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MacBook Air Alternatives

MacBook Air Alternatives
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If you’ve been a regular reader of Tom’s Guide for the past three years, you might remember the very first Tom’s article I wrote: Why NOT To Buy A MacBook Pro. Well, you’ll be happy to know that my anti-Apple sentiment has not waned over the years, and now I’m back to tell you why NOT to buy a MacBook Air.

Apple’s grandiose marketing techniques may have you think that the MacBook Air is a one-of-a-kind platform, but it’s really just an “Ultrabook” – a term trademarked and defined by Intel. Essentially, an Ultrabook is an exceptionally portable laptop (generally very thin with remarkable battery life) that offers nearly the same performance of a full-size laptop.

Giving credit where credit is due, Apple’s MacBook Air is largely responsible for popularizing the Intel-inspired Ultrabook form factor, which, not without some sense of irony, is significantly helping Windows notebook sales fend off the tablet invasion. The growing Ultrabook popularity has also meant that more manufacturers are giving the form factor a shot, offering consumers something Apple doesn’t want them to have – a choice.

Apple’s one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit everyone, and that’s why it’s important to know what your other options are. We’ve put together a list of worthwhile Ultrabook offerings from Acer, Asus, Dell, Samsung, and Sony that each have their own little something extra to offer.

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  • 0 Hide
    acerace , July 8, 2012 12:14 AM
    I love this article. :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 8, 2012 8:33 AM
    Hybrid hard drives negate a lot of what makes the Macbook Air great.
  • 0 Hide
    farensabri , July 8, 2012 12:50 PM
    the truth
  • 1 Hide
    halcyon , July 8, 2012 5:14 PM
    Very nice. I especially like the Dell, Asus, and Samsung pieces. While I may prefer OS X from a UI standpoint, I love this what these have to offer enough that I'd make the sacrifice.
  • 2 Hide
    fudoka711 , July 9, 2012 4:53 AM
    While I know many of us like to bash Apple, I like how this article wasn't focusing on why Apple sucks, but instead focused on why the competition is better, or at least probably better to the average consumer. Props to Mr. Escallier for outlining each vendor's pro's/con's in comparison to each other and the MBA.

    If I had to choose, I'd get the Zenbook because I love its design and 1080p output. Not gonna be gaming on it, sadly, but watching movies on it would be great. Plus I love the design.
  • 1 Hide
    altriss , July 9, 2012 7:55 AM
    Quote:
    but it’s really just an “Ultrabook” – a term trademarked and defined by Intel

    without beeing specially an Aple fan, I find this stupid. Be honest if Aple hadn't created McBookAir, Intel would never had the Idea of UltraBooks.
    By the way I agree with fudoka711 about the general view on this article. Nice to see than PC builders finally created something that is worth a macbook air!
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 9, 2012 8:02 AM
    unstable hackintosh?its not unstable at all if you know what your doing everything works just fine and app store also so i dont see a problem...
  • 3 Hide
    quantumrand , July 9, 2012 8:54 AM
    NotFastEnoughHybrid hard drives negate a lot of what makes the Macbook Air great.


    My counter argument: You can go with the Sony Vaio T-Series with a hybrid drive and save $400, taking a small hit in load times for apps you don't use often, or you can go with the T-Series with a SSD and save $200 and get the same SSD performance that "makes the Macbook Air great." :-)

    altrisswithout beeing specially an Aple fan, I find this stupid. Be honest if Aple hadn't created McBookAir, Intel would never had the Idea of UltraBooks.


    If you want to go with who came first, Gateway had the very first "subnotebook" form factor with the Gateway Handbook back in 1992.

    In 2002, Sharp had its Ultranotebook PC-UM20. It used a specialized Ultra-Low Voltage Intel processor (just like today's Ultrabooks) and was only .65 inches thick, thinner than even the current MacBook Air. I'd argue that this was the first "Ultrabook" in the non-Intel defined sense of the term.

