Intel’s Ultrabook vs Apple’s Macbook Air – An enigmatic contrast

If you’re in the market for an ultra-portable laptop, your two major options are the MacBook Air from Apple and the Ultrabook by Intel. Unlike the MacBook Air, which is a single laptop model produced by Apple, the Ultrabook is not a laptop model or a brand. Rather, it’s a trademark licensed by Intel to other laptop manufacturers.


While Ultrabooks are manufactured by nearly every major laptop manufacturer in the world, for a laptop to qualify as an Ultrabook, it must meet a certain standard set of minimum specifications set out by Intel. These requirements include:

  • Ivy Bridge micro-architecture
  • .72 max thickness for models smaller than 13.3, .84 max thickness for models larger than 14
  • At least 5 hrs of battery life
  • Must use SSD for boot up, or as the main storage medium
  • Must resume from hibernation in 7 seconds
  • Minimum storage transfer rate of 80 MB/S

Which Should You Choose?

For many years, the MacBook Air was the only real option for anyone seeking a fast, ultra-portable laptop. Although Ultrabooks have fallen short of Intel’s lofty initial sales projections, the current generation of Ultrabooks are already a significant improvement on the offerings from the first generation of Ultrabooks that were released in late 2011/early 2012. Below, we”ll compare the latest Ultrabook offerings with the current MacBook Air in terms of selection, pricing, portability, display, graphics performance, and style.


Winner: Ultrabook

When it comes to selection, the clear winner is the Ultrabook. There are already over a dozen second generation Ultrabooks on the market, with more on the way, produced by a variety of the world’s top laptop manufacturers. With the MacBook Air, your choices are essentially limited to a 11.6 and a 13 model.

With Ultrabooks, you can get an ultra light laptop that comes with a 15 screen, like the Samsung Series 9. If you’re a gamer, Apple doesn’t give you much choice, forcing you to stick with an integrated graphics solution, while Ultrabooks like the Acer M5-381TG, the Asus Zenbook Prime UX32, or the Gigabyte U2242N all offer the Nvidia GT600 graphics chip. If you want built in HDMI, VGA, or Ethernet ports, you can get it in the Acer Aspire S5 or the Toshiba Portege Z935, but not with the Air. And the list goes on if you want specs or features not offered by the MacBook Air, chances are you can find what you’re looking for with the Ultrabook.


Winner : Ultrabook

The cheapest MacBook Air model is the 11 which starts at $999. The 13 Macbook Air starts at $1,199. If you’re comparison shopping with similar Ultrabooks, the Toshiba Portege Z935 starts at $899, while the Vizio Core i5 Ultrabook which possesses remarkably similar specs to the 13 MacBook Air is $250 cheaper at just $950.

If you don’t want to pay top of the line prices for an ultra-portable laptop, the Ultrabook is still your clear choice. While the cheapest MacBook Air starts at a grand, a Dell Inspiron 14z Ultrabook is priced as low as $599. You will certainly sacrifice speed and features, but at nearly half the price, it may well be worth it depending on your needs.


Winner: Ultrabook

While the MacBook Air weighing 2.38 lbs for the 11 version and 2.96 lbs for the 13 version may have been the lightest mainstream laptop at a point in time, the latest generation of Ultrabooks offer several laptops that are even lighter than the Air. At the moment, the lightest mainstream ultra-portable laptop is the Gigabyte X11, which weighs only 2.14 lbs, thanks to its all-carbon fibre body. The 11.6 Acer Aspire A7 at 2.2 lbs, and the 13 Toshiba Portege Z935 at 2.4 lbs also trump the MacBook Air in terms of weight.


Winner: Ultrabook

Despite all the acclaim for Apple’s retina display, Apple made the choice not to include it in their current MacBook Air. Even without the retina display the MacBook air had the best display in the ultra-portable market only half a year ago. But without a retina makeover, the 1366 x 768 resolution and 1440 x 900 resolution of the Macbook Air are starting to look dated in comparison to some of the latest generation Ultrabooks, which have leaped to full HD resolutions. For example, both the Asus Zenbook Prime UX331A/UX21A possess a 1920 x 1080 screen, as well as a brilliant IPS display that blows the MacBook Air display out of the water in terms of brightness.

Graphics Performance:

Winner: Ultrabook

For a gamer looking to maximize performance, the MacBook Air simply can’t measure up to the current Ultrabooks. With nothing more than an integrated Intel HD graphics 4000 card, the MacBook Air will struggle to handle the latest in gaming. At the same time, Ultrabooks like the Gigabyte U2442N, the Asus ZenBook Prime UX32, or the Acer M5-481TG all offer the option of an Nvidia GT600 graphics solution.


Winner: MacBook Air

While there have been some attractive Ultrabook designs released over the past few months, the style edge still has to go to the MacBook Air. The Air’s sleek, minimalist look along with the strength of the Apple brand are why so many enthusiasts will still choose the Air over any Ultrabook.


While we fully expect Apple to impress when they update the Air for 2013, at the moment, the Ultrabooks are the clear winner here. While we would recommend an Ultrabook for anyone looking for value, a wide range of selection at both ends of the price spectrum, and top performance, the MacBook Air is still a solid laptop.

If you’re willing to pay a premium for Mac OS, Apple’s beautiful styling, or even just the Apple brand and you’re satisfied with the limited options available with the Air, then you certainly can’t go wrong with the MacBook Air.

But for the best value and performance, the current generation of Ultrabooks are the clear winner.

Article Contribution:

Nat is a blogger and SEO for an Alexa top 10k web property. Nat’s writing focuses on technology, search engine marketing, and social media.