Intel: Ultrabooks and tablets are on the way

Intel: Ultrabooks and tablets are on the way

Summary: Ultrabooks are off to a slow start and Intel's long struggle to get into tablets and smartphones is well-known. But new and more compelling devices are on the way, Intel executives said at a conference in Beijing this week.


Lately there have been a lot of stories about the slow start for Ultrabooks (here's my take). And Intel's long struggle to get into mobile devices is well-known. But better Ultrabooks and tablets are indeed coming. That was the key message out of the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing this week (the Webcasts are here).

Intel says there are already 21 different Ultrabooks available worldwide--all based on the 2nd Generation Core processors known as Sandy Bridge. Another 75 designs, based on the 3rd Generation Core chips, are in the works, Kirk Skaugen, the general manager of the PC group, said in a presentation. The first of these Ivy Bridge chips will reportedly launch on April 23.

This new wave of Ultrabooks will be available at prices starting at $699 by the end of this year. Though many of these will be traditional clamshell laptops, Intel is really emphasizing touchscreen and hybrid designs with Windows 8. During Skaugen's keynote, it gave a brief demo of an Ultrabook with a touchscreen running Windows 8 Consumer Preview to "dispel" the notion that touch experience isn't good on a clamshell and showed several convertibles including Intel prototypes, a Wistron design and Lenovo's Yoga.

"The Ultrabook is really a no-compromise personal computing experience," Skaugen said. "It is a tablet when you want it, and it is a notebook when you need it."

Typically when Intel does a shrink (in this case, from a 32nm process to a 22nm one), the performance gains are relatively minor. But with Ivy Bridge, Intel is promising a big boost from the HD 2500 and HD 4000 graphics. In particular, Intel is touting 70 percent better graphics performance than Sandy Bridge (there was a brief demo of a driving game) along with new features such as DirectX 11; support for up to three simultaneous displays; the ability to drive displays with resolutions as high as 2,560 by 1,600 pixels; and Quick Sync 2.0 for faster video encoding and playback.

Last week Intel released the 7-Series chipsets, which work with both Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors for laptops and desktops, along with a couple Intel-branded desktop motherboards. These are Intel's first chipsets that support USB 3.0 without a third-party controller. Intel is also pushing its Thunderbolt I/O technology, which is designed to carry both data and video, at speeds up to 10Gbps (by comparison, USB 3.0 has a theoretical speed of around 5Gbps). Though mainly known as a feature in Apple's Macs and 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, it is also available in a handful of peripherals from companies such as Belkin and LaCie. Skaugen said there will be about 100 Thunderbolt devices by the end of this year and "hundreds" in 2013.

While Ivy Bridge should bring a good leap in graphics performance and features, it is Haswell, the next microarchitecture, that Intel claims will deliver the "ultimate Ultrabook experience." Skaugen confirmed that Haswell was on track for release in 2013.

Intel hasn't provided as many details on its tablet plans, but later this year it will release a 1.8GHz Atom processor, code-named Clover Trail and manufactured on a 32nm process, designed for Windows 8 tablets. There are 10 companies currently designing tablets based on Intel's silicon and Windows 8. "You will probably see many, many Intel-based tablets in the market by the end of this year," said Sean Maloney, who heads up Intel China. Separately, Intel announced the Studybook, a 7-inch tablet designed for students and running either Android or Windows 7.

Intel is also aiming to get Atom into more smartphones. The first, the Lenovo K800, will be available in China in May. It is based on the Medfield platform with a 1.6GHz Atom Z2460. Intel plans to follow with a low-end version, the 1.0GHz Atom Z2000, and a high-end Atom Z2580, which will run at up to 1.8GHz and deliver twice the performance, according to Intel. Maloney said that ZTE is working on a "new generation" of Atom-based smartphones that will be shipping later this year, and Intel has previously announced a partnership with Motorola.

Intel is developing these Atom processors at a faster-than-usual cadence, illustrating the strategic importance of tablets and smartphones. The 22nm versions of these chips will ship sometime in 2013.

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

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  • Next Gen Atom

    That next generation Atom processor looks to have the biggest impact on the next round of truly portable devices. The die size reduction should mean both better energy efficiency and better performance. Both areas currently need big improvement for Intel to break into tablets in a meaningful way. ARM still rules that hot market segment and I don't see that changing until the 2013 Atom starts making it into production tablets. The current crop of Atoms just doesn't cut it. People don't want a tablet which needs to be recharged after only 3-5 hours of use. All day battery life is already the norm for ARM tablets, so people won't settle for less in an Intel-based offering.
    • Quantum Leap

      The new Atom will need a quantum leap in performance to be a player in the tablet market.

      We use them in touch terminals for industry and they are fine, but they run simple applications and aren't pushed.

