Acer Aspire S3

Intel envisions a day when so-called ultrabooks make up the lion’s share of the consumer notebook space. An ultrabook is basically a thin and light laptop which weighs less than 3 pounds and measures less than 0.8 inches thick. In Intel’s vision, they also tend to have premium components including solid state disks and the latest Intel chips.

The chip-maker also wants companies to sell ultrabooks for under $1000 — but it turns out that it’s kind of hard to hit that price with the components available today. And that might be why DigiTimes reports that the first two companies to ship ultrabooks are only expected to move about 100,000 units by the end of the year. That’s despite initial plans to ship two to three times as many.

Acer and Asus have already begun selling ultrabooks including the Acer Aspire S3 and the Asus ZenBook UX21 and UX31. Prices range from $899 for the entry-level Acer model to $1449 for the top-of-the-line ZenBook UX31 from Asus.

At a time when there are literally hundreds of other laptops to choose from with prices ranging from $200 to $1000, it’s tough to make a case for notebooks at those prices — even if they do have a few special features such as ultraportable designs, long-lasting batteries, and quick resume from sleep.

I certainly think there’s room in the market for ultrabooks, and at the right price I think consumer demand could go through the roof. In a lot of ways, ultrabooks are the laptops many people were hoping netbooks would be — they’re more portable than most computers, but they’re not significantly less powerful.

But right now ultrabook makers are facing a chicken-and-egg pricing problem. There’s not much reason to ramp up production until there’s higher consumer demand for the products — and I doubt there will be more consumer demand unless prices fall. Prices, meanwhile, probably won’t fall until production numbers increase (due to economies of scale).

Of course, another option is to skimp and use older, cheaper components… but then there really will be little setting ultrabooks apart from much cheaper netbooks.

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28 replies on “Ultrabooks off to a slow start due to high prices?”

  1. windows-8 tablets will make ultrabooks fail

    its all about what’s going to be hot. Previously netbooks were all the rage. Windows 8 tablets will be the next black.

    ultrabooks are far too expensive, I, and most other pc devotees would likely choose MacBook air for a couple hundred more. There should be a poll on this.

    zenbook ux31 for sub $700, then you have a product that has a greater chance of success 

    1. Windows 8 tablets and Ultrabooks are two sides of the same coin… 
      Intel is trying to market their Core ULV and low voltage CPUs as premium products that deserve a premium price because they can make high perf, thin, light, and sexy machines.  The two implementations of this higher-level strategy at the moment Sandybridge ULV CPUs in Tablets and Ultrabooks. (The tablets are nothing more than ultrabooks with a screen mounted where the keyboard used to be from a hardware perspective.) 

      You obviously haven’t looked at the price for these “premium” Intel tablets (“Slates” they’re calling them to try and help justify the crazy pricing; $1000 – $1300 is still Intel ULV slate territory.(And that’s only an 11″ screen)).  Intel’s mobility strategy is about trying to justify their exorbitant 60% profit margins for as long as possible before bringing their profits in line with prices from other chip manufacturers.  

      Intel is ignoring the “fast enough” trend and “app-focused world” trends to their own peril with their ULV strategies (Ultrabook and ULV-based tablets).  
      -If ARM can run my OS and my apps well enough, then I don’t really care about more speed; the higher efficiencies of ARM allow for thinner and lighter devices that Intel can handle and certainly dramatically increased battery life.  ARM will eventually wake up and focus on sexy, and they have an automatic advantage in the battle for sexy electronics.  -And a HUGE advantage when it comes to cost. 

      Win8 and the new Microsoft HTLM5-based app platform will quickly highlight that the extra processing power ceiling enabled by Intel CPUs is a luxury only required for a niche market.  (IF I can run my OS and Apps, what do I need more perf for? -I’d rather have more mobility.) 

      If the ARM camp can make sure that they get fast enough CPUs to enable a good experience at launch they can really gobble up some market share quickly. 

      -Intel’s CPU line-up has a HUGE performance gap between Atom and  their mainstream CPUs, the ULV line falls in the middle and does a great job from a perf perspective of filling that middle ground but it does a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE job at filling the middle ground of the price gap.  The ULV CPUs cost MORE than the high-end CPUs but perform worse.  
      They need to fill that price gap!  We need a middle-road perf AND cost option.  Dropping the price on the ULV parts in a hurry (bring that 60% profit margin down to 25%) would make the over all value equation between ARM-based thin and light “ultrabooks” and tablets much more balanced at Win8 launch time. 

