Intel pledges $599 touchscreen ultrabooks later this year

Price has been a sticking point for ultrabook sales, but a $599 touchscreen system might be more appealing

Intel has released a new, low-power Core processor for ultrabooks and pledged that touchscreen ultrabooks will be available for as low as US$599 by the end of the year.

Ultrabooks are Intel's effort to breathe new life into the laptop market with thinner and lighter designs. They haven't been selling like hot cakes, in part because of price, so Monday's developments could help change that.

Intel originally said the new Core processor would come later this year and consume about 10 watts of power. On Monday it said it is ready to release the chip now and that it consumes as little as 7 watts, enabling thinner designs and longer battery life.

Acer and Lenovo will both release ultrabooks with the new chip in the coming months, said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's PC client group, at the press conference. The Acer system is an Aspire model with a detachable screen, and the Lenovo system is the IdeaPad Yoga 11S, which was announced Sunday night.

Looking further ahead, Intel's fourth-generation "Haswell" Core processors, due later this year, will lead to bigger improvements, according to Skaugen. To illustrate, he showed off an ultrabook reference design Intel developed for Haswell that has an 11.6-inch display.

The design is 17 millimeters deep, and has batteries behind the display and under the keyboard that give 13 hours of battery life, Skaugen said. The screen can be detached, turning it into a tablet that's 10mm deep and offers 10 hours of battery life.

Convertibles like this will be priced at $799 to $899, he said.

Intel has decided that all fourth-generation ultrabooks released later this year will have to have touchscreens. (Intel owns the ultrabook trademarks so it can set the terms.) They must also support its Wireless Display standard, which lets content played on the device be watched on a TV screen.

High prices have been a sticking point for ultrabook sales. The first models were priced at $1,000 and higher, which was too much considering they were intended in part to compete with Apple's iPad, which starts at $499. Ultrabooks are available for $699 today, but without touchscreens.

"What I think you're going to see later this year is touch-based systems down at the $599 price point," Skaugen said.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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