With Microsoft's decision a couple of years ago to offer Windows at a much cheaper price to manufacturers as a way to entice them to create lower-priced devices that run the OS, a new generation of bargain-priced and modestly spec'd laptops -- first running Windows 8, then Windows 10 -- have become popular. So popular, in fact, that Intel is giving them a name and promoting one of its forthcoming chip platforms as perfect to power them.
At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) this week in China, the chip giant touted Cloudbooks -- which include Acer notebooks of the same name, but aren't limited to them -- which sound a lot like Chromebooks, but run Windows instead of Chrome. Like Chromebooks, they are low priced -- between $169 and $269 -- and equipped with basic components -- typically 2GB of RAM and often 32GB of built-in storage. They're also more likely to use Intel's low-power Pentium and Celeron processors, whereas Chromebooks make use of chips from a variety of suppliers.
According to Intel, they're successful like Chromebooks, too, with the company claiming over 5 million of such units have shipped since 2014. Considering the continuing woes of the overall PC industry, numbers like that are a rare sign of hope -- and Intel is looking to exploit that burgeoning market.
Enter Apollo Lake, the next generation of low-power processors that are due in the second half of this year. Intel is using IDF to promote Apollo Lake chips to OEMs for their budget systems, including Cloudbooks. Apollo Lake CPUs are expected to boast improved performance while sipping less juice, leading to increased battery life.
As with its Ultrabook initiative -- an ultra-thin laptop platform that never really caught fire -- Intel is offering manufacturers a reference design for Cloudbooks. It's built around a 11.6-inch notebook with 1,920x1,080 resolution, 4GB of RAM, and unspecified Apollo Lake processor choices. Those specs would seemingly place Cloudbooks built using Intel's reference design on the higher-priced end of the budget laptop spectrum, though the company claims that the design's efficiencies can lower manufacturing costs.
Unlike with Ultrabooks, an idea that Intel was trying to jump-start for the Windows market (essentially Wintel versions of the Macbook Air aesthetic), its attempt to promote Cloudbooks as a concept has the benefit of building on an already successful market segment. Even if manufacturers don't take the reference design to heart, Intel's chips already reside in most of the sub-$300 Windows laptops anyway, so, Cloudbook or not, expect to see plenty with Apollo Lake-based processors coming toward the end of the year.