      The Intel mobility emperor has no clothing and right now Intel’s planning on leaving him naked for the Win8 launch; they have time to adjust the value prop and adjust to a world where “running my apps” is the only perf aspect that matters but dropping those ULV prices before the launch. 



  2. I just can’t justify paying so much just for thinness. When I compare similarly priced laptops of the non-anorexic variety and see what kind of spec bumps that come with the “heft” it doesn’t seem worth it.

  3. I love the idea of a i7 UX31 but it’s sold out AFAIK.

    Acer is not an option and Asus should have made the RAM easier to access.

    If I was giving one as a gift I would have to go with an APPL product.

  4. Availability + lack of knowledge of the products existence + macbook air that everyone is familiar with + some issue eg touchpad, battery life, build quality etc. 

    However worse of all are the names.  Zenbook, Ultrabook etc etc.

    Could also be the timing.  I wanted an 11″ “ultrabook” 12 months ago and the only option out there back then was a macbook air.  So I tried it and love it and now don’t look back. 

  5. I think both of the Ultrabooks that are out so far are flawed products.  The ASUS has a BAD touchpad.  The Acer has relatively poor build quality and a far less responsive SSD combo.  Both are priced like they’re Apple products with the Acer being slightly cheaper, but neither really have the build quality, brand recognition, or deliver an equivalent experience for the money…  So yeah.  Not surprised, and I wouldn’t blame price.  If you’re playing in that price range, you need to deliver, and in their own way neither of these two products did that.

    1. Anandtech did a review that showed the Asus only lost out on 7 of the 13 tests they put it under against the MBA and the $200 price difference for similar specification in his opinion still puts the Asus as a better deal when whole package is considered.

      Opinions will vary but remember the MBA is now on its 3rd generation.  The 1st was actually a flop and they only started succeeding with the 2nd generation model.

      While Asus and Acer are on their first generation.  So in retrospect they’re doing pretty well, especially considering they don’t have the experience making Ultra thin and lights like other companies like Sony that have been making them for even longer than Apple.  Also Asus has already stated that they will start offering cheaper selection once Ivy Bridge comes out.  So we shouldn’t make too much of their early attempts.

      1. $200 less isn’t enough to make the Asus a better deal, as far as I’m concerned. Asus customer service is non-existent on the email side, and barely tolerable on the phone. Apple’s customer service is absolutely first rate. Asus still cheapens the things with lousy keyboards and trackpads, just like they do all of their laptops. Apple, on the other hand, absolutely feels solid and a joy to use. Mac OS X has it all over Windows, IMO, partially because how integrated it is to my iPhone. If you have an Android device, you may feel different. Mac OS X is a sheer joy to use, even for a person that’s been using Windows for 13 years now. Also, when Apple upgrades OS X, it’s only $29 – not $199. Then there is the cost of running Norton/McAfee/ESET/Trend Micro/whoever else’s security software that not only bogs down the machine, somewhat, but costs money for the yearly subscription. There have been a couple of trojans in the wild for Mac OS X, but they’ve been from users stealing software via download sites and sheer stupidity on the user’s behalf that they forgo all security checks and allow it to install. Installing software that you actually pay for will insure your OS install is carefree and void of any need of security suites.

        Simply put, for $200 more, I’d buy a Macbook Air. I feel it’s simply worth the premium. Now, if the Asus was more like $400-500 cheaper, then we’re in a different ballgame.

        1. Just realize, what’s good enough is your opinion either way.  Remember, Anandtech only found the MBA better at 7 of 13 things they tested.  There were 6 things that the Asus scored higher.  So depending on which are deal breakers there stands to be plenty of people who will consider the Asus a good enough deal for their needs.

          Let’s not exaggerate the appeal of OSX as well, as there are also people who don’t even like the OS X experience and some have had bad experience with Apple tech support.  So while Apple TS is better than most, it’s not like Apple never messed up from time to time and is not like OSX appeals to everyone.

          While Asus tech support has definitely faltered in recent years, PC users still care more about flexibility and freedom of use that PC’s offer otherwise more would have already gone for Macs.

          I’ve used Apple computers for over a decade for work and can tell you when it comes to doing work on them they can and do crash and have many of the same faults Windows users complain about.

