Intel has big plans for Ultrabooks

Intel is banking on the Ultrabook to breathe new life into the PC, but what exactly makes a laptop an Ultrabook hasn't been clear. Now Intel is providing more details on how the Ultrabook will evolve.
Written by John Morris, Contributor

In an era of smartphones and tablets, Intel is banking on the Ultrabook to breathe new life into the PC. Intel execs have said this new class of powerful, affordable ultra-thin notebooks could represent as much as 40 percent of consumer laptops by the end of next year.

But what exactly makes the Ultrabook different from, say an Apple MacBook Air, hasn't been clear. Part of this is because the Ultrabook will take several years to fully evolve. The first Ultrabooks from the likes of Asus, HP, Lenovo and LG Electronics are due in time for the holidays. But from the start Intel has said that it will require several generations of new silicon, and hardware and software engineering, to realize the concept.

Now Intel is providing more details on how the Ultrabook will evolve. In a blog post this week, Becky Emmett, a media relations manager at Intel, wrote about the "substantial changes to the way Intel and its partners design, produce and market devices and their components" to enable the Ultrabook.

The first Ultrabooks, based on ultra-low voltage version of the second-generation Core processor (better-known as Sandy Bridge) will arrive in time of the holidays. The basic features of these Ultrabooks are already well-known:

  • Less than 0.8 inches thick
  • Fast start-up from hibernation with Intel's Rapid Start technology
  • Five to eight hours of battery life
  • Enhanced security features to secure laptops and prevent identity theft

The Asus UX21, an 11.6-inch laptop, is expected to be the first when it ships this fall, followed by the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s and LG P220. But lately there have been rumors that computer makers are having trouble putting these together for less than $1,000 so the ramp of these first-generation Ultrabook may be slower than anticipated.

The second wave of Ultrabooks, due in the first half of next year, will be based on Intel's first 22nm processors, known as Ivy Bridge. Intel claims these will have longer battery life, better performance, beefier security and high-speed data transfers with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt, the I/O technology in several Apple Macs and the Sony VAIO Z Series.

Finally the third phase will be based on a new microarchitecture, Haswell, which Intel should release in 2014. With Haswell, Intel plans to change the basic design of its processors so that they use around half the power of today's CPUs. In other words, you'll get the performance (and price) of a mainstream processor combined with the battery life of today's low-voltage versions. They should also be able to fit into even thinner and lighter systems that require less cooling.

PCs are always getting thinner, lighter, faster and cheaper. Intel is promising something bigger here comparing the Ultrabook with major shifts of the past such as the introduction of the Pentium processor in 1995 and the Centrino mobile platform in 2003. Intel says that eventually he Ultrabook will become "a tablet when you want it, a PC when you need it." As someone who has spent a lot of time using convertible tablets, with mixed success, I can tell you that would be "an historic change" if Intel and the rest of the industry can pull it off.

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