Intel has released new low-voltage versions of its second-generation Core processors designed to power a new class of so-called Ultrabooks. The first Ultrabooks, from companies such as Asus, Lenovo and LG Electronics, promise to combine the performance of full-fledged Sandy Bridge systems with the portability and long battery life of ultra-thin laptops and netbooks.
The key difference between these new chips and the existing Sandy Bridge processors is that they run at slower frequencies (though they can reach much faster speeds with Turbo Boost) and have a power rating of 17 watts, compared with 35 watts for the standard Sandy Bridge processors. The three new processors--all dual-cores with the same on-die graphics--include the 1.7GHz Core i5-2557M, 1.7GHz Core i7-2637M and 1.8GHz Core i7-2677M. The Core i7 versions have a larger L3 cache and faster Turbo modes.
When it announced the Ultrabook concept at the Computex trade show in Taiwan earlier this month, Intel said the first models would be "no-compromises" notebooks that measure less than 0.8 inches thick and cost less than $1,000. The first model, the Asus UX21, will have an 11.6-inch display, an aluminum-alloy case that measures 0.7 inches at its thickest point and weighs 2.2 pounds and a 64- or 128GB solid-state drive that can resume from sleep within a couple seconds. So far Asus hasn't said much else about the UX Series, though it will reportedly ship in September. Two other Ultrabooks design exhibited at Computex, the Lenovo IdeaPad U300S and LG P220, both of which use a 12.5-inch display, also looked very nice.
Both the Apple MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9 are similar in design to Ultrabooks. But the MacBook Air still uses an older Core 2 Duo processor and the Series 9 uses a slower Core i5-2537M. It would not be surprising to see those models upgraded to use the new low-voltage Sandy Bridge chips (there are rumors that a MacBook Air update is just around the corner).
The low-voltage Sandy Bridges are just the first step in the development of Ultrabooks. Next year Intel will release Ivy Bridge, its first 22nm processors, followed in early 2013 by Haswell, a new microarchitecture. At that point even Intel's mainstream laptop processors will have lower power rating of around 15 watts and Ultrabooks should be commonplace. Intel has predicted that by the end of next year Ultrabooks could account for roughly 40 percent of all laptops sold.