3 Windows 8 ultrabooks: Lightweight and powerful

We examine the HP Envy TouchSmart, Sony Vaio T13 and Toshiba Portege Z935 to see how these new Windows 8 ultrabooks shape up.

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HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100

The HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100 may be a mouthful to say, but it is a well-designed touch-screen Windows 8 system.

The HP Envy is thicker than the Portege Z935 or Vaio T13 (while the company's specs give it as 0.78 in., I measured it at a full 1.0 in.). Its 13.3-x-9.2-in. footprint is nearly an inch wider than the Vaio T13 or Portege Z935. However, it provides the luxury of a 14-in. screen vs. the 13.3-in. displays on the other two.

HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100
HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100

At 4.6 lb., the Envy 4 is nearly double the weight of the 2.4-lb. Portege Z935 and 1.1 lb. heavier than the Vaio T13. When you add the three-prong AC adapter, the Envy 4 has a travel weight of 5.1 pounds. That being said, I really liked the Envy's rounded corners, soft rubberized coating on the bottom and brushed aluminum cover and deck.

The center of attention is its 14-in. 1366 x 768 touch screen that, like the Vaio T13, responds to ten-finger input. I was impressed with how bright and rich images were, and found that it greatly enhanced the process of working with Windows 8. However, I also found I had to be a bit careful -- all it took was a hard tap at the top of the screen to make the display wobble and risk tipping it over.

For typists, the Envy has a comfortable keyboard that is backlit with white LEDs.

The test system came with an Intel Core i5 3317U processor (as did the Portege Z935) that runs at 1.7GHz and can overclock to 2.6GHz; that was accompanied by the Intel HD Graphics 4000 processor. The unit came with 4GB of RAM; the system is upgradeable to a 16GB maximum.

While the Vaio T13 and Portege Z935 use SSDs for storage, the Envy has a more traditional 500GB hard drive with 32GB of hard drive cache to boost performance. The computer includes two USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0 connection along with an HDMI port, audio jacks and an SD card reader; however, the system lacks a VGA port for use with older monitors.

I really liked the inclusion of Beats audio and a subwoofer, which delivered a rich and full sound.

To communicate with the world, the Envy has a pop-open Ethernet port as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It can also wirelessly connect with a projector or TV via Intel's WiDi. When I tried it out, the Envy remained linked with a projector as far as 46 feet away, 9 feet farther than the Portege (which also has WiDi) could.

The system comes with Windows 8, a two-month trial edition of Microsoft Office Home and Student, and a 60-day trial of Norton Internet Security.

Test results

With a score of 1,422.6 on the PassMark PerformanceTest benchmark, the Envy was 30% percent slower than the Vaio T13, a result I attribute to a lower amount of system memory, slower processor and the use of a traditional hard drive.

It was a virtual tie with the Portege on CineBench 11.5's processor tests with a score of 2.38, but again, was well behind the Vaio T13's 2.77 score. And as far as graphics goes, the Envy's 13.12 frames per second (fps) was well behind both the Vaio T13 and the Portege.

At 5 hours and 15 minutes of battery life, the system's 3,200mAh battery was the long-distance runner of the group, going for nearly an hour longer than the Portege; however, the battery is not user-removable.

Bottom line

The HP Envy TouchSmart Ultrabook 4t-1100 starts at an enviable $800, which includes a Core i3 processor and a non-backlit keyboard. The model I tested had a backlit keyboard and Core i5 processor, bringing the price up to $895.

While it is heavier and slower than the other two units in this roundup, the HP Envy is the value leader because it has the largest screen, is touch-enabled and it has the best sound.

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