Asus UX21

Ultraportable laptops are nothing new. The Toshiba Libretto, for instance, packed a full PC into a tiny case with a 6.1 inch display way back in 1996. but up until recently if you wanted an ultraportable notebook you had to pay an ultra-expensive price. Miniaturization doesn’t come cheap.

Netbooks changed that, driving down the cost of highly portable laptop computers by using cheap components that offered a just-barely-good-enough computing experience and bucking the conventional wisdom that every new generation of computer should offer better performance than the last.

But netbooks have become so ubiquitous (and so cheap) that chip-makers and computer makers are looking for ways to re-invigorate the market for higher-priced devices with higher profit margins. This summer Intel announced a new “ultrabook” platform for thin and light computers with prices under $1000. While these machines are far more pricey than netbooks, they also offer much better performance thanks to larger, higher resolution displays, solid state storage and faster processors.

There’s just one catch — computer makers might not be able to meet Intel’s sub-$1000 price requirement. The Asus UX21 is expected to be one of the first ultrabooks to hit the streets with a solid state disk and Intel’s latest chips. But according to Taipei Times, the price could actually range from $1000 to $2000 because those processors and solid state disks are expensive.

In other words, there may be little to distinguish ultrabooks from the ultraportables of yesteryear. While you can pick up a pretty decent modern laptop for $500 to $800, starting soon you may have to make a choice if you want to get a notebook that weighs less than 3 pounds: Pay a hefty premium for an ultrabook or choose an inexpensive netbook which offers inferior performance.

If you view ultraportables as secondary laptops, I think the choice is going to be obvious: pick up a netbook for $300 if you’re just looking for something to use on the go. They’re pretty good for web browsing, composing documents, watch videos, or performing basic functions that don’t require a super-fast processor or high definition display — and some are available with HD displays for a few extra bucks. But if you’re looking to replace your desktop-class computer and you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket, I suppose a $1200 ultrabook might be a worthwhile investment… it just may not be as cheap as Intel had initially promised.

But this is all based on second-hand information from one computer maker. HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Acer are all expected to launch ultrabooks later this year as well. Maybe they’ll be on board with Intel’s plans to keep prices below a thousand bucks and boost sales in the next year.

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8 replies on “So much for affordable ultrabooks: Asus says prices could top $1000”

  1. The issue is not about what you or I would pay, but what most people will pay.  Asus will make as much as the market will bare.  However, there is a bell curve. 

    If they want to sell at $1,200 and few consumers buy one, then companies just will stop making them or switch out for less expensive (less desireable) parts.  If ultras sell well, then the price sticks or is even edged up a bit.  However, what we all want is the devices to sell well enough but for Asus to say, “Gee, we might sell more and profit more if we relaxe the price a bit more.”

  2. The new MacBook Air 11.6″ starts at $999, it is basically an ultrabook, if Apple can do it then other companies must be able to as well?

  3. As cool as SSDs are, with prices that are still awfully close to $2/GB, it is going to be awfully hard to get the price down under $1000.  On the other hand, some of the “Notbooks” out there featuring things like AMD’s E-350, 11.6 or 12.1″ HD displays (768, not 1080P but with screens that size you don’t need 1080P) and lots of memory and big hard drives can be found easily enough under $500. 

    Of course, those “basic functions” describe 99% of the use that most computers ever get used for.  Unless you are a hard core gamer, or have some other special application that requires more horsepower, there is little reason to pony up the extra cash.

  4. while the next gen of the UL20 line looks enticing, that price point does not. i’ll hang on to my UL20FT with an SSD for awhile longer. no reason to get rid of it, really, it’s so fast and probably my favorite laptop i’ve ever owned. your enthusiasm for the former UL20-A1 helped me choose it, too!

    1. Yep, still using my UL20A-A1 and while a little extra battery life would be nice, it’s still a great little machine. It’s still the laptop I grab when I need to get some work done on the go — and the computer I’ve used to cover CES and other trade shows for the past few years.

      1. That reminds me… I’ve been thinking of getting either a 12.1″ Samsung Series 3 or a UL20FT since my 1001P isn’t cutting it is my primary computer anymore.  Would you have any idea of when retailers will start liquidating the current (FT-B1, I believe) generation of UL20 in relation to the UX21 release?

        1. I’m not sure they will… the UX21 is a higher-end device than the UL20A, so they could sell both laptops at the same time for a while. But like any computer, the longer you wait, the lower the price will probably drop. 

  5. On the one hand I think you’re right.  There will probably always be a niche for ‘notebooks’ although I doubt they’ll resemble what has been the definition of a netbook for the last 2-3 years (atom processor, 10″ 1024×600 screen, 1gb ram).  I don’t think that MS and Intel can effectively enforce those restrictions much longer.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that the price of ultraportables will be as high as ASUS is saying for long.  The problem they’re having is that this is a first of it’s kind, using relatively high end components.  The thing is that I don’t need a Core i7, a Core i3 is great for most things, even gaming.  SSDs are going to keep coming down in price, etc.  

    More over, the thing won’t sell at those price points.  They can try to artificially bring back the ‘ultraportable high end’ of the market, but I think it may be too little too late.  Especially since the Macbook Air exists and places a huge flag in the ground saying past this pay point you shall not pass.  Given the difference in build quality between Apple and Acer, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the Apple and wipe it clean and load windows before buying a Acer with similar specs, the touch pad alone is generally well worth it, not to mention having a quality screen…

    I expect them to have some teething issues.  I expect the first models to come out, much like the XOOM to miss the market.  I then expect them to dial in and start making quality, fast, capable machines at the 700-800 segment.  I also expect them to crank those chassis out with slower processors for the 500-700 segment.  There’s no reason not to once they’ve go the teething issues.  And they’ve done it once already using CULV Core 2s, it’s not like the concept is a foreign one.

    Whether those cheaper computers qualify for the monicker of ‘Ultrabook’…  Who knows and who cares? As far as I’m concerned, that’s just Intel trying to prop up a segment that increasingly can’t afford Intel’s margins with a new marketing term.  That will be especially true if AMD can compete, or Project Denver is even remotely competitive clock for clock once Windows 8 rolls.

    There are some interesting days ahead.

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