Meet the Ultrabook

The Ultrabook is a multi-year evolution from Intel's perspective. It's going to begin as a pilot program with some Sandy Bridge systems this year, it'll ramp heavily next year with Ivy Bridge and be mainstream by the time Haswell arrives in 2013.

What is an Ultrabook? It's basically a thin and light notebook that uses solid state storage in some form, has some additional security features and is available at mainstream price points. This isn't a new platform, there's no Centrino-like certification process, but Intel has trademarked the name so you won't see things that aren't Ultrabooks being called Ultrabooks (unfortunately this also likely means that you won't see any AMD notebooks being labeled as such either).

The first requirement of an Ultrabook is that it's ultra-thin. In Intel's eyes this means less than 0.8" (20.32mm) which is thinner than anything Apple offers in the MacBook Pro line (0.95").

The second requirement is that the system needs to be ultra responsive, either through the use of an SSD or SSD caching. Intel was quick to point out that an Ultrabook doesn't have to use an Intel SSD, it just needs to have SSD-like response time.

Here's where the requirements start getting vague. Intel asserted that Ultrabooks need to be secure. Today that security comes by way of Sandy Bridge, which offers Intel's Identity Protection Technology (IPT) - basically a unique hardware token embedded in the SNB CPU. You tell an application that your computer is secure, and going forward it uses the presence of that unique token as a form of authentication.

Ivy Bridge will add some additional security features (on-package digital random number generator, and higher level execution protection bit) and I'm sure Haswell will go even further. Remember Intel's acquisition of McAfee? I suspect that's going to be a part of this security strategy.

The final requirement is all Ultrabooks must be sold at mainstream price points, which Intel calls sub-$1000.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned Atom. That's on purpose as Atom will not be driving any of these Ultrabooks. Intel has separate plans for Atom, for use in smartphones and fanless designs which I'll get to in a moment. But Ultrabooks are the future of mainstream notebooks as far as Intel is concerned. A Sandy/Ivy/Haswell based notebook that's less than 0.8-inches thick, has some form of an SSD and is sold for less than $1199 is a-ok by me.

One of Intel's closest partners, ASUS, already introduced the first Ultrabook at Computex: the new UX21. Availability of ASUS' UX Series Ultrabook is slated for Q4 of this year:

Intel estimates that by the end of next year 40% of consumer notebooks will be Ultrabooks. Given the desirable set of features and reasonable price point, I can see that happening.

Always On, Always Connected

Intel views the Ultrabook as a new category of mobile devices, however everything I've described thus far sounds a lot like a thin and light notebook with an SSD inside it. There's a software component to all of this that Intel is promising, starting as early as Sandy Bridge.

Intel wants to bring the instant-on capability of tablets to Ultrabooks. Apple already did some of this with the new MacBook Air. Suspend to NAND allows for a reliable method to quickly hibernate and resume. ASUS is already promising a 2 second resume from sleep time on its new UX Series.

Intel also wants to bring the always on, always connected experience to Ultrabooks. 3G tablets and smartphones currently enjoy this but notebooks have lacked it. When you wake your notebook up from sleep you usually have to wait to download all new emails, receive all new twitter updates, etc... Through a software layer Intel isn't ready to talk about yet, Ultrabooks will be able to pull this data from the cloud while the machine is otherwise asleep. That's the functionality with the first generation of Ultrabooks; the second generation will move to a smartphone-like push model where servers push this data to your Ultrabook. Again, details on how this will all work are basically nonexistant at present but the goal is to take some features from the smartphone/tablet space and add them to a much sleeker, sexier notebook. Hence the name Ultrabook.


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  • OS - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    heh i am hardly a mac fanboy, but i take this as intel basically saying half the future laptops should look like a macbook air
  • Penti - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Well ultra portables are nothing new, but they are consumer friendly with pricing now. I.e. a laptop with a ULV processor doesn't cost over 2000 dollars any more. Which on the low end Apple was late getting on. CULV and consumer ultra-portables was already there by then. It's Intel that is responsible for all that as they provided the hardware platform for it to happen. A ULV-processor could before just a few years ago almost cost more then a CULV-laptop. Now they can be had for 100 USD. Performing not that badly. Falls in line with their "consumerising" of PCs.
  • kevith - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Is this a way to solve the input-problem with tablets?

    You could have one of these new ultrathin ultrabooks, and - like some clam-type phones - have a screen on the outside for pad-use, where you could use swype or normal touch.screen input.

    And then you could open it and have a normal keyboard and screen on the inside for more demanding work.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    When Steve Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air last year he said that it's design was a prelude to future MacBooks. Now Intel says the future of the PC is ultra-thin notebooks. Hmmm...
  • sstteevveenn - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    roadmap [s]going forward[/s]
  • mino - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Anyone else wondering when are the new "Hyperbooks" due?

  • tipoo - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    "Atom will service a new expanded range from ~800mW to 8W"

    The Cortex A9 cores (each) draw 250mW at load. Still a ways to go for Intel, but if a single one of those 800mW cores can beat both Cortex A9 cores in performance that's competitive.
  • name99 - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    "The first requirement of an Ultrabook is that it's ultra-thin. In Intel's eyes this means less than 0.8" (20.32mm) which is thinner than anything Apple offers in the MacBook Pro line (0.95")."

    So I guess that Intel (unlike a million screaming Apple haters) can see the writing on the wall. Optical storage is pointless for an ever larger group of users.

    Let's see how long it takes for the story to switch from "but but but, how do you deal with not having a boot DVD" to "of course, Apple stole the idea of selling bootable USB sticks from MS/Linux/Nintendo/Atari".
  • frozentundra123456 - Wednesday, June 1, 2011 - link

    I agree with Kevith. Seems to me like the ideal solution would be a combination of some tablet type screen that would then open up to allow you to use a keyboard.

    I would pay 1000.00 for something like this that you could use as a tablet and laptop combination. otherwise, I could not consider paying this much for a thin and light notebook. As someone else noted, i would prefer to buy a 500.00 tablet and a separate 500.00-700.00 laptop.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, June 1, 2011 - link

    Intel is obviously on a big money grab hoping their huge margins are going to carry them to the stars. Obviously they are delusional. All the idiot-trendy yuppie types who would actually pay the intel premium for a device like this are already buying Apple. lol. The non-ultrabook products will be significantly cheaper, thus they are what will sell, aside from the small % mindless yuppies who are already buying apple.

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