Can hybrids save the Ultrabook?

Can hybrids save the Ultrabook?

Summary: The Ultrabook is one of the notable fiascos of recent years because of high prices. Can hybrid disk drives fix that?

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TOPICS: Storage
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Despite Intel's marketing millions and some appealing designs, Ultrabooks are at best 5% of the market. Wintel has conditioned consumers to buy on price, and $1,000 is not that price.

One of the reasons the price is high because to match Macbook Air performance and battery life, solid-state drives (SSDs) are necessary, and costly. Even with today's falling flash prices, SSDs are still at least 5x the flood-inflated gigabyte cost of disk.

Smaller SSD capacities help - few consumers need more than 128GB, but even fewer know that - but the flood premium that drove hard drive prices up last year is fast receding. The price gap between flash and disk will rise to a more traditional 10x per GB.

At today's flash prices, adding 32GB of flash to a hard drive should add about $20 of cost. Anything less is unlikely - based on experience with 2 Seagate hybrids - to give consumers the whiz-bang feeling of an SSD.

Sony's new Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks include a 500GB+32GB hybrid. Reports praise its fast boot up and wake-from-sleep times, which says the hybrid architecture is delivering as promised. But at ≈$800, this product is still above the magical $699 price point retailers say is needed for wide acceptance.

The Storage Bits take

Early reports are that the +32GB hybrids are meeting consumer expectations. But the drive alone isn't enough to meet the Wintel consumer's demand for low prices.

Wintel OEMs deliver acceptable quality at prices much lower than Apple, but the attempt to build a premium-quality product at a non-premium price point is bound to fail. While hybrids will help, the inevitable compromises on other critical components - displays, keyboards, batteries - mean that Ultrabooks can only match Apple at near-Apple prices.

And since Apple sells most of the world's over-$1k notebooks, the Ultrabooks are fighting over Apple's leavings, not the core of the market. Ultrabook design concepts are filtering into the lower end of the market, but the Ultrabook concept - premium product at non-premium prices - will never fly.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topic: Storage

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25 comments
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  • Fiasco!!!

    I don't know if I'd call the ultrabook push a fiasco, but they definitely weren't the big sellers that Intel wanted them to be. And the reason is hardly a suprsie: consumers were spoiled by $250.00 netbooks that did pretty much everything they wanted them to do and weren't about to start dropping nine to twelve bills on a replacement laptop just because it was shiny and a marginally thinner. So, unless hybrid drives can magically lower the price of an ultrabook by $500.00 I don't see them making that much of a difference.
    dsf3g
    • Question the netbook impact...

      Netbooks seemed to be somewhat the opposite end of the spectrum. You got what you paid for, and ended up being horrific performance for anything but the most basic functions. If anything, I think tablets are impacting ultrabooks' ability to make a dent. I know they're not necessarily a full blown laptop replacement, but they get many users about 90% of the way there at half the cost (or less).
      TroyMcClure
    • Netbook vs ultrabook

      If you want a light and thin computer with a 10 inch screen, the options are a $ 250 netbook or a $ 1,000 ultrabook.

      Someone ought to understand that consumers want some options between these price levels. What about a computer with a very good screen, keyboard and track pad, but with a netbook processor (Intel Atom aka Clover Trail). It sounds like something that should be possible for about $ 500.
      reidar76
  • Hardly

    Small and powerful laptops have always carried a premium. They are a steal at $1K.
    happyharry_z
    • Maybe

      A steal? Maybe maybe not. But at $1k they're also niche products. Not something that's going to take the market by storm the way that netbooks did a few years back, and that's what Intel was hoping for.
      dsf3g
      • They're delusional

        For years they've pushed cheap $300 netbooks to consumers as good enough PCs, now they expect these same consumers to run out and purchase $1000 ultrabooks? Especially at a time when interest in the PC market is waning thanks to the tablets and smart phone rise?
        dave95.
  • Easy solution

    All that is required is for Intel and MS to drop their prices. As a matter of fact, given the competition from Apple (using Intel, I know) at the high end and Android tablets at the low end, I think this is inevitable. They will kick and scream, but Wintel now has competition.

    Of course, cheaper storage will not hurt.
    D.T.Long
    • Intel's already provided incentives to OEMs...

      And it still hasn't had much effect. Intel can only cut so far. The end result is you have OEMs cutting corners and making laptops that look like ultrabooks but don't meet Intel's definition and/or don't measure up to the MBA. The result is something that's still far enough above tablets that the consumer isn't swayed and not far enough below the MBA for consumers to not just "go with the real thing."

      And why would Microsoft drop prices on the eve of releasing their surface tablets? I'd certainly buy a full blown, true ultrabook over a tablet if the price difference was less than $150 different, so MS isn't going to do anything that allows the ultrabook OEMs to reach that price point.
      TroyMcClure
  • Misleading title

    I thought it'd be about hybrid ultrabook/tablet and not about hybrid drives...
    lepoete73
    • Yeah

      Yeah, me too. Also, I'd say that hybrid ultrabook/tablets stand a much better chance of revitalizing the ultrabook market than hybrid SSDs that cut, maybe $50.00-100.00 of the price of a machine.
      dsf3g
    • Ultrabook/tablet hybrids already exist

      Buy an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard case and you're good to go. Seems to be a very popular option with $550-$750 price tag.
      R Harris
      • I had that same thought, except ...

        I would spend $200-$300 on the tablet (Android, 7 or 9 inch) and $50 on a BT keyboard IF I needed one. I bet a large percentage of computer users do not need any more than that.

