Tech Guides

Intel's Project Athena: What is it, performance, battery life, and more

By Kenny Yeo - 18 Oct 2019


Project Athena is an initiative designed to help consumers identifiy notebooks that will fit their needs.

What's Project Athena?

At its heart, Project Athena is a program to get notebook manufacturers to create more powerful and portable notebooks with long real-world battery life. You can think of it as Ultrabook 2.0.


What’s Ultrabook?

For those too young to know or too old to remember, Ultrabook was a program that Intel introduced in 2011 to promote a new class of thin and light notebooks. To be called an Ultrabook, the notebook had to meet a set of stringent criteria for thinness, weight, and performance. The notebooks that did, enjoyed greater publicity and marketing courtesy of Intel, who poured hundreds of millions into promoting the Ultrabook program. Take a trip down memory by watching this Ultrabook ad.   


So what are these new notebooks called? Project Athena notebooks?

This is the sticker that will appear on notebooks that meet Intel's Project Athena criteria.

Not exactly. Project Athena is the codename for this program and it won’t appear on notebooks. Instead, notebooks that meet Project Athena’s criteria will earn the right to use branding that says “Engineered for Mobile Performance.” It could come in the form of stickers or packaging graphics.

Some say this is a problem with Project Athena. That, unlike the Ultrabook initiative that had a clear branding, Project Athena doesn’t. “Engineered for Mobile Performance” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue nor is it quite as evocative as plain old Ultrabook. Perhaps it should have been "Ultrabook Max".


What criteria do notebooks have to meet?

These are the criteria for a Project Athena notebook.

There are a couple, but the aim of it all is to ensure that the notebook is a great all-round performer that’s compact and has excellent battery life. Let’s go through each of them now.


1) Battery life

This is a biggie because notebook manufacturers have different standards of measuring battery life ― something I detailed here — which results in a lot of confusion and disappointment for consumers. Intel wants to clean this up by setting strict testing guidelines that notebook manufacturers must adhere to.

To meet Project Athena’s standards, the notebook must offer at least 16 hours of battery life of local video playback and over 9 hours under “real-world performance conditions.” Local video playback must be with the screen brightness set to 150 nits while “real-world performance conditions” state that the screen must be set to 250 nits. Consider that most notebooks’ displays have a maximum brightness of around 300 nits. Not only that, the notebooks must be able to provide up to 4 hours of battery life from a 30-minute charge.


2) Performance

Project Athena notebooks will have at a minimum, a Core i5 processor with 8GB of memory running in dual-channel mode and a 256GB SSD, including Intel Optane memory H10 options. Such a configuration should be more than sufficient for everyday tasks like emails, web browsing, word processing, and spreadsheets.


3) Instant wake-up

Intel wants Project Athena notebooks to be as responsive from sleep as your smartphone. All Project Athena notebooks will be able to wake from sleep (not boot up) in under one second whether it be with the power button, fingerprint scan, face recognition, or if you lift the notebook’s lid.


4) Connectivity

USB-C Thunderbolt 3 will hopefully become more widespread as a result of this initiative.

Support for the new Wi-Fi 6 standard (802.11ax) will be mandatory for all Project Athena notebooks along with support for USB-C Thunderbolt 3. This means your Project Athena notebook will be ready for the new wave of Wi-Fi 6 routers as well as any USB-C peripheral.


5) Form Factor

Intel is quite vague on this point and did not give specific weight or thickness targets. Instead, the requirement here is that Project Athena notebooks be “sleek” and “thin” and that they will have “narrow bezels for a more immersive experience.” Displays will be Full-HD (1080p) at the very minimum and will support touch inputs. Finally, backlit keyboards, precision touchpads, and pen support round up the package.


6) AI

AI is all the rage now and Project Athena notebooks will support far-field voice services along with OpenVINO and WinML. This will enable laptops that are powered by Intel’s new 10th generation Core processors to tap into Deep Learning Boost to increase the performance of AI functions by up to 2.5 times.

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