    In 2004, four years before the MacBook Air, Sony released the PCG-X505. It featured the same processor specs as the full-sized laptops of its time, but was 10.4" laptop that was only 0.8 inches thick.

    There was also the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 which was a contemporary of the MacBook Air (released just weeks after the Air) and was actually thinner.

    Apple was by no means the pioneer of the Ultrabook platform. The MacBook Air just happened to be the most well-known one. If Apple didn't exist, Intel would still have gone forward with its "Ultrabook" concept. I would absolutely not give Apple credit with coming up with the Ultrabook idea. It gets credit for popularizing it, and that's all.
  • 0 Hide
    DjEaZy , July 9, 2012 2:00 PM
    ... MacBook Air Alternatives? Without OS X? Except, if you make a hackentoch... but then you can take the original...
  • 0 Hide
    halcyon , July 9, 2012 7:11 PM
    TBH, while the MacBook Air and its Ultrabook derivatives are nice enough I don't think I'd want to give up any of what my 15" notebook has to offer in terms of performance just to save a few pounds that, by carrying, can only help me stay in better shape than if I were not carrying them. The idea was novel at first and I've had my share of the MacBook Air (I've had 3) and my wife now has one but I'd rather carry my 15" notebook.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 9, 2012 8:59 PM
    I hate OSX. No, despise it, much prefer Windows 7. However, for an ultrabook, my requirements are that I have at least 8 GB of RAM and at least a displayport out so I can send a native 2560x1440 to my Dell WQHD monitor. Although the MB Air only recently allowed RAM up to 8 GB, it has had external WQHD output via displayport (in fact up to 2560x1600) SINCE 2008. I don't know why PC manufacturers only implement HDMI when it limits output at 1080p. At least give us a displayport option. It's a little frustrating--PC manufacturers really improve their offerings, but just can't seem to quite grasp the ring.
  • 0 Hide
    K2N hater , July 10, 2012 2:35 AM
    The article could also include some facts about the internals. Guess some people would like to keep some distance from ultrabooks with non user-replaceable SSD/batteries as companies tend to charge obscene prices to service 3+ years computers which are likely to have most parts discontinued.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 10, 2012 3:21 AM

    It took almost 10 years for the manufactures to come up with hardware as good
    or possibly better than the quality of the mac air (asus anybody?). (And that is only 1
    company that is doing this now. So apple does not have much to worry about it's sales).

    That is the main reason why people just buy the macs.
  • 0 Hide
    quantumrand , July 10, 2012 8:54 AM
    jumpupanddownIt took almost 10 years for the manufactures to come up with hardware as good or possibly better than the quality of the mac air (asus anybody?). (And that is only 1 company that is doing this now. So apple does not have much to worry about it's sales).That is the main reason why people just buy the macs.


    I think you're a bit mistaken. The MacBook Air has barely been around for 4 years.

    If you meant the MacBook Pro, and were referring to build quality, you're mistaken there, too. Until 2007, Apple used the same plastic shell design as your average laptop manufacturer, and even when they switched to an aluminum frame in 2007, they were well behind the curve. Other laptop manufacturers had already been using magnesium frames for years. It wasn't until late 2008 that Apple came out with the unibody aluminum frame it's using now.

    There are a lot of things that Apple wants people to think it came up with, and it goes to great length to hide the fact that most of it had been done before. The "pebble" keyboard is a great example. People are often quick to claim that Sony stole the idea from Apple, when in fact Sony had a laptop with it first.
  • 2 Hide
    quantumrand , July 10, 2012 9:15 AM
    kevinp8192I hate OSX. No, despise it, much prefer Windows 7. However, for an ultrabook, my requirements are that I have at least 8 GB of RAM and at least a displayport out so I can send a native 2560x1440 to my Dell WQHD monitor. Although the MB Air only recently allowed RAM up to 8 GB, it has had external WQHD output via displayport (in fact up to 2560x1600) SINCE 2008. I don't know why PC manufacturers only implement HDMI when it limits output at 1080p. At least give us a displayport option. It's a little frustrating--PC manufacturers really improve their offerings, but just can't seem to quite grasp the ring.


