Can hybrids save the Ultrabook?

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

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.