One of the key strengths of Haswell processors is much-improved power efficiency, which Intel argues will give rise to a new generation of laptops that are even lighter and slimmer, as well as providing the key benefit of much longer battery life. That's certainly true of some of the Haswell laptops we've seen, although Ultrabooks and ultraportables are by no means the only new laptops that we're seeing. See also: Group test: what's the best laptop?
It's not surprising that one of the first big names to update its laptops with Haswell processors is Apple, whose MacBook Air was arguably the first Ultrabook. Apple took the easy route with its MacBook Air, inserting the new processor into its existing laptop design. This didn't deliver any reduction in size or weight – although at just 17mm thick and 1.35kg, the 13in Air is already one of the most portable laptops you can buy.
However, the MacBook Air has remarkable battery life. Apple claims an increase from seven to 12 hours for the 13in version, but in our tests it lasted even longer. Our video-streaming test ran for 12.5 hours and we saw almost 14 hours for less-demanding work.
Sony took a more ambitious approach for its first Haswell laptop, the Vaio Pro. It can't match the battery life of the Air, but the size and weight of the carbon-fibre Pro represents a breakthrough in portability. At 1.06kg, the Vaio is almost a third lighter than the MacBook and, according to Sony, the lightest laptop of its type.
Other big-name manufacturers haven't been as quick off the mark, with Dell, Acer and Toshiba yet to release to the market any Haswell-powered laptops. A number of smaller manufacturers have provided the goods, however.
One interesting offering is the CX61 from MSI. This 15in laptop can't be described as ultraportable, but with prices starting at just £650 the CX61 is the most affordable Haswell-equipped laptop we've seen. It won't win any awards for design, but the combination of a Haswell processor and the latest nVidia graphics chip provides a powerful desktop-replacement laptop at a very competitive price.
Similarly, Scan's 3XS Graphite LG155 is heavier than we'd have liked – that's what happens when you use off-the-shelf components – but at £899 it manages to provide gaming performance that we've previously seen only from laptops costing well over £1,000.
And, for those people who have an unlimited budget, there's the titanic Alienware 17, which provides outstanding gaming performance and – courtesy of the fourth-generation Intel Core processor – quite possibly the best battery life we've ever seen from a 17in laptop.
Of course, it's still early days for Haswell and there are some outstanding designs from well-known manufacturers that won't arrive until later this year. Even so, this first batch of laptops gives an indication of their potential.
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- Reviewed on: 25 July 13
- RRP: £1,039 inc VAT
The Vaio Pro may fall short in some areas, but that’s only because it aims so high. Its weight and size are truly impressive, and bode well for the coming generation of Haswell laptops. However, the flexible carbon fibre doesn’t instill confidence and battery life isn’t on a par with the MacBook Air.
- Reviewed on: 11 June 13
- RRP: £1000 inc. VAT
The performance of both the Haswell Intel Core i7 processor and the nVidia GeForce GTX765M are impressive, and promise good things for the next generation of laptops. However, the gross weight of the A523 remains puzzling. It's a shame that Schenker doesn't invest as much in the style and design of its laptops as it does with specifying latest-spec processors inside.
- Reviewed on: 24 July 13
- RRP: £899 inc VAT
It's not cheap, but the LG155 provides the sort of gaming performance that we've previously only seen from laptops costing well over £1000. And while it's rather large and heavy it does provide better battery life than most gaming laptops, so it's well worth considering if you feel the need to play demanding 3D games on the move.
- Reviewed on: 22 July 13
- RRP: £699 inc VAT
If you’re looking for a slimline Ultrabook with all-day battery life then the CX61 is clearly not the laptop for you. However, if you need a powerful desktop replacement system for work or for entertainment at home you’ll find it provides impressive performance at a very competitive price.
- Reviewed on: 25 June 13
- RRP: £949 inc VAT
The Apple MacBook Air (Mid-2013) really does provide all-day battery life. For that alone, it fully deserves to be top of the list for anyone looking for a workaday laptop, one that can reduce one of modern life’s stresses: that of wondering whether your computer will still be functional just when you need it. It’s just as fast as the previous model, more so actually in real-world use, and seals the deal with future-proofed faster Wi-Fi, more storage and a lower price than last year’s model. It’s an outstanding ultraportable among a mass of me-too ultrabook mediocrity.
- Reviewed on: 19 July 13
- RRP: £2284 inc VAT
There's no doubt that Alienware makes some of the most powerful and eye-catching gaming rigs currently available, and the fact that the Alienware 17 lasts more than four hours on battery power is a tribute to the efficiency of its Haswell processor. However, it's expensive even by Alienware's standards and only by dropping the specification using the custom-build option on the web site will lower the price.
It may not have the most exciting or eye-catching design, but MSI's £699 CX61 is difficult to beat on value. This 15in laptop is no lightweight, and its modest battery life is definitely something of a missed opportunity. Even so, its strong performance and multimedia features make for a powerful and versatile laptop that will earn its keep both at home and in the office.
If you need more power for gaming then the 3XS LG155 from Scan provides exactly that for £899. Schenker offers a faster model that lasts slightly longer, but we think the Scan offers better value.
Of course, Intel's primary focus for the fourth-gen Core processors is very much on portability and battery life, and in those areas it's Sony's Vaio Pro 13 and the updated MacBook Air that are the clear front-runners right now.
The Vaio Pro 13 is remarkably light and has the better screen, but its carbon-fibre chassis set alarm bells ringing over its durability. Apple's 13in MacBook Air may be heavier – if hardly obese at 1.35kg – but its aluminium construction feels sturdier. Plus, with a battery that lasts 12 hours-plus, there's no better advert for Haswell.