Technology Explained

What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained]

Matt Smith 23-09-2011

what is ultrabookRemember 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

what is ultrabook

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.

ultrabook intel


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.

Mimicking Tablets

ultrabook intel


The traits that Intel is shooting for should sound familiar, because they’re traits already possessed by tablets The 3 Best Android Tablets Available Today That A Buyer Should Check Out While the iPad was able to jump on the tablet market before anyone else, Android tablets from competitors are starting to flow like water. There’s now a wide variety of options available and many of... Read More .

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

what is ultrabook


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 The Top 10 Rated Windows Desktop Computers For Every Need Read More 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.

Image Credit: PC World, CNET


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  1. Anonymous
    January 18, 2016 at 5:03 am

    It's 2016, we now have Windows 10, and things like the MS Surface Pro 4 and a myriad of "ultrabooks"...did they accomplish the goal?

  2. Asa
    September 23, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    It'll be interesting to see how this pans out -- I think industry specifications "trademark" specifications are a great idea.  they help push the industry forward, and allow consumers to have better comprehension of and higher confidence in products.  However, this Intel vision will compete with AMD and Apple markets and depend on both consumer response and especially what the big PC manufacturers decide is best for them.

    There is a big difference between a tablet and a high-performance machine that has similar energy efficiency.. massive!  But then many see a future where we don't need high performance machines, we will essentially have terminals to the cloud... Intel's vision sounds like a good step forward.. but I look forward to something more revolutionary - lightweight/zero weight, very small, very usable.. something that does not really look like bits of things we already have.. but sci-fi has some ideas for.

    I would prefer and think it would be best for consumers for these types of initiatives to come from a well-functioning industry standards body.  The standards needn't be specific about details of implementation ("must use Intel xxx feature has no value to the people), they only need to be specific about characteristics with direct value.  Weight--Size--Performance--Compatibility--Reliability.  Different companies can then compete by working towards the standards faster and by implementing features above and beyond the standards that can help explore the next territory for future standardization.

    An Intel product technology standard like this will influence AMD as well, and if successful will influence hardware design specs whether or not Intel technology is used.

    • M.S. Smith
      September 29, 2011 at 2:46 am

      There is a lot of potential here. But I do have doubts about the execution. Since these products will be expensive, they'll have to have extremely solid build quality to justify themselves. Otherwise people will continue to buy MacBook Airs and ignore these entirely. 

  3. Tech Checkers
    September 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    This is beginning of point of true convergence of Portability, the Asus Transform being an example, laptops/notebooks/netbooks/ultrabooks ... all moving towards the use of the device as a window to online Cloud-based centralised information ... dropbox, sugarsync, logmein, hamachi, VNC et al .. all offer this portability without the risk of data loss as the information is all stored elsewhere.

  4. Dan
    September 23, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    There's two more feartures you've missed:

    1. Security built at hardware chip level. Some kind of anti-theft, authentication and DeepSAFE (that stops rootkits at the chip level).

    2. Some kind of sleep mode updates for applications.

    • Matt Smith
      September 23, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks! I had not heard that anti-theft was going to be a part of the ultrabook specification.

    • Gurjit Singh
      October 21, 2011 at 5:12 am

      Does no rootkits mean no Linux dual booting or replacing Win 7? Just wondering because I was recently forced to use Linux to keep my 5 year old laptop performing at a halfway decent level, and I've actually enjoyed it.

      • M.S. Smith
        November 3, 2011 at 12:53 am

        I don't think that the security software will have anything to do with dual-booting. Seems like a good way to make a lot of nerds mad. 

  5. Tim
    September 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Essentially a MacBook Air.

    • Matt Smith
      September 23, 2011 at 11:28 pm

      In a nutshell.

    • Pablo
      September 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      MacBook Air has Intel inside.