Ultrabooks have been the talk of the town lately, and a new one hits the market almost every second week. And while the new Ultrabooks are taking the markets by storm, something very unique landed on my test bench. So unique, that it wouldn't even hit the markets, any time soon.

From the moment I received Intel's reference design Ultrabook, featuring its new Core i5-3427U low voltage mobile processor, I had been trying hard to pick holes. After all, it was only a prototype device. However, I must admit, I didn't succeed very much.

Build

I wasn't expecting much from the prototype, in terms of design, as what I had on hand was a reference unit platform for the new Ivy Bridge processor. Being a technology demonstrator, and knowing well that this model will not go into full scale production, all I expected to see was the trademark thin chassis.

The design turned out to be quite appealing, as opposed to my expectations of seeing a crude machine. The 20mm thick design sets a good standard for regular OEM manufacturers' Ultrabooks. The exteriors, both top and bottom of the Ultrabook feature a matte black rubberized coating. It felt good to hold the device because of the sturdy build, and it was surprising because I did not see any metal casing – it's plastic all around.

The Ultrabook feels extremely light – so light that it was a delight to carry around. Weighing a little less than 1.5 kgs, carrying the prototype in my bag was a welcome change from my old notebook.

The sleek and light build reinstated the fact that the technology this machine carries inside is meant for portability.

Features

Just like most recent notebooks and Ultrabooks, the Intel FF (that's what Intel calls it) sports a chiclet keyboard. Although it is well laid out, it is not backlit. Using the keyboard was comfortable, since it was were quite responsive and delivered decent tactile feedback.

The multi-gesture supporting trackpad was a little unruly, though. It was oversensitive at times, and the slightest careless movement triggered off some gesture response. The web pages that I was surfing were navigating forward and back on their own, and it took me some time to realise that the horizontal finger movement towards the top of the trackpad was causing it. And then again, at some points, the trackpad was also a bit unresponsive. Sometimes, it took around a couple of seconds for the pointing device to register the movement.

The 13.1-inch display was extremely clear and offered a good video experience, but the reflective screen can be a little distracting while watching movies. The display is quite bright, and the highest level of brightness can be set if one feels like using the Ultrabook outdoors on a sunny day.

The audio, however, was one of the few things that turned out to be disappointing. The inbuilt speakers are loud, but not clear. While keeping the Windows Media Player volume at 100 per cent, the sound fidelity goes from bad to worse once the system volume is increased beyond 80 per cent.

The Ultrabook is equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, one on either side of the chassis. I transferred around 7 GB of data from a USB 3.0 ready portable hard drive on the Ultrabook's 250GB Solid State Drive in about 50 seconds. The review unit came with 4GB of RAM.

Other ports that are included on the body are one HDMI port, an SD card reader, micro card reader, a 3.5mm audio jack and a charging port. The Ultrabook does not have an Optical Drive onboard. Also, the lack of an RJ-45 LAN port indicated that this Ultrabook is meant to be wireless and portable.

Performance

Once I was done drooling over the features, I quickly got down to testing the performance. The first impression is good. In less than 20 seconds of pushing the power button, the system was on and ready to use.

The 3rd Generation processor makes use of the Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, which boosts the 1.8 GHz Core i5-3427 up to a frequency of 2.6 GHz when needed. One of the results is high energy efficiency.

The prototype also packs in the Intel HD 4000 graphics engine, meant for superior visual performance. To push these features to the extremes, I tested various games, software and video playback files on the system.

Games like Need for Speed Most Wanted and Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 worked seamlessly and the graphics rendered were stutter-free and extremely clear. For a machine of these dimensions, the performance was brilliant. The Intel HD 4000 graphics engine handled these games with extremely detailed animation pretty well. There was no lag whatsoever in the graphics.

Watching High Definition videos was also a delight on the Ultrabook prototype. I watched videos ranging from 480p to 1080p, and never once did any video have any lag. The bright and clear 13.1-inch screen, along with Intel Clear Video HD Technology, returned a striking visual output.

The Intel Rapid Start Technology woke the Intel FF up from Sleep and Hibernation in under 8 seconds. This could've been much faster, as the MacBook Air wakes up instantly.

I did not get to try out the Intel Wireless Display Technology as external wireless displays were unavailable during the testing process. The Wireless Display technology essentially connects to bigger screens without any physical connections.

Upon running NovaBench, the PC Benchmarking system crunched out scores that averaged 628. Slightly older (only a few months old, actually) 13.3 inch Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo IdeaPad U300S, Acer Aspire S3 and the Asus Zenbook, all of which run on 2{+n}{+d} Generation Core i5 processors, scored between 453 and 490 on the same benchmark test.

Battery Life

This Ultrabook can wake up in an instant, can it also go on working for hours? To see just exactly how long does it take for this prototype to run out of juice, I ran an assortment of tests.

On a Balanced power plan, I could use the machine to just surf the internet and use a few applications for up to 7.5 hours on a full charge. After charging it again, I used the system to watch 720p copies of The Adjustment Bureau, The Zookeeper and Source Code, back to back. That is a little over 5 hours of non-stop movie watching.

On yet another run, I used Adobe Photoshop CS5.5, some more 720p videos and web usage, the battery did not run fully out of charge after 6 hours.

Verdict

The Intel Core i5-3427U low voltage processor is a mean little machine that packs performance which is on par or even better than its predecessors of the same configuration. Apart from having the ability to be housed in ultra-portable packages, it is also energy efficient, making it run longer than before.

Love – Blazing processor speeds, sleek design

Hate – Bad sound quality, unreliable trackpad

(This article was published on July 17, 2012)
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