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

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.

TOPICS: Tablets

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.

Topic: Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • And so it begins. Let the intel steamroller keep cranking until we get to

    broadwell. This is all really great stuff. Lots of competing designs, lots of user choice, lots of baby steps forward.
    Johnny Vegas
  • Competition and choice

    Can only benefit the consumer. New iDevices, Windows 8, 2012 is shaping up to be quite a year. Good times ahead.
  • Intel have got it wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Looking at that slide, it says

    "110+" designs.

    Competing against the 5 current designs of Apple, including the iPad.

    a) You're expecting a customer to make sense of the those 110+ designs. That's not going to happen.

    b) You're expecting sales staff to learn all the literature for all of those 100+ designs. Good luck with that.

    c) You have to market those 110+ designs, some of which are competing against each other.

    Good grief, Intel are finished if they have not learned that less is more in the consumer market.

    No doubt someone is going to pipe up and say "Well what about Android, and all the choice there".

    Exactly, would be my response. And look what's happened, Samsung is fast becoming the only player.

    When it comes to smartphones, its the iPhone of the Galaxy S. The rest are window dressing.

    Likewise with "ultrabooks".

    Intel needs a clear leader, not a group of stragglers.

    You can chose to ignore this, but people generally are comfortable with a/b choices.

    Don't believe me. Look at politics.

    • Think you are off base - no real shopping change

      Consumers have this plethora of choices today with the current pc form factor.
      Tomorrow it will pc ultra book form factor - still a lot of choices.

      So why will this confuse buyers? It hasn't today....
      • Tell that to Dell and HP.

        Seems like they are struggling with their inventory and are planning to reduce their product lines.

        Buyers are confused by it all, do you think they understand gigabytes, code names for CPUs, Ivy Bridge, Sandy bridge, not to mention the crazy codes for the GPUS. Or even what a GPU is.

        Why do you think the iPad is so popular, and Apple so profitable.

        It really doesn't take a genius.
      • According to Albert Einstein

        It actually takes a genius. His famous quote:

        "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

        is very appropriate in this case.
    • Not sure where to begin

      I'll simply put it this way. In the USSR, they used to sell a handful of automobile models. In the western world, 100s of models are and have been available. Which business model do you think is preferred by people on both sides of that wall, now that it has been taken down?

      And the Samsung Galaxy S? Nice phone. But to say the HTC EVO 4G LTE is not every bit as good if not better (I won't even bring up the iPhone) is just foolish.
      • I didn't say it was a better phone.

        Did I.

        I said it was the popular choice.

        In fact, I made no mention about which platform was best.

        Nice try though.
      • Why an equating to the USSR?

        Let's take another example shall? How about Ikea. Ikea has "lots" of choice so long as it is one style or another. You can choose that style in terms of leather, fabric, yellow, or red. BUT it is still the same sofa, or chair, or table.

        What is happening here is that there are plenty of choices of different ideas that is just mind boggling. Take for example the dual screen, one on the front and one back. Who on earth thought that was a good idea? I mean REALLY that is what you call innovation.

        Apple wins because it provides solutions that solve a particular problem.

        Another example, how many different toyota models, BMW, Mercedes are there? Now compare to how many models GM used to produce before it went bankrupt...

        Get the drift... Apple has the right idea...
      • Cheap production, rich customers

        This happens when you are able to make clearly lots of different designs and there are people with enough (credit) cash in their hands who can buy it.

        The next economic crisis will wipe out some dirt, then it will all start again.
    • They've been doing just fine for how many years now?

      110 is probably a low number compared to the number of designs that have driven notebook and PC sales since the beginning. Apple has 5 designs and a commensurately miniscule percentage of the market. Why should PC makers aim to be 10% of the market when they are at 90%?
      • Duh

        You really have no idea do you.

        See Dell and HP.

        Too many models.

        And what a ridiculous question about why they should focus on the 10%. Apple makes more money than all of them put together for that 10%.

