With ultrabooks dropping left, right and centre, to stand out, a new model has to be the best-est at something. How about the lightest? Gigabyte thinks it has the answer in the form of the X11 -- an 11-inch machine made entirely from carbon fibre, which is not only extremely slim, but also the lightest ultrabook I've seen.
It's packed with the latest components for some seriously impressive power. And at just over a grand, it's fairly reasonably priced, compared to other ultrabooks out there.
Although its design and performance make me want to give it an amazing score, there are a couple of small issues with the keyboard and trackpad that prevent it from getting full marks. My review model is an early build that's been constructed entirely by hand, rather than by accurate robots. If these problems are resolved on the final model, I will be updating the review to potentially give it an extremely rare five stars.
It's due to go on sale at the end of the month and is open for pre-order on Amazon now for £1,099.
Design and build
If you've been scouting around laptop reviews looking for the lightest machine you can find to keep your hand luggage down to a manageable level, then you've finally come to the right place. The X11 weighs a mere 975g, making it lighter than a standard bag of sugar and considerably less weighty than most laptops, and indeed most other ultrabooks on the market.
Gigabyte proudly boasts that it's the lightest ultrabook in the world -- I reckon that's probably true. By comparison, the super-skinny Apple MacBook Air tips the scales at 1.08kg and the delicious Asus Zenbook UX21 is an even heftier 1.1kg. Admittedly, we're talking only a small handful of grams between each one and you might not notice the difference in everyday use, but if you're trying to save as much weight as possible, then the X11 is the one to go for.
It's also extremely slim, measuring only 16mm at its fattest point and narrowing down to a razor-sharp 3mm at the front edge. It's an 11-inch machine so it's easily small enough to fit into a tiny backpack, or hide among your books in one of those fashionable messenger-style shoulder bags.
The reason that it's so light is the aforementioned carbon fibre. If you're not up on your modern materials, it's the same stuff used in supercars, from Lamborghinis to Ferraris, as well as high-performance sports equipment.
The reason it's used in such elite equipment is due not only to the fact that it's much lighter than materials like aluminium, but it's also extremely strong. I wouldn't have been in the best of favour with Gigabyte if I'd chucked their new laptop out of the window to test its strength, but it certainly feels well put together. There's very little flex in the lid and none at all in the keyboard and wrist rest.
It looks pretty good too. The whole body shows off the carbon-fibre weave pattern, which has been given a glossy coating. If you've ever gone all tingly over the look of the carbon fibre panels on supercars then this will be right up your alley, as will the two vents at the back, which have apparently been made to look like those on a sports car. The glossy coating is a total fingerprint magnet though, so if you're taking it anywhere fancy, you might want to give it a quick polish with your sleeve.
Around the edges you'll find one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 socket, a Mini DisplayPort, and a microSD card slot. It's an odd move to see a micro slot, rather than a regular SD card, and if you're used to the larger cards, you'll probably find this annoying.
It's certainly a problem for me. When I go and see new products and take photos, it's essential that I can pop the card straight into my computer to quickly review shots and copy over the ones I need. Photographers who regularly need to quickly check over their images will undoubtedly find the absence of the SD card slot awkward.
On the other hand, most smart phones use microSD cards to expand their internal memory, so having a microSD reader on the computer will make it much easier to quickly put new music onto your phone, or copy over the photos you've been taking.
Personally, I'd rather have a full-sized port as you can keep an adaptor permanently in place, allowing you to use both types of cards and keeping the port free of dust and grime when you're not using it.
Keyboard and trackpad
The keyboard uses black, isolated keys that match the menacing aesthetics of the rest of the machine. If you want a colourful, pretty little laptop, then this X11 probably isn't going to be your ideal machine.
The keys are well spaced over the base, although given it's only an 11-inch ultrabook, there's not a whole lot of room to play with. If you find netbooks uncomfortable to type on, you might struggle here too. I found it perfectly pleasant though, and the keys offer a satisfying amount of travel, making typing for long periods pretty comfortable.
The only area I wasn't keen on was the space bar, which didn't seem to want to register my presses if it wasn't dead-centre. When typing at speed, my thumbs often reside towards the edge of the bar which, on the X11, resulted in quite a few spaces being left out. The model I was testing is an early build and was in fact constructed entirely by hand, rather than by machines capable of placing parts with nanometre precision. So I'm hoping this issue will be resolved in the final product.
