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Intel Envisions the Rise of the Ultrabook

Intel Envisions the Rise of the Ultrabook

Ultrabooks are the future of mobile computing, according to Intel. The company says thin, lightweight notebook computers from manufacturers like Apple, Lenovo and Acer are on the way, and they're going to take a huge chunk of the laptop market. An Ultrabook, according to Intel, features long battery life, a thin profile, no optical drive and, of course, specially designed Intel processors.

By Rob Spiegel
05/31/11 11:58 AM PT

Intel has unveiled details of its plans for the breed of super-thin, rapid-on, tablet-like laptops which it calls "Ultrabooks" at China's Computex Taipei 2011.

The computer chip giant expects Ultrabooks to take over 40 percent of the laptop market within six to nine months. The new super-thin laptops run on Intel's Sandy Bridge processor. The models will include a new edition of the Apple MacBook Air, the Samsung Series 9, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 and the Asus UX21. Ultrabooks will begin shipping as early as this year's holiday season.

New features, which could launch Ultrabooks as a new subset of PCs, include Smart Connect and Rapid Start. Smart Connect, according to Intel, is a new form of updating which can reload sites such as Twitter and Facebook and will function even if the computer is in sleep mode. Rapid Start takes advantage of on-board flash memory to speed up start-up times to mere seconds. Even if the computer is off and without a battery, it will still recall the programs and data which were open when it was turned off.

Ultrabooks share an extremely thin profile, variants of these instant-on technologies, long battery life, lack of an optical drive and use of the Sandy Bridge processor, according to Intel. The company projects Ultrabooks will sell for under $1,000.

The Next Stage of the PC Evolution?

This next level of PC evolution will take advantage of mobile technology developments. Laptops now compete with each other as well as smartphones and tablets.

"This is a new category for the laptop," Chris Hazelton, research director for mobile and wireless at the 451 Group, told TechNewsWorld. "There was a strong demand for the laptop, then the netbooks and now the Ultrabook -- they all show the evolution of the PC to a more mobile device. The key to make it competitive with the tablet is the small size, the battery life and the rapid start. It still is an evolution of the PC. It's a subsection of the PC and not necessarily its own category."

Though the specific computers mentioned above run either Mac OS X or Windows, other OSes aren't necessarily off the Ultrabook development table.

"It will be interesting to see what the operating system it will use," said Hazelton. "Will it be Windows or Android? The Intel chip will support Android, so the Ultrabook could run either one. Intel isn't limiting the operating system."

Thin as a Tablet, Deep as a PC

The technological advancements of tablets have given laptop manufacturers new power tools to play with.

"The hot part of the mobile computing market is focused on tablet devices like iPad and Android devices," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld. "They offer interesting features such as nearly instant on, thin form factors and long battery life. But there are inherent performance hits they take compared to full-blown laptop. What Intel is saying, you can have the traditional laptop with the benefits of the tablets and none of the shortcoming of the tablets."

Intel hopes to popularize the Ultrabook concept to support its next generation of chips such as Ivy Bridge. Ivy Bridge is designed for on-the-go computing.

"The Ultrabook plays really well to Intel's strengths, especially with the Ivy Bridge, Intel's upcoming new processor that will be introduced in 2012," said King. "Those processors will offer 50 percent more performance while using half as much energy. This also includes long battery life."

The increased speed brings laptops into the new decade. Instead of loading slowly like the notebooks of yore, Ultrabooks will power right on up like modern tablets and smartphones.

"Rapid-on is certainly an attractive idea," said King. "Instead of having to wait one or two minutes to ramp up, it apes the experience you have with the smartphone. It's an attractive feature for a lot of consumers, and it's one of the key features on most tablet devices. Those devices are using an extremely thin and not necessarily complex operating system. The hit you take is that a thin operating system can't run the complex applications that you run on traditional PCs."


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