Asus UX21

This summer Intel unveiled a platform for a new type of portable computer that would combine some of the best elements of a netbook with those of a full sized desktop-replacement laptop. The so-called “ultrabooks” would have screen sizes between 11 and 13 inches, use the latest low power Intel chips (but not the uber-low power Atom processors), and measure less than an inch thick.

But the key to Intel’s vision for the ultrabook is the price. While the chip maker doesn’t envision ultrabooks selling for under $300 the way many netbooks do today, the company wants the thin and light laptops to be affordable, with price tags under $1000. This would allow them to compete with Apple’s MacBook Air, and possibly even with thin and light tablet computers.

There’s just one problem. Computer makers have been releasing thin, light, and powerful laptops for well over a decade: and they usually cost an awful lot of money. While netbooks cut corners by using low-cost components, a high quality ultraportable typically costs an arm and a leg because they’ve relied on expensive components.

So far not a single ultrabook has hit the market, and the word on the street is that if and when they do start to appear they’ll cost significantly more than $1000.

But Intel thinks it’s definitely possible to produce ultrabooks in the promised price range. According to Digitimes, the company has put together a few blueprints for PC makers that could allow them to build systems for between roughly $500 and $700. This would allow device makers to sell notebooks for between $700 and $1000 and still make a profit.

That still begs the question of whether consumers will consider ultrabooks to be bargain devices just because they cost less then $1000.

Folks that value portability over performance have been snatching up cheap netbooks for the last few years. But I’m constantly amazed how frequently people try to compare a 2.8 pound, 10 inch netbook with a 6.5 pound, 15.6 inch laptop. While you can find both for around $300 these days and the larger laptop certainly gives you a larger keyboard, higher resolution display, larger hard drive, and faster processor, the tradeoff is that you’ll get a backache carrying it around all day. You’ll also probably be lucky to get 3 hours of battery life.

Still, I hear the comparison often enough that I have to wonder whether computer shoppers will look at ultrabooks and think “Hmm, I could buy three netbooks for the same price” or “Hmm, I could buy a full-sized laptop with twice the processing power for half the price.”

That’s not to say a 3 pound laptop that measures less than 0.8 inches thick and has the latest Intel Sandy Bridge processor or an upcoming Ivy Bridge chip isn’t worth $900 or so. I’m just not convinced ultrabooks will fly off the shelves even if Intel can convince PC makers to build and market them.

Asus and HP will likely be the first two companies to launch ultrabooks. I suspect other laptop makers will be watching these launches closely to gauge interest in the product category, but if Intel can make a persuasive argument that ultrabooks don’t have to cost very much to build, we may see more manufacturers jump on the bandwagon.

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10 replies on “Intel really, really wants ultrabooks to cost less than $1000”

  1. I think SSD is a big factor here.  Even systems with dual core atom or E-350 get significant performance boost with SSD, and it allows manufacturer to make smaller notebook due to the lesser space and power requirements. If prices of SSD can be reduced, I do think it is possible to have under $700 “ultrabooks”, with cheaper processors but not so far away in term of performance and form factor. 

  2. The idea of the ultrabook is a great one, but for around $1000 I’d have to agree that they’re not going to fly off the shelves. For that price the laptop would have to be many peoples only machine and I’m still not sure this would suffice for all one’s computing needs.  

    The price would have to be more comparable to your average 15.6″ mid grade laptop, not that of a 17.6″ i7 desktop replacement  powerhouse or macbook. Or the processing capability would have to be higher. Even at that ~$500-$700 range you’re giving up a good bit of processing power for size and portablity. Many of us already do that by supplementing our on-the-go computing needs with the current slew of sub $300 netbooks. Heck, for just under $600 you could pick up a Lenovo IdeaPad v570 (or even a decent desktop system) AND a little netbook or tablet for a travel companion. 