          So there are reasons why Windows still has about 81% of the PC market and Apple doesn’t! Apple is even thinking of discontinuing their Mac Pro’s for the desktop market.

          Security is actually less than Windows because Apple never really bothered with it before.  They relied for years on the simple fact no one bothered to attack Apple systems.

          While that has recently changed and now Apple has started running their own Anti Virus app.  Yes, many of those attacks were pretty basic and required user error but that’s pretty much how they started on Windows systems too and Apple knows that won’t last.  So the attacks will continue to get more sophisticated and increase the potential risks.  Meaning AV is now running on many Apple systems as default and Apple is continuously sending security updates and fixes on a regular basis, just like Windows.

          Though there are more powerful and more resource hungry AV apps on Windows.  There are however plenty of free and low resource requirement AV apps as well.  MS itself supplies one and works perfectly well for most users! 

          Anyway, I think I already mentioned that Asus will be going even cheaper once they make the switch to Ivy Bridge and right now it looks like they will be the first to do so. While they are likely to address many of the issues with their first try at Ultrabooks too and that’s just months away.


    Intel has a long history of punishing manufacturers for daring to even question Intel’s exclusivity (or near-exclusivity) mandates.  I wonder if Apple got locked into an exclusivity agreement with Intel back in 2005, and I wonder if Apple is getting punished for testing AMD processors in the Air back in 2010?

    1. I don’t believe the decision had anything to do with Apple.  Intel already dominates the PC market, with even Apple using them.  The decision likely had more to do with their plans to expand into the mobile market.

      Previously they dependent on strict limitations of their ATOM line to separate that market from their mainstream products.  Now though they need to rapidly expand and need a new way to define the differences between the product categories and Ultrabooks serves as a line between their mobile offerings and regular PC products.

      Intel is also going to be emphasizing more on portability, with increasingly low powered products that still offer regular laptop performance and that also is part of the reason to establish the Ultrabook category.

      Remember, right now the market is heavily leaning towards mobile products and everyone wants to take a part of that market.

  7. Battery life isn’t really that great either, imho. For sure, they beat “regular” laptops, but none seem to offer “all-day” (as in double-digit) uptime.

    I’m still pretty interested in one of these, but won’t be buying right now. Will wait till IvyBridge models come out, and hopefully Lenovo or Toshiba release a ThinkPad or Tecra model (touchpads are crap, I need a laptop with a track-nipple on the keyboard).

    1. Ivy Bridge will improve specs but for all day computing you may have to wait till 2013, when Intel comes out with Haswell.

      Though companies like Lenovo are more likely to offer a battery slice for all day computing.  Like they already do for some of their other Sandy Bridge products.

      1. Yep, Intel abandoned us ultra mobile computing enthusiasts for the performance nuts (*cough Anandtech *cough) with the switch from Core2 to Sandybridge  by giving us over-all increases in power requirements. (Yes we got perf-per-watt improvements but, let’s be honest battery tech is going no where; no new chip should come out with a higher total power requirement than the previous generation.) 

        They promised to “fix it” with the 4 digit model number i3, i5, and i7 CPUs but these are very lack luster power efficiency increases that are mainly focused on idle/non-use scenarios and not during use.  I expect we’ll see similarly lack-luster increases in efficiency with Ivybridge as Intel again focuses on the desires of the performance nut niche vs. mainstream and mobility-focused consumers (who are quickly becoming the mainstream). 

        Haswell and on is the first time we’ll have something to be happy about; the total number of years in between the C2D and Haswell is a red flag that Intel is still operating under some grand illusion that over all perf is the primary driver of mainstream sales. 

        Depressing how out of touch they are considering how many billions of dollars are at stake. (They need to revise their entire performance/bonus system to be focused on MARKET SHARE in a hurry.)

        1. You are bang on. Battery life and all day use is what people would upgrade for and pay a premium for. I like you can’t believe they don’t have massive consumer research telling them this. DUM…

          1. Yes, run time is something many would prefer but it’s not a deal killer for everyone and the run time is roughly equivalent to the MBA that we already know is pretty popular.

            I think everyone just needs to lower expectations and stop thinking in terms of this being intended to take over any markets.  Even the MBA is still a mostly niche product.

            They’re actually using ULV chips, even the Core i7 version only has a max TDP of 17W.  So short run time is because of the weight and size limitation.

            However, this is a long term plan for Intel and by 2013 they will be offering Haswell for a SoC chip with a 10-20W Max TDP.

