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Ultrabook: Behind How Intel is Remaking Mobile Computing

Dissecting An Ultrabook

Before touching on Haswell, I thought it might be enlightening to take you on a tour of an Ultrabook’s innards. Intel had a well-worn demo unit laying around that it volunteered to let me put under the knife. I’ve worked inside of notebooks for well over a decade, but this was my first time inside of an Ultrabook, and I was curious to check out what might have changed.

The unit in question was a special-order Acer S3, complete with a microprocessor theme lid and sticker on the I key—for Intel. Get it?

Now, I’ve been toting around a $399 14” Toshiba Satellite for over two years, so the S3 was a dramatic switch for me. At 13.3”, the screen didn’t feel much smaller, but at only three pounds, the S3 was less than half the weight of my Toshiba, and it was only 0.68” thick. My unit barely predated the arrival of touchscreen functionality, but the form factor alone was enough to make me drool, and Intel assured me that the S3’s insides would be very similar to Ultrabooks hitting the market over the following year.

There are 12 Philips head screws on the bottom panel, which is about par for the notebook course. However, you may notice that there are no panels for accessing the memory or drive bays. This is a red flag for me. As a long-time DIY guy, I like being able to upgrade as needs beckon, especially knowing that most S3s only carry 5400 RPM hard drives (our custom unit has an 80 GB SSD). I can live with taking off the bottom, though...if things aren’t too tricky on the inside.

Screws out and bottom panel removed. Things look familiar, and yet significantly different. Let’s step through the dissection.

Given the diminutive components that go into most Ultrabooks, you'll find that the insides vary quite a bit from one vendor to another. But how hard was it for us to upgrade the drive in this specific model? Not bad. There are no bays, but the drive still mounts into a frame that screws down onto the platform supporting the motherboard and other components. The SATA cable hangs loose, unlike some notebooks that have the drive plug into a fixed connector. The SATA cable is secured to the drive by some black tape. More tape holds one of the Wi-Fi antenna cables to the back of the drive frame. This needs to be peeled away before the drive can be removed.