Looking at Intel’s Ultrabook requirements is perhaps the best way to define the new notebook sub-genre, but it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. While all Ultrabook devices must meet those standards, they too are subject to change as Intel develops new technology. Additionally within those standards there is room for deviation, and as we continue to see more Ultrabooks enter the market, certain styles and types have become more prevalent.
Intel first announced the Ultrabook concept at Computex in 2011. At the time Intel stated that the sub-genre would offer thin (less than 0.8-inches thick) notebooks that utilized Intel processors and would offer long lasting battery life.
Intel later developed its first Ultrabook specification “Huron River”, which used the Sandy Bridge Intel Core microarchitecture models. Intel included a number of specifications into the requirements, including software and firmware requirements that focused mainly on user protection; along with other useful additions like the ability to resume from hibernation in less than 7 seconds. The most notable facet of Intel’s requirements was the deviation from its initial 0.8-inches (20mm) thick requirement. Intel changed the maximum height (thickness) to take screen display size into account. The maximum height for 13.3-inch or smaller displays was 18mm, while the maximum height for 14-inch or larger displays was 21mm.
The newest generation of Ultrabooks “Chief River” uses the Ivy Bridge Intel Core microarchitecture models. New additions to the specifications include a minimum requirement of 80 MB/s storage transfer rate, the required inclusion of either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt technology, and a few key updates to the software and firmware.
Intel’s requirements haven’t changed drastically since the inception of the Ultrabook concept, but the one constant has been the lax restraints on notebook dimensions. The dimension restriction in “Huron River” allowed for much larger notebooks with 14-inch and 15-inch displays to easily opt for the Ultrabook branding. Intel noted this was intentional, as it wanted to include these models, which are popular with many consumers. Karen Regis Director of Ultrabook Marketing for Intel’s PC Client Group explained that much of Europe favors 15.6-inch displays and that “those users of PCs and notebooks also wanted their systems to be sleeker, thinner and more responsive.” She further noted that Intel “didn’t want to exclude those users from these benefits.”
The Changing Ultrabook Brand
Intel’s Ultrabook brand originally entered the market as direct competitors to the emerging tablet market and the popular Apple MacBook Air. The small compact devices that the Ultrabook brand competed against likely had a large impact on the early model Ultrabooks that entered the market. Despite “Huron River” allowing for larger models to carry the Ultrabook brand, most of the notebooks that entered the market were indeed much smaller, sporting 11 to 13-inch displays; such as the Asus Zenbook UX21E, or the Acer Aspire S3-951. These machines were somewhat universal in design, with their small compact builds and use of high end components like SSDs.
As the Ultrabook brand has continued to develop and grow, many manufacturers have deviated away from this design, extending the size of their displays and making more consumer friendly ultrabooks. Evidence of this was seen at last year’s CES when Intel PC client chief Mooley Eden announced that, of the 75-plus projected Ultrabooks to hit shelves this year, 50% of them would offer 14 or 15-inch displays.
The new Ultrabook landscape is far more varied than when Ultrabooks were first introduced into the market. Besides seeing a greater variation in display size, manufacturers are offering options to help make Ultrabooks more cost friendly. The Lenovo IdeaPad U310 for example offers both SSD and HDD options helping to provide more affordable options for consumers who are looking to save costs. It is a far more diversified Ultrabook market, containing both options like the affordable $700 Lenovo IdeaPad U310 and the high-end Samsung Series 9 which, when fully optimized costs around $1,400.
Current developments in the Ultrabook marketplace also indicate that as the Ultrabook landscape becomes more diverse it is also becoming far more specialized to attend to specific consumer needs. The new IT-friendly “vPro” enabled processor has become a popular design for business based Ultrabooks, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The vPro processor adds a greater level of control for business employers and IT managers making it a perfect choice for the workplace, but this feature offers little to the general consumer. On the other end of the spectrum following the release of Windows 8, Karen Regis from Intel informed us that a large number (roughly 40) of the Ultrabooks entering the market will be touch-enabled, including a small subset of Ultrabooks that will be convertible devices that offer both a tablet mode and a notebook (clamshell) mode. These devices will offer a tablet-like touch interface to take advantage of Window’s 8 new panel designed UI.
The Ultrabook market will likely continue to change and develop and devices that offer greater utility in the workplace or new accessibility to the consumer will become more prevalent. As the desires of the workplace and the general consumer change, the Ultrabook marketplace will certainly follow suit. The only question is: as the Ultrabook brand continues to shift to fit consumer desires, will it lose its identity?
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