When it comes to thin and light laptops, Apples Mackbook line is what first comes to mind. The new Mackbook Air is setting the standard for portable, powerful, and premium laptops. Not only is it extremely portable, but the second generation Macbook Air actually has good specs under the hood. Sporting either an i5 or an i7, this littleВ ultra portableВ is claimed to be up to 2.5 time faster than the previous Air. Speaking of ultra, Intel has campaigned for a new line of thin and light laptops called Ultrabooks. Some people may already figured out that this new class of laptops, the Ultrabook, is going to be a Windows version of the Macbook. Intel has figured out that people are willing to pay a premium for style and form factor. There have always been a few companies that made premium laptops like Sony and Lenovo but Intel wants manufacturers to follow a standard, their standards. Why now and why give premium laptops a new name? Lets try to figure that out.
Ultrabooks will be released in three phases. Each phase will correspond with the three upcoming Intel processor architectures. Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, and Haswell. The first, and most important phase has already started with many hardware manufacturers already on board including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba, and of course, Apple. This first phase will focus on thin profiles, lightweight bodies, long battery life, SSDs instead of HDDs, no optical drive, Intels Core i5-i7 Sandy Bridge processors, and mainstream pricing(around $1,000). The second phase, scheduled for 2012, will aim to boost performance by 20-30% over the first generation of ultrabooks and make USB 3.0 standard. The third phase, scheduled for 2013, aims at halving the power consumption of the first phase ultrabooks.
A Better Standard?
So why is Intel trying to set a standard for laptops? Why not just leave hardware manufacturers alone? Profits? When you supply both sides of the war with В your CPUs, you make money. I dont see AMDs APUs mentioned in any of these phases. The Macbook Air has been out for years. They didnt need a special name. Why now call these laptops Ultrabooks? Its marketing. Think about it. You dont want to go to the store and buy a crappy netbook or a generic laptop. You want to tell all your friends that you got an ultrabook. The ultra means its better, right?
Maybe Intel is trying to make amends for the years they dominated the netbook market with their anemic single core Atom N4XX netbooks. A few years later, Intel upgrades with dual core Atom N5XXВ processors but the damage was done. The name netbook now means(to the masses), any small laptop that is only good for light web browsing and word processing. Even former Apple CEO Steve Jobs called netbooks cheap with the release of the Macbook Air. He knew about the negative reputation of netbooksВ and putting it in the same sentence with his Macbook Air was marketing suicide. Intel learned from their mistake. They realized the need for premium laptops and Ultrabooks is their answer.
$300 Million Fund
Intel revealed last month that they will open a $300 million fund that will help accelerate development of ultrabooks by rewarding companies that enhances them with sensors and touch interface. Intel wants companies to make the already existing tablet-notebook fusion market, mainstream. They want manufacturers to focus on sleek designs, thin profiles, lightweight portability, and affordable pricing. This initial investment, if successful, will give Intel a foothold in a billion dollar market. A pretty good investment if you ask me.
AMD is probably the most famous competitor to Intel and their new fusion of CPU and GPU, called the APU, will be a force to be reckon with. Scheduled to be released this month, AMDs Bulldozer is rumored to be on par with Intels Sandy Bridge i7 2600. While all eyes are on AMD to respond, ARM will eventually enterВ the notebook market becoming a competitor. They have some of their chips on a few Linux netbooks. Famous for their tablet and smartphone processors, ARM will most likely enter the market by either continuing to power high-end tablets, low-end notebooks, or both. ARM is nowhere near a threat to Intels Ultrabook market however, if they continue to improve their system on a chip(SoC), they will be a company to look out for.
If Intel succeeds, there will be a new niche market of fashionable high-end laptops once exclusive to Apple users. In this case, having more options is a good thing. Personally, I dont think there is anything ultra about ultrabooks. A thin i7 laptop with integrated graphics is not something I consider ultra. Intels second generation core i7 processors are in todays laptops. This is simply Intels way of marketing the prestige of the Macbook to Windows user. There is no dedicate GPU. The price is still high at around $1k, and USB 3.0 will not be standard until the second phase. On paper, the only thing ultra about these ultrabooks is the slim form factor but to those familiar with the Macbook Air, thats nothing new. I still believe they will be successful. For most people, the measure of a laptops performance is how well it handles YouTube and if itВ can log into Facebook. No doubt, Windows users who have been waiting for a slick Macbook Air-like laptop will be happy this fourth quarter. Lets see what the future holds for ultrabooks.