Computex 2012: Intel strikes back with a new wave of Ultrabooks

Summary:Intel first introduced the Ultrabook concept at Computex exactly one year ago. Since then it has been working with partners to improve Ultrabooks and make them more affordable. The result is a flood of new Ultrabooks at this year's show, based on new 3rd Generation Core processors, that Intel hopes will reinvigorate PC sales.

Intel Senior Vice President Tom Kilroy gave a Computex keynote surrounded by 50 new Ultrabooks.

Intel Senior Vice President Tom Kilroy gave a Computex keynote speech surrounded by 50 new Ultrabooks.

Intel first introduced the Ultrabook concept at Computex exactly one year ago. Since then it has been working with partners to improve Ultrabooks and make them more affordable. The result is a flood of new Ultrabooks at this year's show, based on new 3rd Generation Core processors, that Intel hopes will reinvigorate PC sales.

Intel isn't ignoring smartphones and tablets. In his keynote address, Intel Senior Vice President Tom Kilroy briefly noted the company's progress on smartphones with recent launches from Lava in India, Lenovo in China and most recently Orange in Europe. For tablets, Intel supports Android, but Kilroy said it is primarily focused on Windows 8 with more than 20 new tablets in the works using a new version of the Atom processor code-name Clover Trail.

But Kilroy said that despite all the talk of a post-PC era, when it comes to the combination of content creation and consumption, the PC is still king. But he said Intel knows it must keep innovating to stay on top. Last year, Intel's investment arm established a $300 million Ultrabook to improve components and push down prices. Kilroy said the work has resulted in changes such as new case materials, thinner parts such as displays and keyboards, better batteries and the use of flash memory either as a hard drive replacement or as cache to enhance performance.

During the keynote, Kilroy announced a similar initiative to boost production of touch panels for Ultrabooks. With Windows 8 set to arrive later this year, Intel is anticipating a 3-5x increase in demand for touchscreens over the next couple of years. Intel will be providing financial support to jump-start factories that make touch panels that are 13 inches or larger. Cando, HannsTouch, TPK and Wintek are the first beneficiaries, but Kilroy said Intel will work with other companies too.

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih shows the Taichi Ultrabook's double-sided display.

Asus Chairman Jonney Shih shows the Taichi Ultrabook's double-sided display.

On the stage behind Kilroy, Intel displayed more than 50 new Ultrabooks many of which are based on the 15 dual-core 3rd Generation Core chips officially launched at the show (though nearly all of the details were actually released last week). In all the company says 110 new Ultrabooks are in the works including many convertibles that double as tablets. Acer President Jim Wong demonstrated the Iconia W700, a Windows 8 tablet with an 11.6-inch Full HD display, and the Aspire S7, which the company claims is the world's thinnest laptop with a Full HD touchscreen. Asus Chairman Jonney Shih brought along the new Transformer Book, a Windows 8 convertible, and Taichi, a clamshell laptop with displays on both sides of the lid, which he said would "take multi-tasking to a whole new level."

In a follow-up event, Kirk Skaugen, the head of Intel's PC Client Group, made the case for upgrading to one of these Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks. Noting that there are half a billion PCs out there that are three years or older, he said in comparison to a Core 2 Duo laptop, these Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks will be up to 80 percent faster overall including a 30x improvement in media processing and a 19x improvement in graphics. The new Ultrabooks also have features such as faster I/O (USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt) and rapid start-up times.

Skaugen talked about the four "vectors" that Intel has been focusing on with Ultrabooks including responsiveness, stylish designs, mobility (including all-day battery life) and enhanced security. These aren't really new, but they require a lot of hardware and software work--in some cases with other companies--so they are evolving over time.

To illustrate the improved responsiveness, he showed how a Lenovo Ultrabook can boot in less than 7 seconds. Navin Shenoy, the general manager of Intel's mobile platform, came onstage to demonstrate the Smart Connect always on, always connected features. Using an upcoming LG XNote Z350 Ultrabook, he showed how an Ultrabook can automatically wake form sleep, download new video from a wireless Go Pro camera, and then put itself back to sleep.

To make Ultrabooks more stylish, Intel has been working with components makers to develop new materials and thinner parts. The Ultrabook chassis started with machined aluminum--like in Apple MacBooks--but has shifted to stamped aluminum and Intel is now working on plastic composites that have been getting a lot of attention (my colleague, Sean Portnoy, wrote a post on this earlier this week). Skaugen showed an Ultrabook design using this composite material, but it was clearly an early prototype since it didn't have a working display. He said it would lower the cost of the chassis by about 50 percent. The shift from SSDs to a standard hard drive plus flash cache and other component changes will also help to bring Ultrabook prices down to $699 and up by the end of this year, Skaugen said. Intel has gotten a lot of flak for changing the Ultrabook specs, but Skaugen said none of the changes have compromised quality. "It's not about a race to the bottom," he said.

The mobility improvements include longer battery life. While the minimum for Ultrabooks is still 5 hours of battery life, Shenoy said many Ultrabooks are clocking in at 8 hours or more. Some models also have Intel's WiDi wireless video streaming technology built-in. In a demo, Intel showed how you can quickly transfer video files via USB 3.0, transcode them in CyberLink's MediaEspresso and then stream them wirelessly to a Toshiba LCD TV with a built-in WiDi receiver. The transcoding process took about 20 seconds compared with 3 minutes on an older Core 2 Duo laptop.

Finally, to improve security Intel has been enhancing the anti-theft and identity protection features. Skaugen said that Intel "can't do this alone" and is working with a long list of PC OEMs, security software companies and major Web sites and services to improve the security of online transactions. Intel's Digital Leash technology, which uses the sensors in a reference Ultrabook, was one of the more interesting demonstrations. The laptop locked itself down and sounded an alarm when it was moved. It's a cool idea, but in practice it's probably too intrusive and Intel did not say when OEMs will be adding this feature. Intel also announced that it is adding its vPro processor technology to Ultrabooks, which should make them more appealing to companies. Ultrabooks with vPro processors were on display from Fujitsu, HP and Lenovo.

The highlight of Skaugen's press conference was a look at the variety of Ultrabook designs that will be reaching the market this year. This includes traditional clamshell laptops with screens ranging from 11 to 15 inches, models with touchscreens and lots of convertibles. Intel is making a big bet on touchscreens, Skaugen said, because the company's research shows that uses "love touch" not only on convertibles but also on standard laptops. Intel showed several of these new models with touch including the Samsung Series 5, Asus Taichi, Acer Aspire S7, Lenovo Yoga and convertible designs from Inventec, Foxconn and Pegatron.

Toshiba marketing chief Taro Hiyama shows Intel's Kirk Skaugen the first Ultrabook with a 21:9 widescreen display.

Toshiba marketing chief Taro Hiyama shows Intel's Kirk Skaugen the first Ultrabook with a 21:9 widescreen display.

Taro Hiyama, a marketing chief at Toshiba, demonstrated a Windows 8 convertible prototype and the Satellite U845W, which is the first Ultrabook with a widescreen display with a 21:9 aspect ratio designed for watching movies. The 14.4-inch display has a resolution of 1792x768. Hiyama said the Portege Z830 series, a business Ultrabook, has been so successful that Toshiba has doubled production, and separately the company announced a host of new business laptops including the Portege Z930 series.

Topics: Tablets

About

John Morris is a former executive editor at CNET Networks and senior editor at PC Magazine. He now works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are... Full Bio

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