      Atom based tablets, of the current generation, are dire. The performance is so bad, you have to wonder how they ever left the design table... Trying to get a tablet with a CULV Core chip is very difficult.

      With Windows 7 and the Atom tablets I've used, they managed about a 25% stepping when pinch and zooming, and that was jerky!

      Hopefully this will change with Ivy Bridge turning up in more tablet or convertible devices.

      The next Atom needs to step past the Pentium E performance and match Sandy Bridge CULV Core i3s, if it is to be taken seriously for more than basic tasks.

      To be honest, I think the Atom is going to be squeezed by ARM at the bottom and Ivy Bridge from above into ever smaller niche markets.
      • Well said, finaly an expert reveals x86 short commings

        x86 is too old of an architecture to be used in mobile devices period. No matter how small Intel tries to make them. The performance of ARM for mobile will be far greater. The New IPAD has the power of a Dektop PC with graphics capabilites that far out matches anything Intel can make. A descrete video card or chip by rival AMD is needed to get the graphics muscle of a PC where it should be.

        Year after year ARM doubles in processing and graphics power. X86 is only geting 15% faster each year. Intel is squeezing every bit it can from the outdated x86 architecture. But ARM will on day feel like it can take on Intel and thats when computing will change and PCs will be no more.
      • @Bakabaka

        The power consumption performance on the ARM is definitely superior and I don't see Intel being able to challenge there, at least not in the short term.

        However the ARM processors are slow and not very good at processing large amounts of data. They are fine for simple tablet based tasks, but they are a non-starter for "serious" work. Try getting an ARM to chomp through RAW photos and apply filters to them on the fly, something an Intel processor can do in its sleep.

        Don't forget that the ARM processor doesn't do "real" multi-tasking on any of the current tablets or smartphones. Apart from small stubs, the apps are put to sleep, when they aren't on the screen and the developers, especially Apple in Safari, use all sorts of "tricks" to try and make the user experience as smooth and fast as possible.

        Those "tricks" aren't necessary on a Windows, Linux or OS X PC, because there aren't the processing power or memory constraints put upon the application that ARM puts on tablet and smartphone developers.

        c't magazine in Germany did a fantastic article on how these tricks work (both on iOS and Android) a few weeks back, unfortunately behind a paywall and in German...

        Basically, the ARM can't hope to come anywhere near the performance of a CULV Core i3, let alone a desktop i7. On the other side, with optimised programming, the programs can still look fluid and impressive on a tablet and they only use a fraction of the electrical power that a laptop or desktop requires.

        As to graphic performance, I haven't seen any direct comparisons of the Intel HD on-chip graphics and the new Apple GPU cores on their new processor, so I can't comment directly, other than to say the reports I've read say that the Apple GPUs are impressive for a tablet, but they still can't touch desktop units for textures and shading.

        That said, that doesn't interest me, the Intel HD is more than enough for HD video and driving dual screens.
  • Ultrabooks

    I could not care less whether my laptop can be called an Ultrabook or not. It is only a trademark to make Intel more money and does not exist for the benefit of consumers.

    All I care about is a device that meets my needs at a fair price. If my notebook is 1mm too thick (for Intel) and has a HDD, that may be just fine with me. Why the heck would I pay more, just so Intel will let me call it an Ultrabook.
    • Gimme gimme gimme

      When I get to be King, guys like you will have to build your own laptops out of sand and iron ore.
      Robert Hahn
    • Sooooo Strange that Intel is Paying Apple's Competitors to make Air Clones

      It seems pretty strange that a chip manufacturer is now in the business of paying everyone to make Macbook Air clones? Why is Intel paying all the Ultrabook makers to go after Apple's jugular?

      Maybe Apple dumped Intel for AMD? It is possible... Steve said that Intel's graphics "suck" in his biography, and everyone knows that the Macbook Air is in dire need of a graphics upgrade.
  • Not nearly enough to make a splash...

    The low end devices are still starting at nearly $700. Tablets & touchscreen ultrabooks would have an even higher BOM and therefore, will be even more expensive.

    Considering that ARM based tablets to be launched this year are targeting a price range of $200, I think we can guess where this is going, at least in terms of sales trends over the next few years.
  • app store for ultrabooks

    I'm glad of all the work Intel is doing to make the PC platform catch up with the Mac platform... To bad they're not as good software developers as they are chip makers! Now only a proper pc app store is missing. While Microsoft is finishing is own, try it out allmyapps ( ) if you want to experience an app store experience on Windows.
  • Ultrabooks are Raining Down on Apple like Ultraturds!

    What did Apple do to warrant this strange Ultra-attack? Did Apple fart a stinker that made Intel go ballistic?
  • Notebook

    i think ultrabook is great than Apple macbook, my new HP ultrabook laptop has very very fastly to process. i had read reviews from ( website and get deals from that.