        Obviously they are doing something utterly wrong if they are struggling to make money with the remaining 90%.

        Can you guess what it is yet?
    • I suppose people have the same problem when they walk into a supermarket

      or into a clothing/retail store. The choices must be driving the shoppers mad, and they then have to walk out with empty hands, since, they wouldn't be able to make good and simple choices.

      The fact of the matter is that, less is not more. More is what people prefer, and less is not suitable for the many different tastes that people all over the U.S. and the world have.

      Apple can go with less, since they have a customer base that is 1/10th or less of what Intel/Microsoft have. Furthermore, Apple is about maximizing profits, and the less R/D and work they have to put in into the few products they do offer, the more that will be left for the bottom line. If Apple could gain in the number of customers while keeping their profit margins, then, you can be sure that, they'd be offering many times the number of products and varieties than they do now.
      • Clothing is not comparable to a computer

        Neither is food. You know it, don't waste my time with pointless nonsense. given your inability to make reasoned statements I can't be bothered reading the rest of your tripe you come out with.

        Next time, compare something equitable, not something that is essential (clothing/food).

      • @ Clothing is not comparable to a computer

        Here's some more nonsense.... Apple makes a ton of money because they market overprice PC's / phones / tablets to uninformed consumers with money to burn. The other 90% of the market who need that money for other things and / or have a brain will buy cheaper products, which means products that have a lower profit margin for the manufacturer. There will always be a huge market for reasonably priced products and a marjet for overpriced products, and the people who can get away with gouging their customers will always make the most profit. Why the hell would you want to live in a world where you only have 5 choices, and all of them are rediculously expensive?
      • Try to comprehend this


        "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

        The Chinese also have an saying, that goes like this: "The wise man is somewhat lazy. For if he is not lazy, he will start doing things immediately, inevitably doing foolish things"
      • Bozzer: Not very good at understanding analogies, are you?

        Look, since even you can understand that computers and clothing are "not comparable" products, you still fail at understanding analogies, and my point is that, people are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. There is nothing complicated about understanding choices, and the more, the merrier.

        Most people who purchase computers, are not as savvy about how they work as we techies might be. However, those purchasers do understand what they want their computers to do, and so, they'll be happy to browse the local electronics stores to find something that suits them. That's where the analogy comes in, where people will browse the stores until they find and settle with something that closely matches what they "think" they need or want. The only people who might not like having many choices, are the people who can't be bothered with thinking and shopping around. The Apple crowd has been limited with no choices, and they either purchase the latest, or nothing at all. With Intel/Microsoft, people do have choices, which can be overwhelming to many, but, since there have been several billion PCs sold up to now, methinks that, there really is no problem at all. It's nice to have choices, for PCs and clothing and food and anything else. The purchasing experience is exaggerated by those who have negative views to begin with, and, up to now, it has not been a problem to those billions of people who do purchase PCs. Hence the analogy. Choice: it's a beautiful thing.
      • danbi: Try something a lot simpler, and a lot more practical...

        People like to have choices. People make choices all the time. Anyone that takes away the choices, is anti-people. It might be a simpler world with no choices or very few choices, but then, people are a lot more complicated than that, and are capable of making choices. Anything else is for simpletons.

        That, to me, sounds a lot wiser than any old Chinese proverbs.
    • In physics it's called signal to noise ratio

      and is something PC and mobile phone manufacturers would do well to learn. Oh. And Linux zealots.
    • Intel is playing the typical monopoly game

      Even if Intel is playing it so that Ultrabooks may never become profitable for the vendors, this is how what they do care about. They care only of how many new Intel CPUs they will sell, at premium prices.

      It is more profitable for Intel to sell small amounts of CPUs to large number of players, than to sell large quantities of chips to just few partners. For they will have to provide huge discounts to the big customers -- but can charge almost list prices to the multitude of small vendors.

      Intel wins, everyone else loses. Why should Intel care? Those slaves have no choice.