A Features Refresher Course
Before we dive in to benchmarks let’s take a quick tour around the features associated with ultrabooks. If you’ve been keeping tabs on the category you will have heard all of this before, but I think a lot of readers are still unfamiliar with the features offered. Please note that many of these features are not limited to ultrabooks, but Intel specifically sites all of them as benefits of the platform.
Intel Rapid Start Technology
The most important feature being pushed by Intel (in my opinion, at least) is Rapid Start. This is a fancy name given to a solid state drive that makes it possible for an ultrabook to quickly return from a sleep state. Intel is aware users are becoming accustomed to mobile devices that seem to be instantly available whenever they’re needed. The current version of Windows, on the other hand, often takes some time to resume or boot.
Intel Rapid Start simply transfers the data currently stored in RAM to the SSD when the system is put into sleep. The data is loaded back to the RAM when it is next used. This ideally makes it possible for a laptop to respond almost as quick as the user can open its lid, and in our past experience with the feature, it usually works as advertised.
Another advantage mobile devices have over the traditional PC is their ability to update themselves while they are not actively being used. We’re not talking about system updates or software patches but rather email, cloud storage and social media.
This is a problem for PCs because it makes them feel slower than they actually are. You can slide to unlock your phone and bam! Your emails are there. But with a PC you often have to open a browser or client (which can takes several seconds) then wait for the email to load (which takes several more seconds).
Smart connect addresses this by allowing a computer in a low-power state to receive updates from the Internet. It does not do this constantly but instead checks for updates once every five to sixty minutes. The interval is user-configurable with shorter intervals presumably having some minor impact on battery endurance. It’s also possible to set a time period where your computer will update infrequently. This prevents your computer from going crazy with the updates while you’re asleep.
Intel would probably like for all ultrabooks to have a solid state drive going solo, but that configuration is still not practical in all systems because of storage and cost limitations. Smart Response is an attempt to create a compromise solution. It uses a small solid state drive in combination with a mechanical drive.
The solid state drive, which typically has a capacity of around 20GB, is used to cache frequently accessed data. Load times for the software and files most commonly accessed by the user are reduced without massively increasing the price tag or reducing storage capacity.
We’ve tested a laptop with Smart Response before, the HP dm4t. In that laptop the Smart Response technology offered some noticeable increases in read speeds but also seemed to reduce write speeds. The test we use to measure access times did not show any benefit from Smart Response, but this most likely was inaccurate. HD Tune does not check the access times of the commonly used files that might be cached by a Smart Response enabled SSD.
Wireless Display (WiDi)
Intel’s Wireless Display is included on most laptops shipped with Intel processors including ultrabooks. It is a means of wirelessly sending video from a laptop to an HDTV. In order for WiDi to work you also need an adapter that is attached to the HDTV. These adapters are often priced at between $80 and $130, so users who want to enable WiDi have to lay down a decent chunk of additional change.
WiDi sounds like a neat idea it has some quality issues. Streaming 1080p wirelessly is extremely difficult. Intel puts some good hardware up to the task – a WiDi adapter is basically an 802.11n adapter packed in to a doggle – but this is still a difficult task.
Most reviewers and home users who’ve used to the technology in the past have found that compression artifacts are not hard to detect and connectivity issues can also raise their ugly head. I personally did not have the chance to test WiDi with the ultrabook reference platform because an adapter was not provided with the review unit. This feature is a decent bonus, but don’t count on it as a means of turning your laptop into an HTPC.
It’s probably most useful in business laptops, as WiDi can be used to share a presentation on a large display.