2012: Year of the Ultrabook

2012: Year of the Ultrabook

Summary: The talk is usually all about tablets, but 2012 may be the year of the Ultrabook.

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Apple inadvertently touched off a new PC category with its MacBook Air. While the MacBook Air was priced too rich for many in its initial generation, Apple was able to get the price down to a reasonable level with the current model. Starting at $999, the MacBook Air forced Intel and Windows laptop makers to scramble to come up with an answer to Apple. Thus the Ultrabook category was born.

What is an Ultrabook? According to Intel, who trademarked the term, the Ultrabook is a laptop that:

  • is less than 20mm (0.8 inches) thick
  • has no optical drive
  • uses a solid-state drive (SSD) for all storage
  • uses a Core i5, i7 processor
  • weighs less than 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs.)
  • yields 5 - 8+ hours of battery life
  • priced around $1,000

The first Ultrabooks have started to appear from top laptop makers, including Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, and HP. While these initial models have been able to meet the hardware criteria laid out by Intel, the "around $1,000" has been a sticking point. To be fair, models of the MacBook Air with decent configurations sell at prices higher than the $999 entry-level configuration.

PC laptop makers realize they must do something to kickstart the Ultrabook category, and it is reported that at least 50 different models will debut at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in January. It sounds like the Ultrabook will be the big thing at the CES in 2012, compared to netbooks and tablets in recent years.

It is good that so many companies are looking to produce Ultrabooks, as that will drive prices down. While Ultrabook makers may have a hard time competing with Apple currently, if prices drop enough next year that will surely change. Intel is predicting 40 percent of all laptops sold will be Ultrabooks by the end of 2012.

While netbooks were essentially a flash in the pan, quickly getting big sales numbers and fading just as fast, Ultrabooks are here to stay. Netbooks went the underpowered route to acheive cost effectiveness, and many owners quickly tired of the corner-cutting. Ultrabooks are full laptops, with good performance packed in a highly portable form. In spite of the fancy new marketing term, they are the natural evolution of the bigger laptops, and they'll be around for a good while, post-PC era or not.

Ultrabooks prove that Steve Jobs was right with the introduction of the MacBook Air. Given the choice between a boxy laptop and a thin ultraportable, many will choose the thin and light Air. As prices continue to drop, as they usually do over time, the Ultrabook will be in a position to give the Air a run for the money. Laptop makers will be chasing the MacBook Air, just as tablet makers are chasing the iPad.

Ultrabooks will go into one area that Apple hasn't tread with the MacBook Air-- integrated 3G/4G. As prices drop, carriers are going to be willing to offer Ultrabooks that tap into their networks. These will be popular in the enterprise sector, too. We may start seeing Ultrabooks pop up everywhere we go. That's what the sector is hoping for, anyway.

If next year I can get an Ultrabook like the Lenovo U300s I recently reviewed for less than $1,000, I can see myself buying one. I likely wouldn't be the only one, as many need a Windows laptop, or have a bias against Apple. Next year may very well be the year of the Ultrabook.

See also:

Topics: Intel, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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42 comments
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  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    Your one line regarding 3G/4G is the only key differentiator mentioned. (IMO, it was almost a "throw away comment" but in reality, I feel that capability will actually put a dent in tablet sales.)

    Of course, one key advantage of the Apple MBA is it's software/hardware synergy regarding multi-touch gestures. The MBA trackpad is really nice and Lion's multi-touch OS features are really enhanced when using this computer form factor.

    Still, with the widespread adoption of Ultrabooks, I'm betting most users will not miss the optical drive. (Except those that tout the advantage of built-in support for Blu-Ray as a deal breaker.)
    kenosha77a
    • Just assembled a handy PC for my friend at 700$

      ... last month, and it included ship & handling fee. The hardware is not shabby at all. I guarantee it can handle any major PC games you throw at it. The performance + UX vs price factor is just not there for these portable devices so I don't see much of a market for any of them outside the spoiled college kids or companies' being generous about their IT equipment camp.
      LBiege
      • Sooo

        @LBiege your comment is pointless because we are talking about portables. The idea is that you can MOVE IT. Of course you could build a desktop or a hackintosh for much cheaper but what is being discussed is a portable. IMO the MBA is a great deal considering the engineering that went into making a computer that thin. It's an Apple so you will pay the premium but you are going to get superior build quality and a better User experience with hardware/software integration.
        Mcleary316
      • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

        @LBiege

        "The performance + UX vs price factor is just not there for these portable devices so I don't see much of a market for any of them outside the spoiled college kids or companies' being generous about their IT equipment camp."

