Asus, Acer on deck, but Ultrabook outlook cut

The Ultrabook is a hot new laptop category, but it may not be as big in 2012 as Intel is claiming.

The lofty goal of 40 percent market share for Ultrabooks in 2012 is due for a reality check, according to an analyst. Meanwhile announcements from Asus and Acer in the U.S. are imminent.

First the positive news. Asus is about to roll out, as soon as next week, at least four Ultrabook models ranging in price from $999 to $1,499, according to a source familiar with the PC maker's rollout. The $999 model, for example, will come with an 11.6-inch display, a Core i5 Intel Sandy Bridge processor, and a 128GB solid-state drive. The high-end $1,499 13.3-inch model will have a Core i7 chip and 256GB SSD.

Asus UX21 Ultrabook.  The entry price for an Asus Ultrabook is expected to fall to $899 by the end of the year.
Asus UX21 Ultrabook. The entry price for an Asus Ultrabook is expected to fall to $899 by the end of the year. Asus

Acer is also expected to bring out Ultrabooks starting at $899. And later this year, Asus is expected to match Acer's $899 starting price, according to a source familiar with Asus' plans.

But that doesn't mean that everyone has signed on to the Ultrabook concept this year. Heavyweight Sony, for example, will wait until next year, according a source familiar with the company's plans. That's when Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge chip is due, which is expected to be better suited to thin designs by providing equal or better performance than the current Sandy Bridge design at reduced power consumption levels.

Currently, Sony offers an Ultrabook-like Vaio Z , but it's expensive and way beyond the price parameters of the Ultrabook market, starting at more than $1,900. Sony did not respond by Thursday for a request for comment.

Dell is also expected to wait until CES 2012 to introduce its first Ultrabook. HP's plans are unclear, though rumors point to next year.

Even with most PC makers bringing out Ultrabooks next year, