A new type of laptop is headed our way. It’s ultra-thin, ultra-light, ultra-desirable and not that expensive either. Harsimran Julka and Hitesh Raj Bhagat have the details on Intel’s new wonder child
Worldwide PC shipments are expected to grow by just 2.8% in 2011, a downgrade from the previous forecast of 4.2%, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). This is worrying for PC makers and especially Intel, the world’s largest manufacturer of PC chips. This is why Intel devised a whole new platform of notebooks, designed from the ground up to be sleeker, lighter and more desirable.
WHAT EXACTLY IS AN ULTRABOOK?
The word Ultrabook is an Intel trademark. Ultrabooks are ultra-light and sleek notebooks with Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors, they weigh less than 1.4kg and are less than 20 mm thick (see Intel’s Ultrabook checklist on the right). The form factor was devised by Intel as a strong competitor to Apple’s Macbook Air, but at a cheaper price point. Paul Otellini, Intel’s president and CEO sums it up nicely; “The Ultrabook is our most satisfying and complete computer experience. It's lighter, sleeker and lasts long with a single charge so that you can carry it almost anywhere.”
THE ULTRABOOK RATIONALE
Not only does the Ultrabook form factor have to compete with the MacBook Air, but also with the tablet, which a lot of consumers are seeing as a viable, everyday alternative to a bulky notebook computer. Other desirable features include a lower power consumption (Ultrabooks use ULV or ultra low voltage Intel processors) and a design that has to be at least 20mm or less. “We’re fairly optimistic about Ultrabooks and have noticed an increased demand for this sort of form factor,” said Rajesh Thadani, director - consumer, Lenovo India. “It’s an evolution of the traditional laptop and a potential game-changer,” he added. “With an evolving IT market in India, we are confident that Ultrabooks will be a worthwhile investment for any consumer,” said S Rajendran, chief marketing officer, Acer India, in a conversation with ET.
THE ROAD AHEAD
“Intel's focus is to make Ultrabooks capture about 40% of the worldwide laptop market by next year”, said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel. This was at Intel’s Developer Forum 2011.
“The market share of Ultrabooks will increase more in 2013, when Intel plans to launch its ‘Haswell’ processor. Haswell will offer more than 20 times reduction in connected standby power," Eden said.
In 2012, Ultrabooks will come with Windows 8, Microsoft’s newest operating system which uses a grid of live tiles as the start menu. Since the OS is optimised for touch, Ultrabooks with touchscreens or those with detachable screens (an Ultrabook-tablet hybrid) are being developed.
Going forward, Ultrabooks will offer a built in anti-theft technology from McAfee. A stolen or lost Ultrabook will be unusable by anyone other than the actual owner. Prices are also expected to drop further to $800 from the current $1,000.
Acer Aspire S3 Review
Officially the first ultrabook to launch in India, the Aspire S3 is a handsome, wellbuilt machine. It has a super-bright LED backlit display, multi-touch trackpad, 6 hour battery life and all the features you would expect. Acer pulled off a neat trick with the S3 – by including a 20GB SSD and 320GB hard drive, it manages ultra-fast boot & wake from sleep with extended storage for all your files while keeping costs low.
Thanks to the Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and Intel HD graphics, the performance on tap is more than enough for all your HD multimedia and office needs.
Compared to the Lenovo, the Acer has better build quality with tighter shut lines. However – and this could be a dealbreaker for some – the tapered design, black bar above the keyboard, the keyboard itself and the overall shape itself is very similar to the MacBook Air. The brushed aluminum on the lid is beautiful, but we wished there was more of it, especially on the palm rest and underside. Plus the cursor keys are absurdly small. Overall a solid device if you don’t mind the physical similarity with the Air. Lenovo IdeaPad
The U300s marks a new design language for Lenovo’s IdeaPad – and it is refreshing. Unlike the Acer, the U300s has an even thickness throughout and clad in sandblasted aluminium (both top and bottom). With the lid closed, the machine resembles a book or folder.
For storage, it includes a 128GB SSD – so not as much space as the Acer, but it is faster, and there are no moving parts, so your data is more secure. Hands down, the U300s also has a better keyboard than the Acer – layout, key size and general feel of the keys is better.
Performance and battery life is similar to the Acer – since most of the specs are the same. Unlike the Acer which has all ports at the back, the U300s is more conventional and has ports on both sides. However, the U300s scores extra points for including a USB 3.0 port for faster data transfers.
It’s not all good though — some of the aluminum edges are quite sharp and the airflow design is noisy – air is sucked through the keyboard and blown out the back, but with the fan on full tilt, it sounded like a mini jet engine. Plus, the keyboard is not backlit, something which the Acer S3 could do with as well.