Have you picked up your laptop lately? If it's getting long in the tooth, it's probably as heavy as it is slow. Fortunately there's no better time to look for a more portable and modern machine than during the holidays. Even if you can't find a year-end deal on the particular model that interests you, you'll be able to impress family and friends when you whip out your new laptop at holiday gatherings.
Thanks to the performance and efficiency of Intel's Core-branded processor platform, Ultrabooks are gradually gaining in popularity. These machines provide great performance and long battery life, despite weighing less than 4 pounds. They're also a traveler's best friend—slim and light, with quick boot times owing to built-in solid-state memory drives.
That said, if you need more raw power and are willing to compromise on portability, you can find plenty of great traditional laptops. These machines may weigh more, but they also carry larger screens, which are helpful in countless multitasking scenarios.
To help you with your purchasing decision, we've compiled a list of the best Ultrabooks and laptops available right now. PCWorld staffers test as many models as possible—and then we pass our experiences on to you.
Without further ado, let's start with a look at our four favorite Ultrabooks, and then follow up with four great traditional laptops.
The CT15-A2 is the 15.6-inch version of the 14-inch CT14-A2, which impressed us last August with its sleek, minimalist design. Though the 14-inch model is no longer available, you can pick up the 15.6-inch model for the same low price—despite its extra screen real estate.
The keys are shallow, but large and easy to locate even for the clumsiest fingers; and the accompanying touchpad supports multitouch gestures. Best of all, the CT15-A2 delivers strong performance at an affordable price. In our WorldBench 7 benchmarking gauntlet, it earned a mark of 81 for overall performance, keeping pace with some of the highest-rated Ultrabooks, at for a much lower cost. Read our full review of the 14-inch model here.
[$1199 for a 15.6-inch Ultrabook with a 1600-by-900-pixel display, a Core-i7 processor, and Windows 7]
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A
The UX31A upgrades last year's UX31E with a new touchpad and an Intel Ivy Bridge CPU. It rivals other top-rated Ultrabooks in overall performance, and sports a beautiful full HD IPS display with an excellent antiglare filter to reduce annoying reflections.
The UX31A demolished our demanding WorldBench 7 benchmark suite with a score of 150, meaning that it was 50 percent faster than our baseline desktop system. When you factor in thoughtful extras such as an SD Card reader that supports the latest SDXC high-capacity cards, and a USB-to-ethernet adapter, the newest Zenbook prime is a home run. Read our full review here.
[$1449 for a 13.3-inch Ultrabook with a 1600-by-900-pixel display, Core i7-3517u processor, and Windows 7]
Acer Aspire S7-391
The Aspire S7-391 offers solid performance, despite weighing a mere 2.8 pounds. Couple its light weight with a svelte chassis that is just 11.9mm wide and yet is demonstrably rigid, and you have an Ultrabook that could double as a ninja star.
This Windows 8 machine features a 13.3-inch touchscreen covered in Gorilla Glass 2, a pair of 128GB SSDs in RAID 0, and a Core i7-3517U processor. The S7 achieved a score of 72 on our brand-new WorldBench 8 benchmark suite (which is expressly designed for Windows 8). Read our full review here.
[$1649 for a 13.3-inch Ultrabook with a 1920-by-1080-pixel display, a Core i7-3517U processor, and Windows 8]
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
The aptly named Yoga 13 is the most flexible machine we've seen. It bends, swivels, and downward-dogs to perform dual duty as both a Windows 8 tablet and Ultrabook.
The keyboard, trackpad and bezel-less 13-inch multitouch screen are all top-notch and comfortable to use, making Microsoft's new OS easy to navigate by touch, keyboard, or mouse. Lenovo managed to squeeze an Intel Core i5-3317U CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD into the Yoga, which achieved an overall mark of 60 on our new WorldBench 8 benchmark suite. Whether you need a laptop or a tablet—or maybe just something to prop up and watch a movie on—the economically priced Yoga 13 won't disappoint you. Read our full review here.
[$1099 for a 13-inch Ultrabook with a 1600-by-900-pixel display, a Core i5-3317U processor, and Windows 8]
That's the Ultrabook story. If you're looking for stronger performance, though, and are willing to surrender some portability, consider a traditional laptop. We name our favorites after the jump!