    Prepare to have your mind blown. HDMI has supported WQHD since 2006. With HDMI 1.4 (which has been the standard since 2009) and an HDMI to dual DVI adapter (which is considerably cheaper than a DisplayPort splitter or dual DVI adapter), you can run two WQHD monitors no problem.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 10, 2012 1:14 PM
    This is Apple bashing.
    The Mac Air is a great PC. Its not expensive compared to equivalent ultrabook, just to a regular laptop. When I looked at the Macair i also looked at the Asus, Acer, and Toshiba equivalents,
    The Asus and Acer were 10-15% cheaper, but were plasticky, had a lower screen quality AND resolution, had poor keyboards, similar socket limitations,and apparently benchmarked 20% slower than the indentically specced macair. Add the thunderbolt port advantage and their was no contest. The toshiba was good with full size hdmi and network port but the screen was very poor quality and dim, and the build was very poor. It was also $300 dollars more than the equiv Macair. I bought a macair and do not regret it one bit, I bought quality.
    Dont get me wrong, I love and use PCs everyday at work and at home, and have had a PC at home for nearly 20yrs now, before the internet became popular. Im even typing this on my 6yr old pc laptop .connected to ext Hd screen and keyboard. I invested in a good laptop then, an NEC, really well built, with the best keyboard ive ever typed on, and i invested in a quality macair. Pay the extra 10% for build quality. Its why I dont have to buy a new laptop every year.
    Baz the Man
  • 0 Hide
    quantumrand , July 10, 2012 8:23 PM
    bazwaldoThis is Apple bashing.The Mac Air is a great PC. Its not expensive compared to equivalent ultrabook, just to a regular laptop. When I looked at the Macair i also looked at the Asus, Acer, and Toshiba equivalents,The Asus and Acer were 10-15% cheaper, but were plasticky, had a lower screen quality AND resolution, had poor keyboards, similar socket limitations,and apparently benchmarked 20% slower than the indentically specced macair. Add the thunderbolt port advantage and their was no contest. The toshiba was good with full size hdmi and network port but the screen was very poor quality and dim, and the build was very poor. It was also $300 dollars more than the equiv Macair. I bought a macair and do not regret it one bit, I bought quality.Dont get me wrong, I love and use PCs everyday at work and at home, and have had a PC at home for nearly 20yrs now, before the internet became popular. Im even typing this on my 6yr old pc laptop .connected to ext Hd screen and keyboard. I invested in a good laptop then, an NEC, really well built, with the best keyboard ive ever typed on, and i invested in a quality macair. Pay the extra 10% for build quality. Its why I dont have to buy a new laptop every year.Baz the Man


    Did you read the article? Here's a quick except:

    Quote:
    The MacBook Air is still overpriced, but Apple isn’t the only one overcharging for Ultrabooks. When performance is paired with ultra-portability, it’s considered a premium, and just about all of the Ultrabook vendors are taking advantage of that fact – it’s not just Apple anymore


    Also, Asus' Zenbook not only has a higher quality IPS display than the MacBook Air, it's MUCH higher resolution as well, 1920x1080 vs 1440x900.

    Acer does use a lower quality poly-carbonate construction, but the article mentions that. The difference is that the offerings from Acer are literally half the cost of Apple's MacBook Air. Sony, Asus, and Samsung are easily on par with Apple in terms of build quality, and Dell's go even a step further.

    Read over the whole article. I think you'll be surprised.
  • 0 Hide
    kevinp8192 , July 10, 2012 11:53 PM
    quantumrand, you said:

    Quote:
    Prepare to have your mind blown. HDMI has supported WQHD since 2006. With HDMI 1.4 (which has been the standard since 2009) and an HDMI to dual DVI adapter (which is considerably cheaper than a DisplayPort splitter or dual DVI adapter), you can run two WQHD monitors no problem.


