Ultrabook wave gets underway

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Lenovo and Toshiba unveiled Ultrabooks on Thursday, joining Asus in the first wave of products released in the new PC category created by Intel.

Intel originally promoted the idea of the Ultrabook in May at Computex in Taiwan. The chip-giant trademarked the term and will only bestow it on laptops that meet certain specifications related to form factor and performance. Ultrabooks must be thin, boot up quickly and support extended battery life at what Intel defined as "mainstream prices".

Lenovo on Thursday unveiled its first product in the new category, the IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook. It runs on an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor with up to 4GB DDR3 memory and up to 256GB of SSD storage. The machine boots up in 10.47 seconds, and the battery life ranges from 8 hours of productive use to 30 days of standby. The single-piece aluminum shell is 14.9 mm thick.

Toshiba's first Ultrabook, the Portégé Z830 Series, supports Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors with an unspecified amount of DDR3 memory and 128GB of SSD storage. Toshiba's Hi-Speed Start Technology and the use of SSD allow the machine to boot up in "just seconds," according to a statement. The magnesium alloy chassis is 15.9-mm thick.

Asus released its 13-inch UX31 Ultrabook last month.

Initially, Ultrabooks are unlikely to offer a lot of differentiation, and will share the same threat, said David Daoud, director of research in the personal computing group at research firm IDC. "In the beginning there is very little differentiation. What you see is Intel being the orchestra chief -- they release all of the reference designs and specify the technical elements," he said. "They will all have one thing in common, which is the Apple threat."

Deron Kershaw, a notebook analyst at Gap Intelligence, a San Diego-based research firm, says Apple's MacBook Air laptop created the template for Ultrabooks.

"Apple pioneered this market with the MacBook Air. It is surprising to look back, because when Apple launched the MacBook Air it didn't sell very well," Kershaw said. "But after they redesigned it, it became one of their best product launches ever. The Windows-based competitors saw those sales numbers and wanted some of that space."

Lenovo indirectly addressed Apple as a competitor, during a recent briefing about the IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook, by taking a shot at the wedge-shaped chassis found on the MacBook Air. "Unlike our competitors, we haven't created a product that looks thin by creating a wedge," said Michael Littler, a marketing lead in the consumer segment of the product group at Lenovo. "Instead we have crafted a notebook inspired by books -- it is tapered at the edge and flat across the top."

Lenovo highlighted additional design considerations taken on the U300S, including sandblasting the aluminum case to make it "warm to the touch" and changing the airflow mechanisms to funnel hot air out of vents on the sides and back of the chassis instead of the underside. Toshiba touts its Ultrabook as the lightest 13.3-inch platform, coming in under 2.5 pounds. Kershaw expects more vendors to continue these differentiation efforts as additional Ultrabooks enter the market.

"It seems like the vendors are already starting to carve out their niche. Toshiba is focused on having lots of ports, which is something they've done with the rest of their Portégé line. Lenovo is focused on fast boot times. Acer and Asus typically compete on price, so that's what I would expect from them," Kershaw said.

Specifications for an Acer Ultrabook leaked through an Italian retailer on Wednesday, and an official announcement is expected tomorrow during Acer's scheduled press conference at the IFA consumer electronics tradeshow in Berlin. Meanwhile, Asus Chairman Jonney Shih said that his company would release 5 to 6 Ultrabook models in October, according to an August report from the Taiwan-based technology outlet DigiTimes.

Daoud says Ultrabook designers need to get creative on the design, and understand that what an 18-year-old student wants from an Ultrabook could be different than the expectations of an older business user. "Personalization is going to be key," he said. "Up until recently, many PC designs have been the same, but the market has to move toward understanding different groups and meeting their needs."

Kershaw added that differentiation needs to be straight forward in order for the mainstream customer to understand it. "[Ultrabook ODMs] need to do things that resonate with consumer instantly and need very little explanation. They need to focus on battery times and boot up times and anything that emphasizes portability," he said.

Lenovo's IdeaPad U300S Ultrabook will ship in mid to late October for a starting price of $1,200 and Toshiba's Portégé Z830 Series Ultrabook will launch in November with initial prices under $1,000, according to the respective companies statements.


This article originally appeared at crn.com

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