        It's apparent from this line that you have NEVER worked in an enterprise IT department.

        We have sales people who would absolutely fall in love with these devices. Think about it... cut down your travel weight on your shoulder by 50%-70%. They don't require you to turn these on at airport security checkpoints (even if they did, it would only take a few seconds compared to minutes with laptops). Smaller bags for smaller computers, less weight, faster through airports. Our sales force is always looking to cut back on items and weight they have to haul around. Plus, with 5-8 hour battery life, these would be great options for the "meeting warrior" executive types. These two types of users make up about 90% of the laptops in our enterprise.

        Yes, desktops are still necessary - they will be for quite a while. But the ultrabook is something that would fit very well in our enterprise.
        benched42
  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    Sounds like you are a shill for the Intel marketing machine. They did so poorly in positioning themselves for mobile, they are trying to market their way into a new category of "ultrabooks" -- which are laptops running Windows that are slightly slimmer than what's available today. WOW!!! What a new category.

    Intel lucked into the netbook category only b/c they didn't fully kill their Atom processor group (which was not invented at HQ). They weren't so lucky with mobile where they absolutely suck.

    Why don't you write a good article next time that talks about the categories and why consumers are choosing various form-factors instead of spitting out a bunch of Intel marketing crap? Journalism not pass-thru of corporate marketing, unless your managing editor had you do this since Intel has such a large ad spend...
    john_winston222
    • Intel Marketing Speil

      @john_winston222 is spot on --- why was this waste of time sent to my inbox as a headline? Presumably to encourage me to unsubscribe.
      Where's Ziff Davis these days....
      leeegeee
      • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

        @leeegeee
        I guess it being a waste of time is in the eyes of the beholder. I enjoyed the different perspective. By the way, that email can be halted with you cancelling your subscription! No?
        eargasm
  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    I've been admittedly impressed with some of the Ultrabooks, and I honestly find that the pricing complaints are much ado about nothing. For example, the 1299.00 Acer S3 that was recently updated, now contains an i7 processor and a *240GB SSD* which blows the Macs out of the water when we're talking strictly about a price/performance/hardware scenario.<br><br>BUT, as Android tablet makers have so painfully found out continuously pile-driving us with geek-tastic hardware specs, it's not JUST about the hardware... You won't pry my 2011 MBA out of my hands any time soon (unless it's with another MBA) because of the absolutely flawless cohesion of the hardware, combined with Lion's fantastic multi-touch gestures. It just positively BLOWS AWAY the meager multi-touch functionality built into Windows on similar hardware. The way I can be watching a crystal clear video in full screen, and do a fluid three finger "peek" to the left where I have my email running as a full-screen app. All the while, the video continues to play without so much as a judder, even if I only bring the Email app over halfway to "split" the screen between the two, and then just sling it back out of the way. Lion's two finger reverse-scrolling may be pointless or even frustrating on a desktop (at least without a Magic Trackpad), but is completely intuitive and absolutely smooth on the Air. These insignificant little details add up to a completely elevated interface experience. Meanwhile, every single ultrabook and high powered Windows notebook I tried to use anything remotely similar on was jerky, and generally worthless. Moreover, most Windows based notebooks and ultrabooks have trackpads that are constantly and easily befuddled by even the slightest unexpected touch.<br><br>So many throw-away tablets came and went, at all price-points, before the Kindle finally managed to start figuring interface and ecosystem dynamics out. Likewise, I have a feeling we'll see a ton of really compelling Ultrabook hardware, but the key component, Windows 8, REALLY needs to step up the game to match Lion's absolute finesse. Alas, this will probably never happen because Microsoft doesn't exert control over the hardware, and has to be "universally" compatible with everything, making the interface process an infinite "jack of all trades and master of none" scenario.<br><br>The best part? Even with all the shortcomings of Windows, I can still run it beautifully either in virtualization or Bootcamp on the MBA, and it runs BETTER than it does on most of the dedicated PC hardware out there. I believe it was Walt Mossberg who said Apple hardware makes the best Windows machine, and amusingly, he's spot on.
    Playdrv4me
  • Welcome Change

    I'm looking forward to Ultrabooks. I like my Toshiba Mini a lot more now that I've installed a 128GB SSD. I don't see spending over $1,000 when I can essentially build a full powered "Ultra" for less than half that price. I give up a little weight, but I get all the benefits of a notebook in a lighter package that I run Windows, and Ubuntu on, not to mention the 3 USB ports...etc. I'm not into "pretty", and until somebody comes out with a super light, fully packed Ultra, I'll wait.
    tabakman@...
  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    In some ways CES has become a joke. At the beginning of the year, tech pundits web wide proclaimed a gutless tablet running a video of an unreleased (and now dead in the water) mobile OS as "best of show." I think I'll just ignore CES and the pundits who cover it this year.
    Delvardo
  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    "Ultrabooks will go into one area that Apple hasn???t tread with the MacBook Air??? integrated 3G/4G."

