Why I think Ultrabook has a chance

As CES is approaching us, the IT industry is very excited, and many will expect hands-on experience on a fully built Ultrabooks, a term coined by Intel as the next generation thin-light laptop. To me the Ultrabook seems more like a marketing hype than any real innovation, however, I fully support bringing the “Ultrabook” to the main-stream.

What is an Ultrabook?

Ultrabooks are essentially high-performance thin-and-light laptops. How thin-and-light? According to Intel, to be classified as an Ultrabook the hardware must: weigh no more than 3.1 pounds, be no more than 0.8 inches thick, and offer five to eight or more hours of battery life. In addition to physical criteria, the ultrabooks must use Flash-based storage (SSD), and Intels’ Rapid Start Technology (basically fast resume on Windows but at the bios level).

What’s new?

Practically nothing really. Ultrabook is essentially a marketing term made to bring what was called the “High-Perofrmance Ultra-Portable” class of laptop to the main-stream. In the simplest term, the ultrabook lies somewhere between true high-end Ultra-Portable (Sony’s Z series, Toshiba R series) and Netbooks (the eeePC by Asus, etc) — an economical version of the High-performance ultra-portable or a luxurious high-performance netbook.

The form factor and Ultrabooks is not new at all. Manufacturers especially Japanese manufactures has been making high-performance ultra-portable laptops that you could run a few modern game without problem that comes under 3 lbs flavor for years.

Sony Vaio Z Series 2011 Model
Sony Vaio Z Series 2011 Model using Intel's Light Peak.
Sony’s Z Series in particular is probably the most expensive and technology and design showcase laptop in the Ultra-portable segment. The latest Sony Z Series line in 2011 is 0.66″ at its thickest part, single or RAID SSD configuration, weighs 2.5 lbs with standard battery. It is by all means physically in the Ultrabook specification. So what’s exactly new that Intel promises with Ultrabook?


You might be drooling over the Sony Z, but many will probably be shocked at it’s price. Starting at $1,900+ for base configuration, it dwarfs the price of even the MacBook Air whom is already associated with expensive notebook. The high-performance Ultra-portable laptop comes at great price.

Ultrabook on the other hand, intended for the mainstream will definitely force the price of the high-performance ultra-portable down to a level that can be stomached by the mainstream consumer. I am guessing once Ultrabook takes off in the market, consumers can expect to pay at around $800 for a similar performance level and form-factor of the Sony Z.

Battery Life

Another hurdle of the Ultra-portable notebooks were its battery life. They either have to use a special ULV or LV (ultra-low volage or Low voltage) version of the Intel core processors to achieve longer battery life, or sacrifice some battery life to use the full-fledged Intel core processors. Although the Vaio Z advertise up to 7 and a half hours with default setting, you won’t get a full 7 hours of Photoshop.

The Ultrabook is likely to become more energy efficient with the new Ivy Bridge chipset (and more performance at the same time), but it’s still too early to tell if the battery life can hold up as advertised.

Although the Sony Vaio Z isn’t the only high-performance ultra-book in the market, I like to use it as an example when discussing Ultrabook because to a professional user like myself, that’s what I expect as a true mobile work platform. I need my Photoshop, I need my mouse, I need my WACOM tablet connectivity, I need to be able to do some encoding, rendering, compiling, and maybe even a little bit of Call of Duty 4. All of that is not readily possible on a platform such as the tablet, and that’s why the Ultrabook scheme is appealing to me.

In the end of the day, I feel the Ultrabook is the right way as far as true mobile work platform, it is still too hard to tell how far manufacturers can take the tablet platform. Although I know many that take the tablet as a seriously enterprise platform, there are many things and people that work best when it is on a full computing platform with rich connectivity, performance, and interface.

PitaByte is a guest blogger on the Myriad Supply blogs. He blogs just about everything, mostly technology related.