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Feature Articles
All about Ultrabooks
By Leo Boon Yeow - 26 Nov 2011,2:39pm

The Birth of the Ultrabook Concept

The Birth of the Ultrabook Concept

A few years ago - back when Intel’s processors still had the name 'Centrino' tied to them - we had a class of notebooks known as 'sub-notebooks'; they're basically cheap and weak laptops that barely allowed you to do anything more strenuous than run Microsoft Office. And even then, they only stayed alive for not more than two hours on a single charge. Eventually, these sub-notebooks evolved into what we call netbooks.

Netbooks typically run on Intel’s low-voltage, minimal power Atom processors, and are marketed as a lightweight, mainstream notebook-like presentation platform or content creation device. Notably, they were more compact than average notebooks.  But the fact of the matter is, most buyers instead found themselves using netbooks mainly as content consumption devices. For complicated tasks or those that require more intense processing and require more screen real estate and resolution, many would find their ways back to laptops or desktops.

Netbooks are increasingly being made obsolete by powerful, thin-and-light Ultrabooks. Pictured here is a premium netbook, which by now has been sidelined for these newer devices (including tablets).

And even as a media consumption device, a netbook doesn’t seem to do the job very well either. Thanks to the advent of rich multimedia websites like YouTube, Facebook (not to mention Flash-based games), and the like, the limited hardware a netbook runs on is exposed even further. Though similar to a mainstream notebook, a netbook has USB ports and a real keyboard, but it also come with weak graphics and can hardly handle any credible multi-tasking due to its limited CPU processing power. And if your focus is on media consumption, a tablet with its even higher portability and easy-to-use touch interface may be a better choice. Indeed, when anyone whips out a netbook now just to watch a YouTube video, he is simply eliciting ridicule from the guy holding an iPad next to him.

Goodbye Netbook and Hello Ultrabook!

Intel probably heard the death knell of the netbook earlier this year, when Apple worked closely with Intel to get the right kind of low-voltage processors that is both powerful, and energy efficient for their latest line of MacBook Air. Having said that, the demise of netbooks is inevitable as it was only a stop-gap measure to satisfy simple computing usage with a light and small notebook. Ultimately, the goal is to have notebooks that are slim, sexy, powerful and affordable - this is exactly what Intel wanted to carve out with the "Ultrabook" segment. Here's our video walkthrough on what they are and design considerations to choosing one:-

Such notebooks have existed for years with the exception of price in the form of Sony's ultra expensive range of notebooks (such as this) amongst others. Apple's MacBook Air, which captures most of the ideals of an Ultrabook, was also initially very expensive, but the company's perseverance to keep that model, continuously improve it and bring down the price point (not to mention its strong brand following) made it a de facto leader among this class of notebooks. So the challenge for the rest of the notebook players is to bring down the price of manufacturing such desirable notebooks and be able to compete in the market effectively.

Intel has also outlined certain characteristics of the Ultrabook which we've captured in this table below and compared it across other notebook variants to give you a better understanding of the differentiation across them. Incidentally, the requirements for an Ultrabook, are somewhat similar to the latest MacBook Air iteration, but that's exactly what the consumers desire these days.

Netbooks vs. Notebooks vs. Ultrabooks
Categorization / Key Identifiers Netbook Mainstream Notebook Ultrabook
Requirements A platform at new affordable price points All purpose usage More than basic usage with extreme portability
Key Usage Models Internet-centric Office Productivity & Multitasking Office Productivity & Multitasking
Screen Size 10 inches and below 13 inches and above 11 to 13 inches
Operating System Windows Starter Windows Home Premium and above Windows Home Premium and above
Hardware Platform Intel Atom (Up to 13W TDP) Intel Sandy Bridge (Up to 55W TDP) Intel Sandy Bridge (17W or below TDP)
Price-point <US$500 >US$500 <US$1,000
Weight ~1.3kg ~2.0kg 1.3kg or less
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