Why it's too early to judge Intel's Ultrabook

Why it's too early to judge Intel's Ultrabook

Summary: Ultrabooks seem to be off to a slow start. But it will take some time to see whether these thinner and lighter laptops can really deliver the best of both the PC and tablet, and re-energize the PC.


Depending on whom you ask, the Ultrabook is either off to a slow start or everything is going according to plan. Either way Intel's answer to the post-PC era has a lot of ground to make up if it is to reach the company's goal of 40 percent of consumer laptops by the end of this year.

Nine months after Intel first introduced the concept, the mainstream media is starting to wonder where the Ultrabooks are. The market research firm IHS iSuppli estimated only 1 million Ultrabooks were sold last year, a drop in the bucket in a market that is 350 million strong. And Gartner previously said Ultrabooks barely registered during the holidays because few consumers knew about them and they cost too much.

To be fair, Intel has consistently said that it will take time to bring down prices and implement all of the promised hardware and software features. Further, some of this is simply a matter of bad timing. The floods in Thailand, which decimated hard drive factories, put a crimp in what is already a slow period for PCs. Intel's third-generation Core processors, code-named Ivy Bridge, won't start shipping until later this spring. And the world is waiting on Windows 8, which has several features that should make Ultrabooks more compelling, most notably better touch input.

Despite the poor timing, more Ultrabooks are trickling out. In a blog post this week Intel noted that here are now 26 Ultrabooks available in different markets around the world with another 75 or so in the works. There are now several models to choose form including the Acer Aspire S3, Asus Zenbook, Dell XPS 13, HP Envy 14 Spectre and Folio 13, Lenovo IdeaPad U300s, Samsung Series 5 and Toshiba Portege Z830 series. Some of these have been getting good reviews. Last week Acer announced the Aspire M3-581TG, the first Ultrabook with Nvidia's new GeForce GT 600M discrete graphics.

Still, don't expect to find Kepler GPUs in razor-thin 13-inch Ultrabooks anytime soon. One way to increase sales is to "move the goal posts" by broadening the definition of Ultrabooks. That is what is happening with the Aspire M3-581T and other new models like Samsung's Series 5 and Envy 14 Spectre. Though branded Ultrabooks, these have larger displays, can be thicker and weigh more, and often use standard hard drives paired with a little flash cache-rather than a large-capacity solid-state disk-to keep prices down. In effect, the Ultrabook is simply becoming the evolution of the notebook.

Even with lower prices, Ultrabooks will face lots of competition. AMD is pitching new versions of its E-Series and A-Series processors, due out later this year, as ideal platforms for ultra-thin laptops. And Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments are all plotting a leap to laptops. These so-called smartbooks haven't had much any success in the past. But with Windows 8 on ARM, a compatible version of Microsoft Office and an app store all on the way, this time might be different.

Intel is betting that most people will still want, and be willing to pay for, a full-fledged PC. In addition, by the end of this year, or almost certainly at the Consumer Electronics Show in early 2013, expect to see hybrid or convertible Ultrabook designs with touchscreens, like the Asus Transformer Prime only with a Core processor and Windows 8. Intel promises these will deliver the best of both the PC and tablet worlds. At that point, we'll really be able to judge whether the Ultrabook has successfully re-energized the PC.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Intel, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • they are underpowered notebooks

    why get a slower notebook just because it is lighter?
    The Linux Geek
    • Ummmmm

  • They are expensive

    'Post-PC era' concept is just BS. Just because my washing machine can connect to the internet to check the detergent price doesn't mean PC is dead or we are in a 'Post-Pc' era
    • RE:

      haha, I see what you did there.
    • Post PC

      Post PC era has arrived for people who used their computers only to check the price of detergent!
    • Lol!

      I see your point! However your washing machine will soon have a monitor in the place of the viewing window and also a trackball mouse and keyboard.. It will become a Washing-PC machine. so people will be able to play WoWW - World of Wash'n Wear.
      • Washing-PC machine....

        It will have a mouse, keyboard, monitor, not only wash your clothes, but wash your PC too, scrubbing the hard drive clean with the detergent it finds on the cheap.
  • Ultrabooks wont really get started until W8 is out.

    Anyone thinking 40% in 2012 was stupid. Ultrabooks are a 2013 thing. But as for expanding the definition, no. If it's more than 3lbs or thicker than .75in it cant be called an ultrabook. No one in their right mind would by an arm "smartbook" but it would be great to see arm put some pricing pressure on intel so we can get to $399 ultrabooks quicker.
    Johnny Vegas
    • Windows 8 is for tablets, not ultrabooks

      It really boils down to whether or not Windows vendors will be able (or willing) to sell Windows 8 TABLETS for less than the iPad. To stop Apple in the consumer space, they will have to undercut Apple. Right not, Android tablets are selling for $200 to ~$600 and the iPad is selling for $400 to ~$830.

      Windows 8 tablets are going to have to sell for $350 to ~$750 to compete with Apple. and still leave room for Android at the low end.

      Ultrabooks are going to have to start at ~$750 to compete with the Macbook Air.
      M Wagner
  • This is easy to answer...