    While the HDMI spec and several video cards may support output from the higher resolutions, the Intel HD3000 and HD4000 only support 1920 x 1200 output via HDMI. To get full WQHD support with these two graphic solutions, you must use DisplayPort. As stated on intel's website, for HDMI and VGA, the "processors support high-definition resolutions, including 720p, 1080i, and 1080p" but you'll see in the graph that only 2560x1440 is only supported with DisplayPort. Below is a link to the spec sheet on the Intel website. Of the above Windows ultrabooks, all of them use the HD4000 graphics solution, except the Acer has an *optional* GeForce GT 640M LE. It will support WQHD over HDMI, but only if it is 1.4a, which is only a 2010 spec, not 2009. I don't know of any WQHD monitors that support HDMI 1.4a. So my only choice would be get the Acer (not the best brand), and a monitor that I'm not sure yet exists. Otherwise, DisplayPort is REQUIRED for wqhd output for the HD4000. PC makers are lacking by using the Intel display solutions, and not including a DisplayPort.

    http://software.intel.com/en-us/articles/quick-reference-guide-to-intel-processor-graphics/
  • 0 Hide
    quantumrand , July 11, 2012 1:14 AM
    kevinp8192While the HDMI spec and several video cards may support output from the higher resolutions, the Intel HD3000 and HD4000 only support 1920 x 1200 output via HDMI. To get full WQHD support with these two graphic solutions, you must use DisplayPort. As stated on intel's website, for HDMI and VGA, the "processors support high-definition resolutions, including 720p, 1080i, and 1080p" but you'll see in the graph that only 2560x1440 is only supported with DisplayPort. Below is a link to the spec sheet on the Intel website. Of the above Windows ultrabooks, all of them use the HD4000 graphics solution, except the Acer has an *optional* GeForce GT 640M LE. It will support WQHD over HDMI, but only if it is 1.4a, which is only a 2010 spec, not 2009. I don't know of any WQHD monitors that support HDMI 1.4a. So my only choice would be get the Acer (not the best brand), and a monitor that I'm not sure yet exists. Otherwise, DisplayPort is REQUIRED for wqhd output for the HD4000. PC makers are lacking by using the Intel display solutions, and not including a DisplayPort.http://software.intel.com/en-us/ar [...] -graphics/


    Fair point. It's worth pointing out that Dell's Ultrabooks do sport the DisplayPort, and the XPS 14 in particular also has the option for a GT 630M dedicated graphics core.

    I do definitely agree with you that PC manufacturer's dedication to HDMI is a bit odd, especially considering that DisplayPort is royalty-free while HDMI is not. On the other hand, most consumers will probably prefer HDMI since it's a much more common input type.

    I wouldn't mind seeing DisplayPort become the new video/audio standard, but that won't be happening any time soon. If manufacturers wanted to phase out HDMI, they'd have to start making all of their output devices either with both HDMI and DisplayPort or bundling an HDMI adapter with them. On top of that, all of the input devices would need both HDMI and DisplayPort inputs. Just look how long it took for Component Inputs to be phased out (it took a good 10 years, and even still, many TVs have at least one component input).
  • 0 Hide
    kevinp8192 , July 11, 2012 5:13 AM
    Very cool; thanks! I admit my mistake--I didn't realize the new Dell ultrabooks included a DisplayPort. The XPS13 looks like a really good piece of kit (although I've always been a Thinkpad guy). I also admit that I'm in a small minority with the DisplayPort requirement. Surely HDMI/1080p output is good enough for most of the people who would want an ultrabook PC.

    Quote:
    On top of that, all of the input devices would need both HDMI and DisplayPort inputs.
    Well, maybe. But it's worth noting that Apple doesn't provide both, only DisplayPort (or Thunderbolt, depending on the model). Of course, Apple has never been known to burden their users with the bother of choice. But it does avoid the excitement of wondering if your equipment will all work together now or in the future. The Dell U2711 has HDMI, DVI, and DP. But per Dell's specs, WQHD only works through DVI or DP inputs, even though HDMI 1.3 is used. Who knows why. Anyway, take it easy, and thanks again for responding.
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