Are ultrabooks the future of PC gaming?

Adam Oxford at

Toshiba Satellite Z830 (3)

How powerful does a laptop need to be? It’s a pertinent question. Last week Razer unveiled a laptop it proclaimed the “saviour of PC gaming”. But the big laptop news is that we’re about to be deluged by ‘ultrabooks’ - thin and light MacBook Air clones which weigh just over a kilo, but pack powerful Core i5/i7 processors.

Earlier in the year, Intel demonstrated its commitment to ultrabooks by setting aside a $300m fund to support laptop manufacturers trying to build affordable lightweight laptops. The MacBook Air is very nice, but it isn’t cheap. The chip maker is keen on the idea because it’s hoping that potential tablet buyers will be tempted to get a real laptop that’s very nearly as portable.

There’s absolutely no reason to buy an Intel-based tablet right now, as they’re power hungry, heavy and run Windows. The iPad and Android tablets are all doing much better with processors derived from ARM’s architecture. As tablets eat into one of Intel’s core markets - netbook shipments fell by over 50% in Europe last quarter - it’s clear they have to do something.

Over at IFA in Berlin this week, quite a few manufacturers have been showing off ultrabooks. Toshiba’s Portege Z830 (pictured above) looks fantastic, as does ASUS’ UX31, and Acer’s Aspire S3 packs a (dual core) Core i7 chip into a machine that’s thinner, lighter and cheaper than an Air. Samsung’s Series 9 and Sony’s Vaio Z have both been out for a few weeks now, although they’re a bit pricier.

As far as gaming goes, most of these ultrabooks feature the higher specced option from Intel’s Sandy Bridge hybrid GPUs, the HD Graphics 3000. It’s not great, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not entirely useless either. I’ve been playing around with an ultrabook - although I can’t say which one - for a couple of days. It’s obviously very limited for gaming, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just about playable at its lowest detail settings. Even there, it looks better than most Xbox games.

I wouldn’t recommend buying an ultrabook for games just yet, but next year’s models with better GPUs should be really interesting. With the Steam Cloud syncing save games between your desktop PC and an ultraportable laptop so you can fill in a few puzzles or levels while you’re on the train, the convenience more than makes up for the temporary loss in resolution and details.

As much as I like the look of the Razer’s LED laptop touchpads, I’d be willing to bet that there’ll be more ultrabooks figuring in the future of PC gaming than there will be Blades.