            Netbooks using nettop chips like the Asus 1215 series for example have typically had around a 13W Max TDP.  The newer Cedar Trail brings that down to 10W.  So Intel is bringing their higher end chips way down in power usage to right on top of Netbook high end chips.

            The smaller manufacturing size also means increasing more space for larger batteries down the line as well.

            It just takes time to establish a market.  So even though the technology isn’t there yet, they are starting now to get everything ready and set up in time for when the technology is ready.

            For now Ultrabooks will mainly appeal to early adopters and those who really want something stylish and practically as portable as a netbooks.

            While for those who really want longer run time, they can always add a battery slice to provide all day usage.

  8. I think that the company with the most to gain by the acceptance and growth of ultrabooks is…  Apple.  $800-$1200 ultrabooks suddenly make Apple Macbooks seem more reasonably priced. For people seriously considering dropping $1000 on an ultrabook, the Macbook becomes an reasonable alternative.

    And if the technology utilized in ultrabooks warrants those higher prices then it does a bit to dispel the belief that Macbooks are priced higher because it wants to maintain a “boutique” image. 

    1. There’s still about a $200 difference for equivalent specifications (UX31E-DH52, $1099 vs MBA Base 13″, $1299), and it’s only the MacBook Air series that falls into the Ultrabook category. So don’t confuse them with the regular MacBooks.

      Apple is also making it a bit harder to put Windows on their systems.  So fewer non-OSX users would be interested.

      Meanwhile, Ultrabooks prices are expected to get better once Ivy Bridge comes out.  So starting prices should drop a noticeable amount.

  9. I’m not really interested in ultrabooks mainly because thinness isn’t as important as the other 2 dimensions. To me, going thinner than 1″ starts getting less useful.

    1. This.  It’s weird that we call devices “thin” in some dimension that has no utility.  Nobody uses a “tablet” or phone edge on, and I tend to work with a laptop in it’s open position.  No laptop is very thin once it’s opened, and I’d much rather eliminate a flaw like not being able to replace the batter myself than merely lose a few millimeters of thickness when the device is shut.

      1. +1!
        We need the ability to replace the battery AND SSD; if we were ok with locked-down hardware we could just by a Macbook Air.

    2. the less bulk in my bag the better.  Airplane space is getting smaller. 

      1. Still has the same footprint as other notebooks with 11 – 13 inch screens. A fraction of an inch difference in thickness isn’t going to help much in an airplane.

        1. Same dimensions only when open, thinness helps when packing.  Though there is a question of rigidity and whether the system will bend, as that’s a good way to get a cracked screen.

          People who travel light though would like the thinness for their carry on bag.  Also people can also carry these systems in large coat/vest pockets, like some already do with the MBA.

          Also Ultabooks are making systems down to 11.6″ more common.  Previously there was only a handful at most who provided products down to that size, which were mostly pretty think like the Dell Alienware M11x, that didn’t go the netbook route for hardware.

    3. Ya, I wouldn’t pay $1000 for a slower and thinner notebook but I would pay for a faster (Core-i) netbook. Smaller bezels would be great too. The footprint is more important to me in actual use.

    4. Agreed! 
      Battery life and Cost are way more important.
      Once you hit 1″ and 3lbs or 3 1/2 lbs, diminishing returns kicks in. 

      Intel has abandoned the fans of their past thin, light, med perf, med cost laptops. 

      -ARM being able to run all OSes and the 98% of all applications very soon means that Intel should be increasing mobility and decreasing costs.  Total power consumption from the Intel Core2 lineup to Sandybridge went up: Intel FAIL on increasing mobility.  ULVs were priced HIGHER than their higher performing counterparts: Intel FAIL on decreasing costs. 

      The fact that they’re failing on the middle-of-the-road options and focusing on the high profit margin but low overall sales category should be a cause for concern for shareholders.  -It means an even faster erosion of market share in addition to not being ready to compete in the only arena that’s seeing real growth (ultra low power consumption in tablets and cell phones). 

      Intel focus on increased mobility and decreased cost already!!! 

  10. I have no doubt that 2011 shipments will be below what was hoped for. Availability is still thin on the ground and people are still waiting for the 4th device to be reviewed.

    1. Good point, Chippy; speaking of which, isn’t it November now?  Toshiba, we’re WAITING!  Announcements soon please!

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