What Developers Have To Say About Using The Ultrabook™ As A Workstation

If you’re a developer who’s been wondering if the Ultrabook™ is powerful enough to do all your regular developing tasks – you know, like run four instances of Visual Studio while playing a robust game of WoW and browsing the latest AMA’s at Reddit – then you might be wondering if the Ultrabook device is powerful enough to handle all that you need it to do. In this article, we’re going to round up a few developers from around the Web who have had those very same thoughts, and hear what they have to say about their experiences developing on the Ultrabook platform. Some of these developers were given pre-production Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks by Intel in order to get some field opinions on the devices, some received them as part of Intel promotions; all of these developers are writing up their unsolicited reviews of how the Ultrabook works as a developing machine.

Soma Games, a game design company based in Newberg, Oregon, first got their hands on a production Ultrabook for the Ultimate Coder Challenge, a six-week competition between six hand-picked developers, racing against time to create an app that would showcase the best that next generation Ultrabooks have to offer. The guys at Soma admit that at first it was difficult to get their heads around the Ultrabook concept, but once they got neck-deep into coding for this new platform, they couldn’t have been more pleased:

“Of course the hardware drives a lot of what’s possible in an app. Things like GPUs, processor power and built in sensors all effect what we can do so WUF (Wind Up Football, the app Soma Games developed in the challenge) will change depending on the platform it’s being deployed on. For this case, the Ultrabook has the most horsepower of all the target platforms so it gets a slew of extra eye-candy and special effects that simply won’t fly on weaker machines. Explosions, environmental cues, dynamic lighting, dancing Bok Choy Boys…it’s all possible because the Ultrabook gives us headroom that the iPad frankly never has.”

Jon Gallant, a developer lead at Microsoft who has worked on Bing Mobile, Microsoft.com, MSDN, Microsoft Learning, and the Windows Driver Dashboard, has spent quite a bit of time in the last few weeks with an pre-production (Ivy Bridge) Ultrabook. He isn’t completely bowled over by the experience (“the number one problem is that this Ultrabook doesn’t support a docking station”); however, he does support the Ultrabook with a slight caveat:

“I would be completely sold on this Ultrabook if I could use it both as a lightweight machine that I could dev Windows 8 apps on and a pure dev machine that I could run 4 instances of Visual Studio on and snap it into my docking station. “

To that end, Jon gives several very practical suggestions for developers who would like to purchase an Ultrabook and make it the ultimate developing machine: docking station support, multi-monitor support, a network adapter for wired connections, and a better keyboard and trackpad (some of these are up to the individual OEMs, but they are all great suggestions).

Alvin Ashcraft, who is a Microsoft Visual C# MVP and self-described “geeky” .NET developer, states that using his pre-production Ultrabook has been “a dream” and “is a machine I could use for my every day development”:

“So far I have used Visual Studio 2010, Visual Studio 2012, Microsoft WebMatrix, Expression Blend and JetBrains WebStorm on the Ultrabook. They all run smoothly with no hangs or stutters. I have been using ReSharper in VS2010 and Telerik JustCode in VS2012 because I know that a plugin-free Visual Studio instance does not provide a real-world test of performance.”

Alvin also had the chance to whip up a quick Windows Store app to show off the Ultrabook sensor smorgasbord; you can get it here.

Steve Smith of Ardalis.com and a Microsoft MVP, has had his device for about six weeks. While it hasn’t quite replaced his main development machine (yet), he’s pleased and writes this about using the Ultrabook to develop:

“Visual Studio 2012 runs great on the device.  As has been mentioned, it only has 4 GB of RAM, but honestly I haven’t found that to be a problem.  I think VS2012 is, in general, faster and more lightweight than its predecessor, and so even if I’m running more than one instance of Visual Studio, I haven’t noticed any slowdown.  Now, to be fair I’m mostly running smaller solutions, not massive solutions with 100 projects in them, but if your solution has that many projects I think you have bigger problems than your machine’s memory resources can address.”

Jesse Liberty, a Technical Evangelist for Telerik focused on XAML and Windows 8, had the chance to take his Ultrabook on a trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, and Bulgaria. He had this to say about his experience on the road with the Ultrabook:

“After about 6 weeks use, I can say that this is a solid machine, one I can work on for hours at a time without a problem.  I used it for email, for Skype, for revising my presentations, for coding, for just about anything I might have used my desktop computer for.  Would I have liked to have two 25” monitors? Sure, but as laptops/ultrabooks go, this one is ready for work.”

Scott Hanselman, who works on the Web Platform team at Microsoft and blogs on a wide variety of topics, recorded his impressions of the Ultrabook for development via a short video as well as a more lengthy blog post. The main question he was out to answer was this:

“Any $399 Walmart Laptop can run Word and your blog. I am not interested in reviewing those products for those activities. I want to know if I can replace my 10 pound BEAST of a laptop - my beloved Lenovo W520 - with a 3 pound Ultrabook. Can a slim laptop run Hyper-V VMs and multiple instance of Visual Studio while running multiple monitors?”

Overall, I think the answer was a qualified “yes”. Reading through his review, we see there are some misgivings (“Come on, son. It’s 2012, just make it (RAM) 8 gigs and let’s move on.”), but it looks like it passed muster.

Bottom Line: Ultrabook can be a good device for portable development

The general consensus from this (completely unscientific) overview of developers with pre-production Ultrabook devices is that they love it for “on the go” development, as well as tried and true workstations running processes. It’s always interesting to hear how developers are using new technology, and we look forward to hearing more from the ones mentioned in this article as well as any other developers out there who are checking out Ultrabook equipment for the first time. If you’re a developer reading this and you’ve had the chance to use an Ultrabook for a development project, let us know how it went in the comments section below. 

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