    I'm pretty sure Apple is or has been working really hard to integrate 3G/4G in their notebooks. As opposed to other companies who would ship even if the results would be less then perfect, Apple is probably trying to achieve perfection before shipping.
    themarty
    • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

      @themarty Apple has only made about a hundred million 3G-enabled devices, so I don't think the fact that they don't have 'em in the MBA is any sign that they're still ???working really hard??? to integrate data services into their laptops.

      They have not figured out a combo that makes sense to users who ALREADY have a smartphone with data capabilities, and should be able to set up tethering for a lower cost than adding another completely data subscription.

      Almost certainly, the calculus ALSO includes the spotty or unreliable 4G, its higher impact on batteries, the fact that larger-screen devices need more data than 3G delivers, and many other factors. And we haven't yet touched on Verizon's practice of down-sampling video over its network, so as to conserve on bandwidth. That might work OK on a 4" screen, but it'd be a bum deal on a 12" or larger one.

      So this is a technology that Apple doesn't think is quite ready for its customer set. Not that they don't know how to incorporate mobile data.
      WaltFrench@...
      • drink more Apple Koolaid

        @WaltFrench@... <br>"...Almost certainly, the calculus ALSO includes the spotty or unreliable 4G, its higher impact on batteries, the fact that larger-screen devices need more data than 3G delivers, and many other factors. And we haven't yet touched on Verizon's practice of down-sampling video over its network, so as to conserve on bandwidth..."<br><br>So when Apple don't offer a feature, it's because Apple is doing it to save bandwidth and battery. But when Apple pushes icloud and cloud bound Siri and location services, it's suddenly justifiable?
        warboat
    • too much Apple koolaid

      @themarty<br>"...As opposed to other companies who would ship even if the results would be less then perfect, Apple is probably trying to achieve perfection before shipping...."

      WHAT! LOL!

      <br>Yeh like they did with external antennae in the iPhone 4 and then try to bullcrap the masses by saying it only affects skin with certain pH levels. 3G phones are microwave transceivers and unless your hand is not human, it absorbs microwave signals. Having fooled the masses, they release the 4S with external antenna as well! No, nothing wrong with the IP4 antenna, but we repositioned the antenna on this one, but don't worry, nothing wrong with the IP4 antenna setup, it's all about pH levels yadda yadda! It's rare to see any company make radio transceiver products designed with an antenna that you hold and there is good scientific reason for that. But Apple.....Perfection, sure!<br>Then they advertise the hell out of the IP4's video calling like it's new technology about 8 years after the whole world got 3G video calling. And then we find out facetime didn't work over 3G nor was it able to make a standard 3G video call. Oh yeh, perfection!<br>The 4S with battery problems, they were trying to achieve perfection there!<br>1st gen Macbook Airs overheating. That's ok, just update firmware that slows down your CPU so it doesn't overheat. And when that doesn't work, let's shutdown one of the CPU cores. Striving for perfection there.<br>Macbook Pros with battery charging problems. Have you tried the firmware update sir? But my battery is BULGING! how the heck is software going to fix that? No, no it's PERFECTION!<br>could go on about iPOD classic charging circuits and on and on.<br>I used to fix Apple products for a living. If they were perfected before release, I wouldn't have had that job.
      warboat
  • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

    After their joining in with Microsoft to help kill the low-end netbook market, it's really hard to take Intel seriously for something like this, especially with an entirely made up label - "Ultrabook" (And how did that trademark that? -- there was a Sparc-powered notebook back in the late 90's, early 2000's also called the "Ultrabook"). <br><br>And $1000 for an ultraportable notebook makes no sense these days for anyone not on an expense account when you can get essentially a functionally equivalent (for the people mostly likely to buy an "Ultrabook") AMD-powered "netbook" for less than half that. Take the widely available Asus Eee PC 1215B -- you can get that easily all over for around $350. And then you can jack up the memory to 8Gb for about $50, and swap in a Crucial 128 Gb SSD for about $200. You then end up with an ultraportable notebook with 8 Gb of memory and a 128 Gb SSD drive for $600, and you can reuse the pulled 250 Gb drive as an external USB backup drive for the cost of a $15 case.<br><br>Sure, if you want something that's more a fashion accessory, then I admit a shiny new ~$1000 "Ultrabook" then might make a little bit of frou-frou sense.
    JustCallMeBC
    • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

