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What is an ultrabook – what to expect from this new breed of portable laptops

By Andrei Girbea , updated on November 11, 2013

With more and more of us spending life on the road and carrying a computer around, the need for more portable devices that can provide the power needed for our daily applications increases.

Yes, tablets are here as well, but they are more like entertainment units and not necessarily working devices, at least not yet. So here’s where the ultrabook comes into the story, a term Intel chose for the new lines of light and thin notebooks they will power in the near (and maybe long-term) future.

This post should tell you more about what is an ultrabook, where to these laptops stand when compared to netbooks and what you should expect from them.

What is a ultrabook?

The Ultrabook is basically a thin and light laptop with a couple of characteristics:

  • runs on an Intel platform (yes, Intel registered this term so only their thin and light notebooks will be called this way)
  • needs to be fast, so will use SSD storage or SSD caching (it can use other SSD drives besides the one made by Intel)
  • comes with a thin and light body (Intel stands a sub 0.8 inch – 20 mm thickness limit for devices in this class)
  • needs to be secure (this is kind of vague, but generally we’re talking about security technologies like Intel’s Identity Protection Technology used on SandyBridge processors, with an unique hardware token inserted on the CPU’s SMB. Future generation processors will get improved such technologies.)
  • has an overall affordable price of up to $1000
Ultrabooks need to meet certain requirements to earn this "title"

Ultrabooks need to meet certain requirements to earn this "title"

These are the requirements a device has to meet so it can be called an ultrabook right now, in 2011. So, there is no platform associated with Ultrabooks. However, these machines are meant to offer solid performances, thus I’m not sure if Atom powered mini laptops will get included in this class (probably not). In fact, the first Ultrabooks will use Intel’s 2nd Generation CoreTM mobile architecture and they are expected to ship by the end of this year, with the Asus UX21 being the first announced of this new kin, but more should pop out soon.

Asus UX21 is the first announced ultrabook

Asus UX21 is the first announced ultrabook

Future Intel platforms will be integrated in ultrabooks as well, taking the concept even further. Ivy Bridge should land by mid 2012, will be Intel’s first 22nm architecture and will bring increased performance, energy efficiency and enhanced security. Later on , in 2013, we should see the Haswell platform which will continue improving ultrabooks amongst others, bringing power consumption to almost 50% of what we can get today on mobile CPUs.

Right now Intel estimates that by the end of next year, nearly 40% of all sold laptops will be ultrabooks and that’s huge. But hey, I for one would buy a portable laptop with an amazing design, solid performances and SSD storage for under $1000, like these ones. And I’m pretty sure many of you would as well.

Intel also wants to bring instant-on (or as close to possible) to ultrabooks and that’s something you actually get on SSD laptops right now (see the MacBook Air for instance). But Anadtech reports that there will also be a software component helping these notebooks getting quick in and out of hibernate mode (Asus UX21 announced 2 seconds for these), alongside Intel’s new Rapid Side technology.

Ultrabooks vs Netbooks?

So, with ultrabooks hiting the markets, where does this leave Atom powered netbooks.

For the moment, netbooks expect the CedarTrail platform to kick in later this year, with devices like the Asus EEE PC X101 being some of the first announced boosting the new CPUs. That should increase overall performances, with a definite improvement of graphic capabilities, while being more energy efficient than the current PineTrail line. And improvements will continue for Atom powered computers as well in the next years, with new generations being developed as we speak and announced for 2012 and 2013.

For the moment now, netbooks and ultrabooks are different types of computers. The first are cheaper entry-level computers and their prices tend to get bellow $300 and now even below $200 with the new EEE PC. However, they will never be able to offer the performances and the sleek looks of ultrabooks. Or at least not soon. But hey, you can’t really compare a sub 300 bucks laptop with something that costs two or three times more, can you?


Bottom point, the “ultrabook” term is just a concept used to define a class of Intel powered thin and light laptops that need to meet some speed and security requirements and come for mainstream prices, of up to one grand.

Future improvements are planned for ultrabooks

The journey had just started: ultrabooks are here to stay and improve during the next years

Ultrabooks are not here to replace netbooks, they are just a name Intel picked for the ultra-portable devices their hardware will be a part of this year and in the following. If the name will catch, that’s yet to be seen. What’s more important is that those devices in this class will surely get popular in time, as they do have to offer a lot.

More details on ultrabooks will follow. For now, Asus is the only one to join the dance with Intel but expect others to join the ranks asap, like Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba, HP or Dell. So expect to hear more about ultrabooks in the near future.

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Andrei Girbea, Editor-in-Chief at This project was born as part of my search for capable mini-laptops that I could easily lug around to work, and still provide the performance that I'd need on a daily basis. I'm primarily using such ultracompact devices and have been testing them since 2006.

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