    The problem here is that they are too expensive to their nearest competitor called Apple. I myself went looking for an ultrabook and all I saw were models that were at best 200 USD to more expensive than the same Apple Air. My answer was, "ok if you want to be expensive then I will just buy an Apple."

    What the computer companies don't understand is that they are not Apple. I bought an Acer Iconia Tablet and have regretted from day one because their updates are crap. They just want me to buy new and shiny hardware. I have zero desire to buy an ultrabook that cannot be upgraded. Maybe an ultrabook can be upgraded, maybe not. But I am not willing to take the chance.

    No the problem is that the OEM through their desire to just sell hardware and not an experience have created an aura that people don't want anymore.
    • You hit the nail on the head

      100% correct, if you are going to price them so expensive, why get a clone when you can get the real thing for a couple more hundred.
      • Wintel is now paying for their Ultra-complacency and Ultra-antitrust nasty

        Exactly. Everyone knows that Wintel stuff is crud. Windows stinks. Intel processors "suck" according to Steve Jobs in his bio.

        Mean, corrup, laziness has finally caught up to the Wintel lazies.
    • But, thin Macs and thin PCs are not the same, even if the price

      is the same, and they look the same, and even if they might have, more or less, the same internals.

      There is a big reason for getting a PC over a thin Mac, and that is, most software written in the universe will run on PCs, whereas, not on Macs.

      One if much more useful than the other, even if one has an Apple logo and comes in a shinier exterior.
      • Yes they are..

        Mac Airbooks can run Windows 7 as well as any other laptop [i]as well as[/i] the wonderfully productive, tightly integrated Apple operating system.

        The only reason why Mac Airbooks [i]might not[/i] run Windows 8 is Microsoft's decision to use certificates in the Ultrabook's UEFI. If this is the case, then Ultrabooks will only run Windows 8, but nothing else including Linux. (This point was reported here.)

        Finally, Intel are currently subsidising Ultrabooks to the tune of several hundred dollars per machine, to make Ultrabooks competitive with Apple's Airbook prices. (This was also reported at ZDnet.)

        That subsidy won't last forever, so Ultrabook pricing will probably remain static for the next year or two (until Windows 8 is released?); but Apple could cut their prices.

        In short, Windows 8 on Ultrabooks is being designed to lock out non-Microsoft operating systems (unlike Apple's Airbook) and Ultrabooks are being subsidised by Intel to get a foot in the door. All this stinks of the anti-competitive practices that got Microsoft into trouble in the 1990s.
      • It's all in the price point ...

        Consumers perceive that a personal computer should cost $500. At $500, the Apple iPad has far fewer capabilities than a $350 Windows PC but it can do everything that most consumers use their PC for - e-mail, web, music, movies, photos. Plus it is more portable and it looks and acts like an appliance (it might as well be a toaster). Besides, it is "cool".

        In short, Windows OEMs cannot compete for the hearts and minds of many consumers at that $500 price-point.

        If Windows OEMs can put Windows 8 in a tablet form-factor AND if they are willing to undercut that $400 price-point for the iPad 2, they might just be able to take some tablet market-share away from Apple, otherwise, consumers will continue to flock to the iPad.
        M Wagner
  • It's a solution looking for a problem

    They said "40 percent of consumer laptops"...note the "consumer part". For most of the people I know with consumer level laptops, the amount of "traveling" they do with it is the distance from the kitchen table to the sofa. For most of these folks, a low end $400 laptop is plenty good enough on processing power, memory and graphics. In fact a net book would be good enough except they want a bigger screen than the 10 inch found on most net books. They just don't need, want, or want to pay for "Kepler GPUs in razor-thin 13-inch". In fact they don't want any 13 inch screen, razor thin or not. The 14 inch pretty much rules here with some straying into 15 inch territory - remembering that the distance being "traveled" is 20 or 30 feet. Anybody wanting more "portable" than that will probably go for a tablet. As horrendously over priced as an iPad is for the hardware that goes into it, its still way cheaper than the prices Intel is targeting for ultra books (sub $1000). So the entry point is cheap laptop for $400. If more portability is desired, tablet (iPad or otherwise) for $500 to $700 and no need for anything that costs more than that.

    So the whole idea of this being a consumer product is probably completely missing the mark.
    • Just marketing...

      Bravo! You're right on.....
    • Don't be so sure

      A Transformer Prime-type device running Windows 8 would hit all of my buttons for need, desire, and flexibility. Current tablets don't satisfy my needs, and I don't currently desire a new machine period until I see what my options are, probably this time next year.

      I suppose if they hang in there long enough, the price will come down to the point where they can supplant larger form-factor laptops in the enterprise and then you'll really see some traction. For that, you'll need the likes of HP, Dell and Lenovo to make it their flagship business line.
  • I have the Toshiba

    Just an i3 but is fast enough for what we use it for. Battery lasts all day and it is very slim and very light. Keyboard is great and the touch pad is not bad.

    I did not think it was too expensive. If was around $800 at Best Buy and I had a coupon. Paid $660 with tax.
    • I gave my brother a $330 i3 laptop as a gift

      The battery last over 8 hrs (technically all day) ...

      And BTW, that was a SALE on a brand new model (not a referb ... which are OK too).