Intel Promises Cheaper Ultrabooks

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With a new processor designed for low-power scenarios, Intel is promising a cheaper generation of ultrabooks for this fall that have much lower power consumption with greater performance per watt.

At the Intel Solutions Summit 2013 held last week, the company said the next wave of ultrabooks powered by the company’s upcoming processors, codenamed Haswell, will have starting price of $599.

Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group, told an audience made up of mostly Latin American partners that early ultrabooks were a retrofit of what was already in the market but that Haswell-based models will offer all-day performance. He showed off one model that he claimed offered 13 hours of battery life.

In addition, Haswell ultrabooks would offer touch-screen support, faster solid-state drives, higher-resolution displays, voice recognition and facial recognition technology. Skaugen also said that he anticipates that 75 percent of Intel-powered PCs will be touch-enabled by the end of the year.

That’s a big promise, notes Craig Stice, senior analyst with IHS, “They don’t have to live with the margins on that, the OEMs will. They might be able to build it but having a fully featured ultrabook at $599 will be tough to achieve,” he said. He added it would be a viable starting point for lesser-featured ultrabooks. “There are Ivy Bridge ultrabooks today in that range so that’s realistic. I certainly hope we’ll see a lot of them at that price point.”

Ultrabooks were supposed to revive the market, but instead have sunk along with it. Last fall, IHS slashed its 2012 ultrabook sales forecast from 22 million units shipped to just 10.3 million. It also cut its forecast for 2013 from 61 million units shipped to 44 million units.

Skaugen said the majority of PC users surveyed by Intel who have purchased tablets also plan to refresh their PCs. Tablets aren’t replacing or stopping PC refreshes, but they are slowing it down, he said.

Intel has said repeatedly that it designed Haswell with ultrabooks in mind, which Stice believes. “When ultrabooks were first announced, Ivy Bridge was already through the design phase. They made modifications to it along the way to make it more power friendly but Haswell was designed from the ground up for ultrabooks,” he said.

Stice said it’s hard to quantify what have been the impediments to PC upgrades, since there are so many variables: tablets, high ultrabook prices, a poor economy, and a poor reception for Windows 8. A lot of these things overlap. But he does see a price cut for ultrabooks and longer battery life helping.

“That’s what everyone is looking for. On the power side, being competitive with todays tablets, and getting the price points down, that’s what everyone is looking for to compete and be a viable solution. Does it trigger a new wave of notebook purchases? That’s what everyone is waiting to see,” he said.

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