Intel’s new line up of low voltage Core Processors have given rise to a new generation of notebooks, which will start to see the light of day from this October onwards. I’ve had an opportunity to have some hands-on time with an upcoming model from Asus, who have been displaying a fair bit of innovation in the tablet area and look set to continue that trend with this new range.
“Thin and light” is the war cry for Ultrabooks, and the Asus UX31, one of the new breed of mobile PCs about to be unleashed to an unsuspecting public, can add “metallic” to that anthem. This is a very industrial-looking piece of tech, from its brushed metal lid to its ultra-thin wedged front and rather sharp corners.
The Asus UX31 was handed to me in a smart looking leather envelope, which seemed incomprehensible to be carrying a notebook of any sort. The envelope itself has a magnet embedded in both the body and fold-over, keeping the package well protected until the dramatic opening, revealing an extremely thin metal Ultrabook.
The leather slip case was light with the Ultrabook inside, and the UX31 feels as if it should be a little heavier given the physical materials it is wrapped in. The unit is only 1.1kg, extremely light for a notebook of this size, and you really notice its lack of weight when it’s open and operating in the palm of one hand.
The front edge is so thin – 3mm – that Asus have smartly added a small protruding lip at the centre of the lid for easy opening. The unit then increases in thickness to its rear, reaching only 17mm at its peak – still very thin.
From standby, the UX31 bounces into life in a blink, and the bright 13.3” screen displays a 1600 x 900 resolution, higher than some larger screen counterparts. The expected array of status LED is missing, with only tiny white LEDs embedded in the caps lock, Wi-Fi function key and in the power key, which has been integrated into the keyboard layout.
Sparseness is the theme for this Ultrabook, with a small but useful amount of connections. On the left hand side there is the SD/MMC card slot, headphone jack and USB 2.0 port. On the right hand side are all the new-tech connections: Micro HDMI, Mini Displayport and USB 3.0 plus the small power socket.
As more components become compressed into smaller and thinner form factors, issues like heating need innovative solutions. Asus have placed its ventilation at the back of the keyboard, just below the screen. The use of the low voltage Core i7 quad core processor and SSD storage also assists in keeping heat down.
Video playback was smooth and non-jittery, and it seemed to be able to handle high bit rate content very well. The sound element was interesting – what it lacked in depth, the UX31 made up in stereo separation. Effects and musical instruments were very discernible and seemed to be coming from more than two directions.
For those that have never heard the term “unibody” before, the UX31 is a good example of unibody design and construction. The Asus Ultrabook uses single sheets of material, in this case aluminium, to form a minimalist, almost hollowed-out appearance to ensure a rigid casework. Rigidity and stiffness are more important than ever, with evermore streamlined and sleek designs produced due to the nature of Intel’s Ultrabook criteria. With the advent of Ultrabooks, unibody designs will become much more prevalent in the coming months.
After spending a few hours with the UX31, it’s funny how quickly you get used to the form factor – my trusty notebook that I’m writing this article on looks and feels positively chunky after handling the Ultrabook.
Consider for a moment the advances that had to occur to get us to a point where a product like the Asus Ultrabook could be produced – high speed transfer via USB, reliable solid state drives, low voltage processors, lightweight casework materials, and overhauled cooling designs. Traditional PC makers can be that little less traditional and a bit more edgy with these new products that are as much about lifestyle and self-image as they are about performance and design.
This is one technology bump I can see catching on.