We can always expect something big from retailer Harvey Norman on June 30 and we're not disappointed - the benefits and likely pitfalls of this huge $500-off-every-Ultrabook sale.
If you need a laptop, today's the day to get one in Australia, because of some pretty massive sales on around the country. One of the most impressive is the Harvey Norman $500 cashback on any Ultrabook computer.
Word of caution
Before we explain why the sale is good, please be aware of the tricks the retailer may employ to get your money. The main one is that, although Harvey Norman has stated the cashback applies to all Ultrabooks (see the ad above and online for the Ultrabooks they list on their site), when you get to the stores you might find that the Ultrabooks sitting on the shelves are the very expensive ones - for instance, those selling for $1,999 or thereabouts. Given that we think $1,999 Ultrabooks are overpriced, applying a $500 cashback means means you get one for $1,499, which is really not such a great deal. Even at $1,499 we struggle to justify them because that's still a big premium to pay for portability and extra battery life when you can get much more powerful (but heavier and kludgier) laptops for much less. This cashback is good if you apply to any Ultrabook currently retailing for $1,499 or less - which means you end up paying less than $1,000 for one.
So, if you can find Ultrabooks retailing for $1,499 or less in a Harvey Norman store - to which you can apply the $500 cashback - then go for it, because the deal will be good. For the following reasons:
1) It makes Ultrabooks affordable
If it applies to all Ultrabooks (as the ad above states) then the $500 cashback finally brings Ultrabooks within reach of the common laptop buyer who doesn't like to pay a premium and gets stuck with big fat boring battery-guzzler laptops. It means that if you are able to apply the cashback to an Ultrabook like the Acer Aspire S3-391 that normally retails for $839, you get it for $339, which is pretty insane. This model of the Aspire has an entry-level-but-does-the-job Core i3 processor, a nice 4GBs of RAM and a good 500GB mechanical hard drive. Or alternatively you can pick an excellent Core i5 -powered 13in Toshiba Z830 for $899 (retails for $1399). Or an Core -i5 powered 11in ASUS Zenbook for the same $899 price (also retails for $1399).
2) Ultrabooks are superior to standard notebooks
We never get tired of saying this, but if you have a choice between an Ultrabook and a standard laptop, it's no choice - the Ultrabook wins hands downs. All staff at APC and TechLife magazines have switched to Ultrabooks and there is a reason: compared to a standard notebook an Ultrabook is far lighter and slimmer (which makes it far more portable), its battery life lasts a lot longer (up to 5 hours vs 2-3 hours for most laptops), it resumes from sleep much quicker (which makes it far more practical to use frequently) and, last but not least, performance-wise Ultrabooks will do everything you need even if their processors consume less power than their full-size laptop counterparts. The only reason you don't want an Ultrabook is if you can't afford it or you need an ultra-powerful machine for serious PC gaming.
3) Ultrabooks are perfect for students - so spend your Education Tax Refund on them
We're always amazed at the rubbish notebooks we see students carrying - either cripplebooks (ie, netbooks) or big old spine-bending battery guzzlers. These are handed out by the schools themselves or bought by students or parents who can't afford to buy decent notebooks. Ultrabooks are perfect for students because they are easy to carry and last most of the day on a single charge, depending on the usage. By now, the federal government may have also paid you an Education Tax Refund, so spend it on your children's education, since there is no better way to make a student's life easier than to give them a decent laptop.
4) Which Ultrabooks?
To be frank, most Ultrabooks are pretty close in spec because the driver of the Ultrabook concept, Intel, imposed some very strict guidelines on what makes an Ultrabook. They mostly come with Intel Core i3 and Core i5 low-power CPUs, 128GB solid state drives and 13in screens. The main difference tends to be in styling, so if it's style you want, look for an ASUS UX21 or UX31 ultrabook (hands-down the style winners with their brushed alloy surfaces), otherwise go for Ultrabooks from Toshiba (the Z830 has the best battery life, based on our testing) and Acer, while other brands are pretty good too - we've yet to come across any major vendor who does poor Ultrabooks. Acer introduced a neat trick to make their entry level S3 cheaper: it uses a mechanical drive (which keeps the price down) but retains some of the advantages of an all-solid state drive setup by using flash storage to help with performance and fast resume. That's why Acer's S3 is always a lot cheaper than the rest, although the concept has been copied by others.
5) 2nd Gen (Sandy Bridge) Intel processors vs newest, 3rd gen (Ivy Bridge) Intel processors
You may find that the Ultrabooks split into those with Intel 2nd generation processors (Sandy Bridge) and those with the newly-released third gen (Ivy Bridge) chips. Ivy Bridge processors are the latest technology and are demonstrably better - our labs testing unequivocally shows that Ivy Bridge -powered laptops deliver longer battery life for the performance and have improved graphics. However, Ivy Bridge has only just got here and we expect most of the Ultrabooks on sale will be powered by Sandy Bridge chips. They're still pretty good.
How do you tell the two apart? The Sandy Bridge -based machined will have processors whose model numbers after the basic processor family name start with 2, i.e, Core i5-2xxxx , while those with Ivy Bridge chips will have processor starting with 3, i.e, Core i5 3xxxx.