Computers / Hands-on Review

Gaming with an Ultrabook™


When considering gaming and computing, most thoughts will turn to large desktop systems with SLI/Crossfire graphics cards, double digit RAM and high-end Intel® XEON™ eight-core processors. Some will argue that certain precisely configured laptop systems can come close to delivering a satisfying gaming experience. But very few gamers will even debate that slimmed-down and light Ultrabooks can come close to offering anything a gamer could want.

That was then, this is now. And the now may wow you.

But first let’s consider the type of gaming experience we’re talking about. High-end games like Crysis and Call of Duty call for really powerful graphics, high-resolution cards and blistering processors. Scale back the graphics to a medium resolution, and you could get a frame rate that gives you a fairly stable gaming experience. But do you have to sacrifice game play when playing on an Ultrabook?

Let’s start with what an Ultrabook should have. In order to qualify for the Ultrabook moniker, it should be a portable laptop with a Z height (the height when it is closed) of less than 21mm, for 14” and larger screens, and less than 18mm for anything smaller than 14”. It should have a “wake” time of less than 7 seconds, which clocks how long the Ultrabook takes to wake up from a sleep state. Thanks to the solid-state drives or solid-state drive cache that most Ultrabooks employ, this is easily achievable. It should contain a second- or third-generation Intel Core processor. Ultrabooks should also have a minimum battery life of five hours. With the Z-height measurements mentioned, the unit should achieve a starting weight of 3 lb or less, although different configurations can bring the weight up to 4+ lb.

ASUS Zenbook: 13.3" Screen, 18mm Z height, 3.2 lb, Intel i7 Core Processor, NVIDIA GEFORCE Graphics.

These recommended specs have their drawbacks. Traditional spindle hard drives are sometimes nixed for lighter and less heat-producing solid-state drives (SSDs), which also have the added benefit of being much faster. And since they don’t use moving mechanical parts the way a spindle drive does, SSDs don’t drain your battery as much and are less prone to mechanical breakdown. But SSDs also cost more and do not come in the mega-capacities of traditional hard drives—a 1TB solid-state drive was recently seen online for almost $2,700. Ultrabooks also usually leave out bulky internal DVD drives (but make up for it with an SD card slot so that you can add extra storage). Also adding to the weight of an Ultrabook is the inclusion of a multi-touch capacitive screen.

But what Ultrabooks now have that is increasingly appealing is high-resolution displays. Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution is being pushed with the Retina age; the Toshiba KIRAbook boasts a 2560 x 1440 WQHD display. That kind of LED backlit display is perfect for gaming, if you have the engine chops to back it up.

The Toshiba KIRAbook: 2560 x 1440 Resolution.

Unfortunately, in order to keep cost and weight down, many Ultrabooks ship with the stock Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphic processor. While that is a mighty fine processor, it will not handle most mid- to high-level gaming, and you will definitely sacrifice performance for portability. Think of it in these terms: an Intel HD 4000 graphics processor using an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor will let you play small, downloadable games such as those you would find on Facebook or other social media sites. You’re not really taxing your system with the Intel 4000. But if what you’re looking for is World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 on anything but the lowest setting, you should be looking for an Ultrabook with a dedicated graphics processor, like an NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon GPU.

Do such dream machines exist?  We recently looked at Ultrabooks with standard graphics, and Ultrabooks with dedicated graphics cards—both of which might take you to gaming Nirvana; portable gameplay that doesn’t sacrifice frame rates for sleek and lightweight design.

Standard Gaming Ultrabook

Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13 Convertible 13.3" Multi-Touch Ultrabook Computer

Lenovo has one of the most popular Ultrabooks around right now, the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga 13 convertible multi-touch Ultrabook. Although you won’t be able to blast through high-end, high-frame-rate shooters, the Yoga’s Intel Core i7 power, 8GB of RAM and 256GB solid-state drive makes it a definite player in mid-level gaming. The 13.3” 1600 x 900 resolution screen may just fall short of Full HD, but it will be more than enough for games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga. The screen is IPS (in-plane switching) which will give you better viewing angles and brighter screen viewing even in bright sunlight.

Although it's equipped with a factory Intel HD Graphics 4000 processor, the processing power of the Intel Core i7 chip will help speed load rates along. You may not get a high frame rate on full settings, but with some adjustments in the graphics output control setting, you could find yourself enjoying some full-featured games.

Other unique features of this Ultrabook, which separates it from the pack, are the multi-touch screen and the display-angle options. You can twist, turn, and manipulate the screen into a traditional Laptop Mode, a tented Presentation Mode, a Tablet Mode for easy touchscreen access and tablet-like comfort, and a Stand Mode.

Suitable for games like:

  • Angry Birds
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Temple Run
  • Civilization
  • Plants vs. Zombies

Dedicated Gaming Ultrabook

ASUS 13.3" Zenbook UX32VD

ASUS joins the Ultrabook gaming arena with the ASUS Zenbook UX32VD-DH71. On top of featuring a powerful 1.9 GHz Intel Core i7-3517U dual-core processor and 4GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM, this is one of the few units that also features a Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution, LED backlit 13.3” IPS display. Although that seems like a mouthful, when broken down it simply means that you’ll get high-resolution 1080p graphics using a dedicated processor, along with an IPS screen that offers better viewing angles and sharper contrast. Add the NVIDIA GeForce GT 620M graphics processor with 1GB of discrete memory, and game play just got much better. It also includes a 500GB hard drive with a 24GB solid-state drive cache for speedy data access and integrated Bang & Olufsen ICEpower speakers.

Being one of the few Core i7 units means that the power of this unit is apparent right off the bat. Coupled with the speedy RAM, this Ultrabook should have no problem displaying most games without too many hitches, although playing Crysis on this with the resolution turned up and all the rendering details set to high may be an exercise in futility.

Another model, the Asus Zenbook UX51VZ, also sports high-end power, with a 2.1 GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, 8GB of 1600 MHz RAM and dual 128GB hard drives, along with an NVIDIA GeForce GT650M graphics (with 2GB of discrete RAM). Unfortunately, it is listed as a notebook because its Z height exceeds 21mm and the weight is hefty, at 4 lb.

Suitable for games like:

  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Crysis
  • Lost Planet 2
  • Left for Dead 2
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Skyrim

Game On

If you’re looking for a slim, ultra-portable way to get your game on, you may want to consider one of these Ultrabooks. We suggest that when you're looking for a gaming Ultrabook, you should take these factors into consideration:

  • Processor speed. Intel Core i3 is good, i5 is better, i7 is best.
  • Dedicated graphics card. Anything higher than the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU.
  • As much as RAM as you can get. 4GB is good, 8GB is better.
  • Something less than 21mm when closed.
  • Something weighing less than 4 lb
  • Something with at least 5 hours of battery life.

With these parameters in mind, you may find the right bridge between portability, power and "pwnage"—the perfect storm for a full-fledged gaming session. Game on.

For more information on using Ultrabook computers for portable gaming, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.