The trackpad is very big, considering the small size of the laptop, and it's pleasantly responsive too. It dispenses with dedicated buttons and it's clickable, like the trackpads found on the MacBook Air and the Asus Zenbooks. It's not perfect though. I found when I brought the computer out of sleep, it sometimes took a while for the trackpad to re-enable, which was quite annoying. It seems like a driver issue that could easily be solved for the final build, but it's definitely worth bearing in mind.
The screen on the X11 is an 11.6-inch affair that offers a resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is the standard for laptops of this size. It's thankfully both very sharp and bright and this makes getting on with office work particularly comfortable.
It has great colours too and deep black levels so photos, TV shows and movies look great. If you want a machine for work on the go, but one that's also capable of keeping you entertained in your downtime -- or when you're just sick of looking at your emails -- then the X11 is well poised.
Stuffed inside that super-light frame is a powerful set of specs including a third-generation Intel Core i7-3667U processor clocked at 2.0GHz and 4GB of RAM. The processor is one of Intel's latest Ivy Bridge chips, which promise significantly improved graphics capabilities over its predecessors, known as Sandy Bridge. I've already been impressed with the improvements, so I was looking forward to seeing what it's capable of here.
I booted up the Geekbench and PCMark05 benchmark tests to see how it stacks up against the ultrabook big boys and was given scores of 7,745 and 13,388 respectively, which I was extremely impressed with. By comparison, the 11-inch MacBook Air with the second-generation Intel Core i7 chip achieved only 6,200 on the Geekbench test. The 11-inch Zenbook hit 5,800 on Geekbench and 9,800 on PCMark05.
I found both of those machines to be extremely competent and capable of handling any office task, while turning their hands to more demanding tasks like photo editing. The fact that the X11 so easily beat their scores shows just what kind of power it has slumbering beneath that carbon-fibre shell.
In general use I found it to be extremely nippy. Files and folders opened without delay and high-definition video played without hiccups. Multi-tasking was handled very well, with no noticeable slowdown, even with numerous web browser tabs open and multiple video files being played in VLC Media Player.
I was also able to load up Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 and import very high-resolution photos taken on the excellent Nikon D800. The X11 didn't struggle when cropping, resizing or changing brightness and contrast, which is great news for any of you wanting to touch up your holiday snaps before throwing them all over the Internet. It also managed to encode my 11-minute 1080p video into 24fps H.264 in the very speedy time of 9 minutes. So if you hope to edit together clips from your phone, it should cope fine.
Although super-light machines like this aren't really designed with gaming in mind, it's always helpful if they can handle a bit of polygon munching. I booted up Dirt 3 and took my rally car for a spin and found it achieved a frame rate of around 16fps, with the settings on high. That's not really playable, but when I knocked the settings down, it rose to around 34fps, which made gameplay very smooth.
I found a similarly good performance on the older title Half Life 2: Episode 2. Even on high quality settings, it was able to run at around 70fps, with a peak of 100fps in the less intense scenes. For a machine that has no dedicated graphics card and uses only the built-in HD 4000 graphics, that's very impressive. You won't be playing the latest 3D titles at full whack, but you'll certainly be able to tackle slightly older titles if you knock the settings down.
If a laptop is designed to be as portable as possible, then it's reasonable to expect it to offer a battery life long enough to get you to your destination. To see how good the battery is, I booted up my benchmark test and set it running.
The X11 kept going for 1 hour 10 minutes, which isn't the most impressive battery life I've seen. By comparison, the 11-inch Asus Zenbook achieved double that time on the same test and its 13-inch brother lasted over 3 hours.
It's a very demanding test though, and involves running the processor at a constant 100 per cent. You'll find you can get a much better time with careful use. Even so, I'm disappointed to not see a stronger performance here.
It might seem pretty pricey, but with its ridiculously light design and powerful components, the Gigabyte X11 is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to tackle demanding work on the go. The carbon-fibre chassis not only looks good, it should also make it particularly durable for a life on the road.
There's very little bad to say about the X11 -- it's incredibly light and amazingly powerful. Negative points lie in the space bar and the trackpad -- both issues I feel could be resolved by the time it goes on sale. I'm therefore giving it a conservative four out of five stars for now, but I will test another model when it goes on sale. Assuming these issues are fixed, it could well be increased to four and a half -- or even an extremely rare five stars.