Welcome to Part 2 of Tom's Hardware's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide. This second installment is geared toward the folks who want to buy components that stand alone as respectable gifts--call them the add-ons to go with the complete machines we built last week.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little Grinch thrown in, so here goes...
No doubt, you’ve got the gist of Intel’s Ultrabook effort by now: like a MacBook Air, only different. Officially, today’s Ultrabooks should be less than 0.8” thick , under 3.1 lbs., and deliver five to eight or more hours of runtime. In part, this is possible through the use of smaller screens, no integrated optical drive, SSDs rather than hard drives, and one of Intel’s late-model 17 W Sandy Bridge-based Core i5 or i7 chips with HD Graphics 3000. So far, so good.
A few years ago, we would have called these “ultralight” designs, but since the MacBook Air pretty much blew competing ultralights out of the water, we needed something fresher, cooler...something more like an ultrabook! The result, of course, was a MacBook Air that ran Windows and was sold by top-tier OEMs like Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba.
Let’s be fair. Acer has four S3 Ultrabook models, and this one seeks to give you the benefits of a $1299 MacBook Air for $400 less. Apple has a 100 MHz advantage on the Core i5 (1.7 GHz dual-core to Acer’s 1.6 GHz). Both have a 13.3” display, but Apple’s native resolution is 1440 x 900 against Acer’s 1366 x 768. Height and weight are nearly identical. Both use 4 GB of DDR3-1333. We won’t debate Thunderbolt and HDMI or battery runtime here. The biggest difference is that whereas Apple uses a 128 GB SSD, Acer opts for a 20 GB SSD backed by a 320 GB, 5400 RPM hard drive. The Grinch’s heart may have been two sizes too small, but so is Acer’s SSD. We’d fill that little thing up by New Year’s for sure.
And the one speck of NAND
Acer left in the house
Was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse
Still, if you don’t mind the storage situation and you’re not married to Mac OS, Acer’s S3 has a build quality that’s roast-beast-alicious, and you get to pocket four bills toward paying off that January Visa bill. We would declare that plenty fair...almost.
On Black Friday, this author braved the 6:00 AM cold outside of Office Depot and bought himself a beater of a laptop—a Toshiba Satellite with 2.4 GHz Sandy Bridge Core i3-2330M, 6 GB of DDR3, 15.6” display, 640 GB hard drive, and a DVD-Supermulti optical drive. It weighs 5.3 lbs. and has a cheap plastic feel rather than luscious aluminum. But the final cost was $399. So if we’re going to play the price versus value game, let’s play it to the finish.
Should you pay $500 to give up two pounds, two screen inches, 2 GB of memory, and step into a Core i5 over an i3? Maybe. If you’re a stylish little Who, you may not value all those twos. But if you’re a penny-pinching Grinch oh so grinch-ish-ly humming, you may already know that price cuts are a-coming. Acer president Jim Wong has already stated that he believes Ultrabooks will drop to $500 by 2013. Think of the sound of those savings in your stocking! Now, that’s a noise that we simply must hear.