final aspect of the new Ultrabooks comes in – versatility. Many can transform from laptops into tablets on the fly. Thanks to the rigid weight requirements that Intel has for the Ultrabook, using your new laptop as a tablet will be reasonably comfortable.
Ultrabook makers are relying on consumers adopting this new brand of hybrid machine as an all-in-one mobile computing platform. Considering the extra power Ultrabooks will be hauling thanks to Ivy Bridge processors and the option to include quality graphics processors from the likes of NVIDIA and AMD, that looks like a pretty good bet – that is, as long as people take to Windows 8.
Intel’s booth at Computex 2012 wasn’t shy about promoting the Ultrabook. Front and center was a stand that looked a little like something out of Stargate toting 16 new Ultrabooks – some previously announced, some new. This included the Sony VAIO T Series, ASUS Zenbook Prime, and Acer Aspire S5, as well as lesser known offerings from companies like Gigabyte, Inventec, and ODM.
Acer, Asus, and Samsung had arguably the biggest presences at Computex 2012 after Intel and Microsoft, all three of which were promoting their new Ultrabooks. Maybe the most refreshing part about those three were the differences – until now, aside from matters of style, Ultrabooks were largely the same in terms of specs and functionality. The new machines from Asus, Acer, and Samsung manage to cater to a wide range of tastes.
Acer announced their Aspire S5 Ultrabook at CES earlier this January, to positive acclaim. Slated for release sometime this month, the S5 will have a 13.3” display, with a thickness of 15mm. For aesthetics, the S5 includes a MagicFlip I/O port panel – when the user presses the designated MagicFlip key, a panel will open up revealing HDMI, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports. That Thunderbolt port, with up to 20 Gbps transfer speeds, shouldn’t be overlooked – Acer is currently the only company other than Apple to have one on their laptops. The Aspire S5 will be powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor.
When it was announced at CES, the S5 was the world’s thinnest Ultrabook. That’s no longer the case thanks to the Acer Aspire S7, announced at Computex 2012. The Ultrabook, which will come in 13.3” and 11.6” varieties, will measure 12.5 mm at its thickest point. Acer is also improving build quality, using aluminum and a unibody design. The S7 will also be featuring HDMI, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports. What really sets the S7 apart, though, is Windows 8 – and the implications of Microsoft’s new operating system. The Acer Aspire S7 will run Windows 8 and sport a touchscreen. The display can also be folded back 180 degrees, making the Ultrabook lie flat. Not being able to fold it back a full 360 degrees is a little bit of a disappointment, though – especially considering what Acer’s competitors trotted out at the show.
Samsung offered up two updates to its Series 5 line of Ultrabooks – the Series 5 Ultra Touch and Series 5 Ultra Convertible. The Series 5 Ultra Touch is a standard Ultrabook equipped with a touchscreen. The Ultrabook was running Windows 8, but the operating system is not 100% stable just yet. Touchscreen response, on the other hand, was impressive, though with a few kinks that need to be worked out here and there (as I found out when I pressed the period button multiple times, only to get commas). The other problem, though minor, was fingerprints – after a good half hour at the Samsung booth, I was starting to think that a certain Samsung representative was the designated fingerprint wiper for the afternoon – and he was a busy man.
The Convertible was much the same, but with a 360 degree foldable display, which essentially turns the Ultrabook into a high-powered tablet. Some might not like the fact that using the Ultrabook in this way leaves the keyboard exposed on the underside – ultimately, whether or not that is acceptable will be up to personal preference. The hinge felt steady, but just as a personal opinion, the exposed keyboard was somewhat of a distraction during use in tablet mode. Both of the Series 5 Ultrabooks Samsung had on display were very fast, but neither have the solid feel of the Ultrabooks coming from Acer and Asus, opting for a plastic build.
Unlike Acer, Samsung’s offerings won’t be packing Thunderbolt ports, but the Intel mandate of USB 3.0 is followed, and HDMI ports are present. Both will be running Windows 8 and will be powered by Intel Ivy Bridge processors. Boot up times for both Ultrabooks will be very fast – 16 seconds from off and 2 seconds from sleep mode. Solid state drives will be available, and both will be able to hold as much as 12 GB of RAM.
The Asus Zenbook Prime also got the touchscreen and Windows 8 treatment. The touch-enabled Zenbook Prime will come in 11” and 13” versions, will be powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, and will be set apart from the pack by an impressive 1080p IPS display, though you might want to keep a cloth handy to keep those fingerprints away.
The Asus Taichi might have been the star of the show, though, because it’s unlike anything else you’ll see (at least for now). The Taichi has an elegant solution to the problem of exposed keyboards when trying to transform an Ultrabook into a tablet. Instead, Asus just put two displays on one Ultrabook – one in the front to use when in Ultrabook mode, and one on the back to use in tablet mode, once you’ve closed the Taichi. Asus’ high-quality displays will also be here in the form of 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS+ touchscreen displays for both sides. The Taichi will feature an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, USB 3.0 ports, front-facing and rear-facing cameras, and at least 4 GB of RAM.
Acer, Asus, and Samsung have combined to show us the future of the Windows 8-powered Ultrabook – light, flexible, and touchscreen-enabled transformers that are going to do their best to be everything to everyone. We’ll see how that works out once Windows 8 hits this fall, bringing along a whole lot of Ultrabook friends for the ride.