Intel bets big on ultrabooks

By Pat Pilcher

As CES, the worlds biggest consumer electronics trade show kicks into high gear, Intel's ultrabook initiative is attracting a sizeable amount of attention.

Essentially a notebook PC specification set by the chip maker, ultrabooks are designed as a no-compromise notebook PC with a minimum five hour battery life, wafer-thin 18 mm body, fast-but-skinny solid state drive and one of Intel's Core i series processors.

I caught up with Anand Lakshmanan, Intels Ultrabook Marketing manager to discuss the challenges and possible futures of the new devices.

First off the block, Lakshmanan talked up their built-in anti-theft technologies, but qualified this by saying that that having these security measures on a specific device still depends on the manufacturers desire to install it.

One key trend frequently mentioned Lakshmanan was the growing demand for bigger screens - which from an engineering perspective requires a delicate balancing of portability and usability. Larger displays tended to be a trade off with battery life and the overall bulk of a notebook. He also alluded to the tantalising prospect of HD 1080p displays appearing in ultrabooks with 14" and 15.6" screens in the near future.

Staying on displays, 3D screens and content to match are big news at CES, however seeing these incorporated into ultrabooks will largely depend on display technology improvements - again avoiding breaking the bank when it comes to overall bulk or battery life.

Lakshmanan says sales have been good to date and was adamant that the thin devices will be a major part of Intels future going forwards.

More 'convertible' offerings over the course of 2012 will bridge the gap between traditional notebook PCs and tablets.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing ultrabook manufacturers is how to add their own sizzle to stand out from other makers. However, Lakshmanan countered this by saying that Intel is pushing to improve costs so that ultrabooks will be available at "mainstream price points." This will, hopefully, translate into sub-$1,000 ultrabooks over time - fingers crossed on that one.

Quad core processors are unfortunately not on the agenda for ultrabooks in the foreseeable future - this is down to head dissipation and battery consumption. Intel demands dual core processors in its ultrabook specification.

Earlier this week I watched Intel CEO Mooly Eden demonstrate online shopping by tapping his credit card against the wrist rest of a prototype ultrabook, NFC (near field communications, allowing data to be wirelessly transferred over short distances).

This proved a hot topic on the CES show floor, and Lakshmanan confirmed that NFC will be most likely be made available by manufacturers with third generation Core i processors, he was however careful to qualify this by saying that adding NFC will most likely impact on cost.

Another technology that has potential to bring additional wow factor to ultrabooks is wireless charging, which could even recharge a compatible smartphone sitting nearby. As good as wireless charging sounds, Lakshmanan said the technology won't be available for some time yet.

He was bullish about battery technologies, and in particular lithium polymer. This wasn't a huge surprise, as the battery has a huge impact on the overall weight and size of a notebook .

Lithium polymer batteries are generally around half the thickness of traditional laptop batteries so it looks like wafer thin laptops could become more commonplace going forwards. Some ultrabooks - like Acer's Aspire S3 - are already using lithium polymer batteries.

Lakshmanan was confident that ultrabooks are going to become more prevalent in the workplace, which will in turn see many manufacturers moving fast to integrate enterprise features to ease their transition into the business space.

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