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Remember when the word laptop described virtually every mobile computer on the market? The choices were certainly easier back then (because there was simply less choice available), but today there’s a far wider variety including netbooks, ultraportables, thin-and-lights, desktop replacements, and more.
Now, a new category is being added, courtesy of Intel. It’s the ultrabook, and it will be coming to a store near you before the holidays are over. So what is ultrabook, and what does it offer that existing laptops don’t?
Intel Leads The Charge
When new products come to consumers, they’re sometimes the result of the initiative of a single company, which is then copied by others. Other times however, there is a puppet master behind the scenes. The puppet master here is Intel.
Unlike a netbook, which has never had an official specification, the ultrabook is a set of specifications set down by Intel. If it doesn’t meet Intel’s criteria, it’s not an ultrabook. We don’t know the precise details yet, but some details have been made public. I suspect that any further specifications will be minor additions, and won’t impact current expectations of the platform.
- Laptops with 13 inch displays can be no thicker than 18mm (~.71 inch). Laptops with larger displays can be no thicker than (~.82 inch).
- Battery life must be at least five hours for starters. This increases to a goal of 10 hours by 2013, with 10 days of standby time.
- Wi-Fi connectivity must be standard.
- Intel Rapid Start must be used. This is a proprietary Intel technology that uses flash memory embedded in an Intel chipset to improve boot times.
- Introductory prices should be near $999 or less, although this more of a goal than a requirement.
Other information may pop up, but these points cover the basics of what Intel wants from this new category device. It needs to be small (and hopefully light, as well). It needs solid battery life. And it needs to boot or resume quickly.
While this will be a class different from most of what’s currently on the market, it’s also not a revolutionary change. They are still laptops, with displays and keyboards like any other. Multi-touch displays are not a part of the specification. Even 3G wireless is optional.
Oh, and in case you were wondering – no, AMD can’t build ultrabooks. The company doesn’t have access to the proprietary Intel technology required, such as Intel Rapid Start.
The traits that Intel is shooting for should sound familiar, because they’re traits already possessed by tablets.
While the word tablet hasn’t been used frequently in official discussions about the ultrabook, I think it’s fair to say that the platform is Intel’s response. While it would be a bit absurd to claim that tablets are about to make laptops extinct, they do represent a potential threat. Compared to laptops they are thinner, have better battery life, and are readily available for use at any time.
Ultrabooks address these points, creating a product that is more like a tablet but also retains the advantages of a laptop, those being a larger display, faster hardware, and a better interface for text input. The trade-off for all of this extra stuff is, well, a higher price. Even if the goal of $999 is met quickly, it’ll still be far higher than your typical tablet.
Conclusion: Big Money Doesn’t Mean Big Success
You may be thinking that, with a company like Intel behind it, the ultrabook will be a hit. Next year will be swimming in Windows-based MacBook Air lookalikes, and in stark contrast to the MSI X340, they’ll actually be nice laptops.
But not so fast. Intel has tried pushing formats before, and it hasn’t always worked out. Perhaps the best example is BTX, a desktop PC form factor that was supposed to replace ATX. In comparison to its predecessor, it had a layout that allowed for more efficient cooling, yet it never caught on and now is essentially dead.
All indications are that ultrabooks will be competing in a premium market of products priced at about a grand or more, and that’s a market Apple has traditionally dominated. None of the PC manufacturers have shown themselves capable of consistently delivering the quality consumers expect for that much dough. This could stop these new laptops before they have a chance to shine, but we won’t know for sure until they go on sale this holiday season.