If an Ultrabook is still too big for you, but a netbook too underpowered, you're not exactly spoilt for choice. Apple's MacBook Air 11in is pretty dinky, but if you fancy a Windows system with these proportions the options are not exactly outstanding. Gigabyte, however, has an option you might want to consider.
Last year the X11 was announced as the lightest Ultrabook on the market. Thanks to its liberal use of carbon fibre, it weighs in at under a kilo, with svelte dimensions to match. It's even more diminutive than the MacBook Air 11in.
Despite its 16.5mm thickness, the X11 still boasts an Intel Core i7-3667U processor, which is the top of Intel's Ultra Low Voltage range until the next generation arrives in the next month or so. It runs at a nominal 2GHz but can step up to 2.5GHz when required, and a single core can reach 3.2GHz, thanks to Turbo Boost 2.0. This is a dual-core processor with Hyper-Threading, so presents itself as four virtual cores for improved multitasking and faster processing of software with considerable parallelism.
It's also possible to specify the X11 with lesser members of Intel's Core range, but having the fastest option is impressive in such a small notebook. Either way, the processor is partnered with 4GB of DDR3 memory, which will be enough for most tasks, but Ultrabooks are beginning to arrive with more than this as standard, such as Toshiba's Portege Z930-10Q.
The X11 owes its feather weight to the liberal use of carbon fibre, but this does have its downsides. The chassis is less solid than Ultrabooks that use heavier metal for their exteriors. This is mostly the case for the screen, with the base being much stiffer. Another drawback is the sheer lack of space available for ports, which has forced some compromises.
In particular, there is no wired LAN port, the card reader is for microSD only, and the only graphics output is Mini DisplayPort. This is no worse than the MacBook Air 11in, though, and in fact slightly better. You still get a single USB 3.0 port on the left and a USB 2.0 on the right, accompanied by a combo headphone and microphone minijack.
Thanks to its use of an Ivy Bridge-generation Intel processor, the X11 can take advantage of the latter's on-board HD 4000 chipset for its graphics, which is extremely respectable for a notebook weighing under a kilo, and a chief area where this Ultrabook exceeds the capabilities of a netbook. Although HD 4000 can't compete with decent discrete graphics from Nvidia or AMD, you wouldn't expect that in an 11in Ultrabook, and with the top-end Core i7 also there to help out, you will be able to play the odd game on the move, if not the latest 3D shooter.
Storage is pretty standard for an Ultrabook, with a 128GB Adata “SandForce Driven” XM11 solid state disk in attendance as the primary device. There is the microSD slot if you need to add some more, but that will be less flexible than the full-sized SD card slot. There's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 if you want to connect to wireless storage.
The 11.6in LED backlit screen sports a 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is about as much detail as you need for a screen this size. Viewing angles are decent in the horizontal plane, but not so great vertically, although the matt finish means there are no irritating reflections to distract your attention. There's a 1.3-megapixel webcam in the top bezel for online videoconferencing. However, the speakers are some of the weediest we have come across, distorting noticeably at maximum volume.
Our review unit was a well-worn engineering sample, and we're not sure whether this affected our experience, but we did have some issues with everyday usability. We could live with the flex in the screen, but the keyboard has drawbacks that will be more problematic in everyday use. The action on the Chiclet-style keys is a little light, but comfortable enough. The spacebar is unresponsive, however, and you have to press it quite firmly to register, which makes typing less fluid than it should be. We also found the trackpad didn't respond quite often. Its location in the centre, rather than slightly to the left beneath the spacebar, meant it was occasionally susceptible to accidental activation with the heel of the hand whilst typing, but this was nowhere near as much of a problem as with some Ultrabooks.
Where the X11 does punch considerably above its weight, literally, is in terms of performance. Thanks to the top-end ultra-low voltage Intel Core i7, the notebook managed 2.47 in the Maxon Cinebench R11.5 render test, which is the fastest we have seen from any Ultrabook apart from the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The result of 15.87 in the Cinebench OpenGL test is also one of the best results we have seen from an Ultrabook without discrete graphics, and this is carried forward to Futuremark 3DMark11, with a score of 644.
So this notebook really would be up to mild 3D gaming if you fancy some interactive entertainment on the move. The X11 only lasted 75 minutes in our gruelling battery test, which runs the processor and graphics at 100 per cent. But in everyday activity we managed to get between four and five hours of light usage, which is adequate if not exceptional for a supremely portable notebook like the X11.
It's great to see companies that aren't the well-known notebook brands produce credible and original format enhancements. The honeycomb appearance of the Gigabyte X11's carbon fibre exterior certainly has its charm, although the styling is far from the MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9.
The phenomenally low weight and slimness are quite compelling, and this is a surprisingly powerful notebook for its size. Unfortunately, the problems with the keyboard and trackpad let the side down. This could be a really great Ultrabook, and if Gigabyte fixes these issues it will be.
Manufacturer and Model
2GHz Intel Core i7 3667U
4GB DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
128GB mSATA solid state disk
11.6in LED backlit TFT with 1,366 x 768 pixels
802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, headphone / microphone combo, microSD card reader
Width x Depth x Height
297 x 192 x 16.5mm
1 year collect and return