The Ultrabooks are coming: super thin laptops for travellers

If there’s one thing that iPads have done beyond giving travellers a better inflight entertainment option, it’s the wake-up call they have given the laptop industry.

Apple may only hold 10% of the computer market, but if iPads were factored in, that share rockets to 22%. It’s not a hypothetical figure, either — it’s quite clear that laptop sales from all manufacturers are dropping as sales of iPads grow.

PC makers are fighting back, both with their own tablets, and a new range of ultra-thin laptops that takes full computing power and puts it in a package that’s light enough to take everywhere.

Chip giant Intel calls the category “Ultrabooks”, and given that tablets like the iPad largely don’t use Intel chips, it’s obvious why Intel has a strong interest in Intel-based computers getting smaller and thinner.

Super-thin and light notebooks will be a huge benefit for business travellers though, many of whom are required to lug around a 3cm-thick, 3 kg notebook mandated by their corporate IT department.

Intel says an Ultrabook should have the following characteristics:

Size: less than 2cm thick Weight: less than 1.4kg Instant on: the laptop must resume from sleep instantly Storage: ultra-fast flash memory chips, not spinning mechanical hard disks Processing grunt: no chips older than the current generation Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3/i5/i7 processors. Connectivity: Either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt ports. Mini-HDMI or mini-DisplayPort for video. no more chunky VGA ports — they just won’t fit! 3G: option to have 3G built in to the notebook Battery: four to six hours battery life Price: less than $US1,000.

The specification is a tall order against the price-tag — notebooks with those sorts of specifications have typically fit into the “ultra premium” category, targeted at top level executives who can justify spending $4,000 on a laptop.

However, Apple has demonstrated that it’s entirely possible to make a laptop that meets the requirements — the recently updated MacBook Air jumps all but one of the hurdles, and scrapes in at US$999.

And that’s a notebook that doesn’t even carry the “Ultrabook” branding, as Apple never lets a lowly part supplier sully its shining aluminium branding with silly category names.

The one criterion Apple doesn’t meet is the option of inbuilt 3G, due to Apple’s apparent view that the most cost efficient way to get 3G to a laptop is via a tethered iPhone, not a second 3G modem with its own SIM card. of course, it also gives Mac users a strong incentive to buy an iPhone if they’re not already using one.

Ultrabooks coming soon

The Asus UX21 is the first Windows-based Ultrabook to be announced. Just 7mm thin at its thickest point and 3mm at its thinnest, the UX21 is phenomenally lightweight.

It has an 11.6″ screen with a 1366×768 resolution (equivalent to what’s found in many 13 – 15″ notebooks) and a chiclet-style keyboard.

It will run low-voltage Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors — the same ones used in the MacBook Air.

In fact, it bears more than a passing resemblance to the MacBook Air, with its ‘unibody’ carved from aluminium.

It’s due for release in September.

Acer, HP and Dell are also said to be planning Ultrabooks, though none of them have revealed their plans yet.

About Dan Warne

Dan is our deputy editor: a tech enthusiast who frequently qualifies for enhanced airport security screening due to the number of cords and gadgets stuffed into his cabin bag.

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