The first wave of Intel-inspired Ultrabook laptops meant to challenge the MacBook Air start landing this week with the $900 Acer Aspire S3-951 leading the way.
The new S3-951 features a 13.3-inch screen, a 320GB hard drive, a Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 20GB solid state drive loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium. Acer announced availability for its new Ultrabook on Monday, promising the new laptop will be available at "leading online and retail outlets" before the week is out. Amazon has a product page for the S3-951, but is only accepting pre-orders at the time of this writing.
The S3-951 is just the first of several Ultrabooks expected from Acer. The manufacturer says future models will sport Intel Core i3 and Core i7 processors and larger-capacity solid state drives. Given that the S3-951 had to use a hard drive to keep its price below $1000, it's a good bet that the next round of Acer Ultrabooks will cost more than $1000. That's a price point Intel hoped Ultrabooks would stay under when it announced the new laptop class in May.
However, finalized specs for Asus' UX Series laptops have yet to be announced. So, while we wait for Asus' Tuesday announcement, here's a look at how Acer's first Ultrabook matches up against the 13.3-inch Apple MacBook Air:
If your main concern is cost, then the Aspire S3 is hands down the better choice as it is priced at $900 versus the 13-inch MacBook Air's $1,300. You can, of course, get a MacBook Air that is closer in price to the S3 at $1,000. But for that, you have to drop down to an 11.6-inch screen and far less storage.
The new S3 has a solid state drive just as Intel hoped manufacturers would use for new Ultrabooks. Unfortunately, the SSD is just there to house Windows 7. For storing all your files, Acer turned to a 320GB hard drive. The MacBook Air, meanwhile, sports 128GB SSD. Solid state drives are often admired for their ability to significantly increase a computer's performance speed compared to a device with a traditional spinning drive.
Standby and Battery Life
Part of Intel's hopes for Ultrabooks is they would offer instant-on functionality similar to the MacBook Air. Acer says the S3-951 can resume from sleep in about 2 seconds and 6 seconds from what the company calls "deep sleep mode," which is probably just a fancy term for hibernate. Apple does not provide benchmarks for its so-called "instant-on" technology.
Each device maker is also claiming substantial standby time and battery life for their ultrathin laptops. Acer says the Aspire can last for up to 6 hours of regular use, and Apple says the Air will last for up to 7 hours when doing wireless Web browsing. Acer is also claiming an astounding 50 days of standby time, which is 20 days more than the Apple's 30-day claim for the Air. But it's important to remember that manufacturer claims often differ from third-party battery life tests. So it's best not to count on Acer's claims until the S3 has been thoroughly tested by PCWorld.
For a detailed look at the latest Air's battery life results, check out PCWorld's latest MacBook Air review.
Weight and Height
If you're looking for something sleek to slip into your backpack, both the Air and the Aspire S3 are solid choices. The Air is slightly lighter at 2.96 pounds versus the Aspire S3's 2.98 pounds. As for height, both devices measure 0.68 of an inch at their thickest points. But the Air can slim down to just 0.11 inches, while the thinnest point on the new Aspire S3 is just over half an inch.
Now that Ultrabooks are finally being launched, some of the concerns about the new laptop category may finally be answered. There have been rumors about Ultrabooks failing to meet Intel's promised sub-$1000 pricing, manufacturer's resistant to go up against Apple's Air, and rumors about as-yet announced Ultrabooks from device makers such as Hewlett-Packard. This week, we'll start to get a better picture.