Ultrabooks have essentially supplanted the laptops that we used to call "thin and light" back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the business world, they potentially constitute a large portion of the laptop market, since they have the wherewithal to last the five years it takes a PC to depreciate. These business Ultrabooks have the latest two generations of Intel Core processors, SSDs or HDD+SSD hybrid storage solutions, and other advanced features wrapped up in a commuter-friendly chassis.
Business Ultrabooks range from small to medium-business-oriented models that are only a few business features away from mainstream consumer laptops, up to enterprise-class Ultrabooks that have Intel vPro certification and specialised features that make them more attractive to IT personnel. IT-friendly features include docking stations, disk image/driver stability, multi-year platform stability, and other features that make these systems easier to work on for IT professionals.
At the high-end, we're starting to see the first Ultrabook-class mobile workstations. They resemble bulkier workstations in that they contain high-end Intel Core and Xeon processors along with ISV-certified graphics, but they meet Ultrabook specs with speedy SSDs, power-sipping processors, and thin chassis sizes.
Look for at least 4GB of RAM for these business Ultrabooks, which should be the standard base configuration for just about all business systems. A solid-state drive (SSD) will speed your users' work experience, but make sure you don't skimp on storage space; a full 64GB SSD is of no use to anyone. You should consider 128GB at a minimum, even if you're a business user who stores most of your data on servers.
Windows 8/8.1 is a concern for IT pros. This OS has yet to be adopted by the majority of businesses using Windows PCs. Sure, Windows 8 makes touchscreens more useful, but rest assured if you purchase a business Ultrabook with a Windows 8 Pro license, you'll be able to use Windows 7 Professional on the same Ultrabook for free without having to worry about Microsoft licensing. This is good business sense if your company hasn't qualified Windows 8 with its IT policies yet. That's the IT manager's call, since introducing an untested operating system into an IT environment can cause networking glitches, login problems, or issues with your company's in-house programs or websites. All that the IT support person or SMB user has to do is choose Windows 7 as an option when setting up the system, download Windows 7 from Microsoft, or restore the system from a recovery partition or DVDs.
Battery life is another consideration. A big battery can be your best friend on a lengthy flight or a long commute. Business Ultrabooks sometimes come with multiple battery options, and some enterprise-class laptops have two to three different kinds of batteries (4, 6, and 9-cell). The more "cells" you buy, the longer the battery life. A big battery adds some heft, but being able to run the system unplugged from dawn 'til dusk is worth the weight gain. Many Ultrabooks come with sealed batteries, which is fine for most users since they last up to a full nine hour day. If you fly often or work untethered a lot, then consider buying an Ultrabook with a removable battery, so you can swap in a freshly charged one when the battery indicator drops below five per cent.
For more tips on what to look for when purchasing an Ultrabook, check out our Ultrabook buyer's guide.
Right, enough of the intro – here are the business Ultrabooks that we recommend…
HP ZBook 14 (£1,450)
Power, battery life, and a gob-smackingly nice screen all combine to earn the HP ZBook 14 Ultrabook our unreserved recommendation. It also has biometrics and smartcard security, dual pointing devices, and a removable/swappable battery.
Lenovo ThinkPad X240 (£920)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X240 is a powerful business laptop sporting a Core i5 Haswell CPU, a speedy solid-state drive, and a 12.5in IPS touchscreen display. This well-built Ultrabook will give you over 15 hours of battery life, too.
Dell Latitude 6430u (£1,100)
The Dell Latitude 6430u boasts great general performance, an excellent screen, a robust chassis, decent battery life, a choice of pointing devices, and a healthy array of ports. This may not be a laptop that will make heads turn in jealousy, but as a flexible business travel companion it makes a lot of sense, and it's not outrageously priced, either.
HP Spectre 13-3000 (£1,000)
The HP Spectre 13-3000 is a premium Ultrabook without the premium price tag. This reasonably priced alternative offers great battery life and an extra-wide trackpad, along with all the other bells and whistles.
Lenovo ThinkPad Helix (£1,380)
One of the better detachable hybrid tablets on the market, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix gives the corporate IT buyer a prime option for their highly mobile workforce. This could be the best choice if you need both laptop and tablet functionality, but it isn’t cheap.
Lenovo ThinkPad S1 Yoga (£1,140)
The Lenovo ThinkPad S1 Yoga hybrid Ultrabook brings the Yoga multimode design to the business-focused ThinkPad line-up. Tablet fans will love it, but you may give up some performance in return for the added versatility.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (£1,450)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch is the Ultrabook your executive users will want. It oozes premium construction, in a subtle way, but it isn’t one of the cheaper models here (for good reason, it has to be said). It’s a choice you won’t regret.
Dell Latitude E7240 (£1,260)
The Dell Latitude E7240 is a compact and light business Ultrabook with a 1080p touchscreen and MIL-SPEC certification. It's a good choice if you have a team testing whether Windows 8 will work for your organisation.
Lenovo ThinkPad T440s (£1,210)
The Lenovo ThinkPad T440s is a very well-made business Ultrabook. It's the successor to T-series ThinkPads that are seen everywhere in business, but be sure to get buy-in from your user base as Lenovo has taken some liberties with its design and features.