        MS and Intel will not be able to compete at that price level, with ANY HW configuration. Google, Amazon and B&N will drive the low "good enough" end into a price territory Wintel cannot follow, and this will put a huge dent in Wintel sales.

        Users will enjoy the integration of their smart phones and tablet.

        Interesting times.
        D.T.Long
      • Exactly, or almost

        I did the keyboard-to-iPad arrangement and have been toe dipping with it. I've been on several one or two day trips but never far from home and never without a win boot drive with all of my files. This is largely because I've not yet developed confidence in the cloud, or more fairly, in the availability of high speed access in some of the podunk Asian places I find myself in. Still, that arrangement has worked beautifully and definitely lightened the load. If I pursue this seriously, I would consider going for a Samsung Galaxy 10.1 now that it has been adjudged as non-infringing on Apple designs. It allows addition of a micro SD for ample enough storage to carry without lugging an HDD. It also jail breaks me from the entire Apple cluster which sounds pleasant to me somehow.
        simplifried
    • Hybrid Design Will Whip Hybrid Drives

      I agree with D.T.Long and lepoete73 - the hybrid Tablet/Ultrabook design will revive interest in ultrabooks - two for the price of one. Capped at 128gb may be tough, but add in Windows 8 and you have a compelling tablet with desktop replacement chops.
      dksmidtx
  • A hybrid tablet is an Ultrabook with a connector where the hinge should be

    No one should expect "full blown" Windows tablets, whether from Microsoft or anyone else, at a price much different from Ultrabooks. From a parts acquisition and hardware manufacturing standpoint, they are the same machine. Moving the keyboard and some of the power supply into a separate "dock" doesn't make the tablet-with-keyboard cheaper than the Ultrabook.

    The reason these things cost a lot of money is that now, and for probably several years into the future, the really thin components needed to build Ultrabooks (and tablets) are made in much smaller volumes than the conventional parts used in standard laptops (which are the highest-volume form factors in the industry).

    The problem Ultrabooks have (and full Windows 8 hybrid tablets will have) is that the additional portability they provide over the standard $500 laptop isn't worth $500 to very many people. For sure I can't see bean-counters at big companies signing off on paying double for "lightweight, portable" machines for the bag-carrying salesmen. Those guys are going to get the same $500 laptop they get now. The CEO, the VPs, maybe they get the fancy stuff... but not everybody.
    Robert Hahn
    • In a nutshell

      @Robert Hahn
      "The problem Ultrabooks have (and full Windows 8 hybrid tablets will have) is that the additional portability they provide over the standard $500 laptop isn't worth $500 to very many people."

      Bingo
      klumper
  • Hoping the industry wakes up to this before W8 tablets wither on the vine

    I have an kind of slow budget laptop that would probably be 4x as fast feeling with an ssd. But it's got a 320GB HDD and it needs at least that much for my purposes. I would just love to clone this drive over to a 32GB + 500GB hybrid drive.

    I agree with everything in this post wholeheartedly. Ultrabooks never seemed worth the tarriff, but I'm fairly drooling to get a W8 hybrid tablet, and don't balk at a $700 plus price. But really the sole catch with these things is the crummy SSD capacity and prices for extra space. I don't know about you, but check your system drive, with Windows and all the x86 programs loaded up I have in excess of 64GB right there. Like it or not people (and x86 program authors) have 500GB-1TB drives in their machines and have gotten used to it. And the point of a one-machine-does-it-all W8 tablet notebook is that it does it all, so it ought to have it all.

    Basically you're going to have to rely on the cloud or portable peripheral drives for your data. Slow, cumbersome and inelegant, which just completely violates what these new machines are supposed to be about. A hybrid HDD would solve this neatly and also be cheaper than a 128 or 256GB SSD.
    ArtInvent
    • Simpler solution

      @ArtInvent
      "I would just love to clone this drive over to a 32GB + 500GB hybrid drive."

      Should your laptop have a standard CD/DVD drive, you could always add a SSD by using an OBHD (Optical Bay Hard Drive) caddy. The OBHD caddy goes in place of your laptop's CD/DVD drive. All you'd need is a 64-128GB SSD, just as RH states. Then simply reinstall your OS or clone the system drive to it. Here's a more detailed approach:

      Best of both worlds: putting an SSD in your optical bay
      http://blog.superuser.com/2011/05/04/best-of-both-worlds-putting-an-ssd-in-your-optical-bay
      klumper
  • I'm not convinced that the price is the issue but the market malaise.

    PC sales in general are down. And right now there aren't a lot of compelling reasons to upgrade a PC unless it is 5 years old or more because performance is generally adequate. The same thing happened to auto sales but as the cars age out eventually people will start buying. And when they do, they will want a more mobile experience. Longer battery, lighter weight and thinner. Now the hybrid drives are big help, not only at boot but during hibernation and resume. I sleep my laptop and so it is almost always instant on, for longer periods I hibernate and I would love for that to be faster. I seldom reboot, unless for Windows Update. The Intel's hybrid technology makes even a 5300 rpm drive fast this allows for additional cost savings.
    But in a premium laptop I want a discrete graphics card and a backlit keyboard. So for me around $899 is a very nice price point.
    DevGuy_z
    • Practicality

      Interesting group this because we are not hearing much in the way of "braggin rites" talk that a thin sleek ultra might confer on the owner. Is this recession influenced or do Robin followers emit the non-nonsense, and healthy cynicism of the author? Is there not one gamer here that can't wait for the Ultra Ultrabook with work station specs? Is there no onee interested in a Ferarri Red Ultra? Let the marketing gods be afraid, very afraid.
      simplifried