      @JustCallMeBC

      With the caveat that I have not yet fully auditioned a Vision based machine, you could not PAY me to take another Always Melting Devices laptop. Every single one I've ever had, including the otherwise fantastic Lenovo X100e I just got rid of overheated constantly, to the point of shutting down. I don't understand how people deal with that as regular behavior, and it's well documented all over review sites.
      Playdrv4me
      • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

        @Playdrv4me AMD did have a bit a bad rep for its CPU's running too hot for notebooks, but they did seem to have fixed that for their Fusion series by all accounts (and you wouldn't be getting 6+ hours of battery life with a warming tray.) If you are really anti-AMD, I've seen benchmarks showing netbooks running the Intel Atom D525/nVidia ION II combo having similar benchmarks to those running the AMD E-350, and better than those running the AMD C-50. And those Atom/Ion powered netbooks can be had for as low as $300 (at B&H for one).
        JustCallMeBC
    • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

      @JustCallMeBC And it'd probably only take you two or three hours to order, unbox and install all those goodies, another hour to find, download and print the how-to guides, an hour's trip to Radio Shack and a few bucks for the teensy Torx drivers. Plus, if your OS doesn't correctly recognize TRIM settings and a couple other mysterious juju settings, you have a few hours of reformatting and recovering your data from backup after a few hours of figuring out how to reset the esoteric systems integration.<br><br>I know because I've done all this. It's sometimes fun to go back to the days when I built my own computer on a breadboard. But it's insane to think this is appropriate for anybody other than hobbyists. For somebody earning $75/hour or more -- the likely Ultrabook/MacBook Air buyers -- your recipe adds $500$1000 of labor plus a lot of heartache and anxiety, to supposedly save $500 for something you could easily pick up at the Apple Store. <br><br>A learning experience? The only thing you'd learn is that this sort of activity is best left to minimum wage types to perform on something that doesn't need to work when you land at O'Hare.
      WaltFrench@...
      • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

        @WaltFrench@... ?? No. I've done a number of SSD swaps lately, starting with an older Dell notebook: attached SSD via a USB adapter (or case); clone; undo some screws; swap drives (SATA's are much easier to swap out than the older IDE's); put back screws; done. <br><br>If you are tech savvy enough to add notebook memory without a fuss, you can probably swap out the drive, although how easy or hard this can be varies by manufacturer. ASUS is admittedly one of the more tedious netbooks to disassemble for accessing the HD, but there are other netbooks much easier to disassemble, most notably the $400 HP Pavilion dm1z: no screws -- just pop out the battery to remove the base plate. Interestingly enough, if you go to HP's site, the base dm1z goes for $400, while one customized with a 160 Gb SSD and 8 Gb of memory runs over $800, putting it near Ultrabook territory. <br><br>There are also some nicely YouTube videos showing the step by steps for adding memory and swapping in an SSD, even for specific models like the Asus 1215B.<br><br>Samsung SSD's come with cloning software, most don't, but if you have an existing WD or Seagate drive, you can download an OEM copy of Acronis for free that does excellent cloning. Like everything else in the computer world, a little bit of knowledge can save you a lot of money.
        JustCallMeBC
      • RE: 2012: Year of the Ultrabook

        @WaltFrench@... <br><br>Torx screws? What kind of laptop uses those things anymore? I don't think they've been used in standard desktops or laptops since, oh, I don't know, when Compaq still existed as an independent company? My Lenovo Ideapad Y560 has access panels that lets me get at everything from the RAM to the optical drive easily with just a standard philips head screwdriver. As for desktop, the standard ones tend to use philips drivers as well - the more advanced workstations use thumb screws that don't require any screwdrivers whatsoever.<br><br>And drive configuration? That's so IDE. SATA doesn't require anything like this, as multiple drives per channel is no longer allowed. BIOSes have improved a lot in this regard as well.

        Now, Macs, on the other hand, are much more difficult to work with in this regard....
        spacespeed@...