Intel coined the term 'Ultrabook' at the Computex conference earlier this year. Ultrabooks are designed to use Intel's latest generation of Core i-series processors, which operate on an extremely low voltage, and to take up less room on your lap. This, says the company, results in very thin, portable computers that pack a serious power punch. Best of all, Intel promised these machines would retail from £600.
We were very interested to hear about this new genre of laptops, as previously, if you wanted a small, lightweight machine, the only options were to get a netbook -- which tend to be barely more powerful than a pocket calculator -- or spend £1,100 or so on a MacBook Air.
We've been waiting months to see the first wave of ultrabooks, and we're not at all disappointed with what we've been given.
The Acer Aspire S3, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s and the Toshiba Portege Z830, unveiled at IFA, are first out of the gate. All three machines are running Intel's second-generation ultra-low voltage Core i-series processors and all three have 13.3-inch screens.
The type of processor in each is entirely down to how much power you need and how deep your pockets are -- all three will be available with Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processors with between 4GB and 6GB of RAM.
They'll all use solid-state disk (SSD) drives rather than traditional hard disk drives, which will enable them to boot up very quickly and achieve near instant resume from sleep times. As SSDs have no moving parts, they're also much more resistant to damage from knocks and bumps. Different capacities will be available -- expect 128GB and 256GB options.
The Acer and Toshiba models both sport magnesium alloy shells which should make them extremely durable -- good to know if you're planning on hauling them all over town. Lenovo hasn't got back to us yet on the construction of the U300s, but judging by the pictures, we reckon it's also sporting a magnesium alloy shell.
At 13mm, the Acer is the thinnest of the bunch, with the Lenovo and the Toshiba coming in at 15mm and 15.9mm respectively. Even at the top end, they're all extremely slim beasts that will easily slip into your bag and look good doing it.
The Lenovo in particular has a definite MacBook Pro look about it. The case is the same thickness all over, rather than tapering down towards the front as the others do. The similarities extend inside as well, with a rounded, isolated keyboard and large, clickable glass trackpad.
The Toshiba and Acer models also make use of isolated keyboards, although their keys are somewhat more square-looking. The Acer Aspire also sports a clickable glass trackpad, while the Toshiba goes for the more traditional option with separate buttons.
The new line of ultrabooks is certainly looking promising, with powerful specs brutally rammed into beautifully slim bodies. They aren't quite beating Apple's MacBook Air in terms of size, but they will offer it a run for its money in terms of power and hopefully price.
The Acer Aspire S3 will be available from the end of September with prices ranging between £700 to £1,010. The Toshiba is expected to start at around £650, whereas the Lenovo will start at around £750. Although if you intend to spec them with Core i7 processors and high-capacity SSDs, don't expect any change from your £1,000 note.
These three models are only the first in a new genre and we expect most major laptop players to soon get in on the game -- Asus will be officially launching its UX21 ultrabook in the next month.
Of the three we've seen so far, the Acer Aspire S3 takes the top spot due to it being slightly thinner, cheaper and arguably better looking than the others. Its size -- and stylings -- are very similar to that of the 13-inch MacBook Air, but the Acer is set to undercut the price of the Air by a considerable amount. If Acer has indeed nailed the tri-factor of performance, style and price, you can bet Apple won't be too pleased.