Intel launches new class of 'Ultrabook' laptops

Ultrabooks will evolve over a few years into a new class of thin and light laptops

Intel announced plans for a new class of thin and light laptops at the Computex trade show on Tuesday, its latest move to improve its competitiveness in the mobile computing market.

The new class of "Ultrabook" PCs will have "thin, light, beautiful" designs and be priced for the mainstream market, as opposed to high-end buyers. Intel expects the new systems to account for 40 percent of consumer laptop sales by the end of next year, it said.

It will take time for the systems to evolve, however. An initial crop of Ultrabook PCs will go on sale from PC makers in time for the holiday shopping season at the end of this year. Based on Intel's existing Core processors, they will be less than 20mm (0.8 inches) thick and priced under US$1,000, Intel said.

A second wave of Ultrabooks will appear in the first half of next year, based on Intel's upcoming Ivy Bridge processors. A final wave is due in 2013, based on a new Core processor design, code-named Haswell. Haswell will half the power consumption of Intel chips compared to today's laptops, Intel said, enabling thinner designs and longer battery life.

Sean Maloney, joint head of the Intel Architecture Group, is scheduled to introduce the Ultrabook concept in a speech at Computex Tuesday afternoon. He'll be joined by Asus Chairman Jonney Shih, who will show an Ultrabook called the UX21 that Asus plans to sell later this year.

Intel has been trying to regain its footing in mobile PCs after being caught off guard by the popularity of tablet computers. Most tablets are based on chip designs from ARM Holdings, and Intel has been working hard to develop new Atom processors that will give it a footing in that market.

In the meantime, Ultrabooks are an effort to spark fresh enthusiasm for PCs, sales of which have been in decline. Intel said Ultrabooks will "marry the performance and capabilities of today's laptops with tablet-like features and deliver a highly responsive and secure experience."

It remains to be seen how much they will capture consumers' imaginations. The systems due later this year don't sound very different from the thinnest laptops available today. Samsung's Series 9 notebook is just 0.64 inches high, though it's priced for higher-end buyers at $1,650. The 11-inch version of Apple's Macbook Air is 0.68 inches at its thickest point and starts at $999.

Intel discussed its plans to rejuvenate PCs -- without revealing the Ultrabook name -- at its analyst meeting a few weeks ago. Intel is accelerating its shift to new manufacturing technologies to enable laptops that can run all day on a single battery and that have touchscreens and faster boot-up times.

"This is not just about evolving the PC. This is about reinventing the PC into a much more consumer electronics-like device," Intel CEO Paul Otellini said at the time.

Intel is also pushing ahead with its tablet efforts. Maloney was due to show 10 upcoming tablet PCs on stage at Computex, all based on Intel's new Oak Trail Atom processor, the Z670. He will also talk about Intel's new chip platform for netbooks, called Cedar Trail, which will allow fanless models with a fast resume technology called Intel Rapid Smart.

He is also due to give the first demonstration of Intel's Medfield processor running Google's Android 3.0 operating system, known as Honeycomb. Medfield will power smartphones, as well as tablets that can be less than 9mm thick and weigh under 1.5 pounds, Intel said.

This will be Maloney's first big public appearance since suffering a stroke early last year. He has been resuming his duties at Intel gradually since the start of the year, and was recently made head of Intel's China operations.

Intel posted a video with Maloney on its Web site a few days ago in which he said he is almost completely recovered. He also addresses the criticism that Intel's efforts to tackle ARM may be "too little, too late."

"The ARM ecosystem is really well established, but I don't think that anyone is in the position that Intel is in to get all the way from the bottom to the top," Maloney says in the video. "In [manufacturing] process technology, we are still two years or more in front."

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