    Maybe I’m behind the times here, but I’ll save the hard earned cash and use a netbook when I need portability and I’ll just agree to not expect it to be a computing powerhouse. After all, I’m not trying to render HD video, do heavy photo editing, watch bluray discs, or compile mass amounts of code on my 10 or 11″ screen while sitting in starbucks or the airport terminal anyway. I’m checking emails and social sites, maybe watching youtube or hulu, and editing word docs or text files…same as most people on the go.

  3. I like my Asus UL30vt just fine.  It’s not an ‘ultra-book’ but does everything I need, and at 4 lbs isn’t heavy, and the 10 hour battery is VERY nice on plane trips.  I wish I could find a higher power machine with similar battery life, and portability, for a little more than the $750 I paid when I got it.

    Strategically Intel’s push doesn’t make sense to me in that I don’t understand why Intel is backing this.  Apple uses their processors, so it’s not like their archrival is doing something they have to back it to compete.  They’re making book off every processor Apple sells, why foster competition for them, because that’s the kind of thing that will seriously get under Apple’s skin.  Why isn’t this push coming from the PC manufactures themselves, and honestly what does Intel get out of it?

    The other thing that makes me laugh is that there are a lot of reports about manufacturers not being able to compete with Apple on spec and price in this category, and are asking Intel to cut the margins on their processors if they want the ‘ultrabook’ concept to fly.  It turns out that a $300 processor, plus aluminium frame, and an SSD, is expensive and the margins are exceptionally razor thin, if you’re selling that product at less than $1000.  So Intel is kind of even shooting itself in the foot promoting the concept.

    We’ll see.  Maybe someday I’ll get it.

  4. Right now, I’m eyeing the ASUS U36SD-A1, which is due to hit the streets at the end of the month.  GenTech claims to be able to customize them – including slapping an i7 in there.

    I miss the 12.1″ form factor; to me that’s about the optimum size – 11.6″ requires compromises on the keyboard, 13.3″ is starting to get into the “I care about the dimensions more than the weight” realm.

  5. I think the biggest issue is people WANT a computer that weighs 3 lbs, is 0.8 in thick with a 13″, and has a decent battery life.  But it has to be BETTER & CHEAPER then what they offer now for $1,100.You can get a 15.5″ laptop with a better processor that weights 5 lbs more for $600.  It would be NICE to get a lighter computer, but a 13 inch screen or even worse an 11 inch screen doen’t exactly sell someone when it costs hundreds more.

  6. “That’s not to say a 3 pound laptop that weighs 0.8 pounds…”

    Huh?

    1. Sorry, that should have read “I type too fast and forget to switch my brain from weights to size measurements.” I’ve updated the post so that the first figure it a weight and the second figure is 0.8 inches.

  7. I don’t know that ultrabooks will fly off the shelves, but I would be interested in getting one, especially if they meet all the promises (under $1000, faster than a netbook, a little larger screen than a netbook, excellent battery life, less than 3 pounds, etc.).  I’m a programmer, so the extra screen size and processing power over a netbook would be appreciated by me.

    1. Yeah, this might be a case of get-them-while-you-can. Personally I still love my Asus UL20A notebook which I picked up a few years ago for $570ish. It strikes a nice balance between size, power, and battery life. 

      But the product category for these affordable notebooks that fall between netbooks and bigger laptops doesn’t seem as popular today as it was a year or two ago. 

      Some of the systems with AMD E-350 processors seem very nice though. 

    2. Well, the original “ultrabook,” the MacBook Air, starts at $999 (under $1000).  If you need to run Windows, you’d have to pay full pop for the license instead of getting it bundled, but you can get a refurb previous-generation model Air (Core 2 Duo instead of Core i5, but still better-than-Atom performance) with full factory warranty starting at $749, and so you’d still be under $1000 unless you had to pay over $250 for the Windows license (I don’t know what those cost these days).  Or wait a month or two, and you may be able to get a _current_ model refurb for close to $749, and/or the previous generation for less.

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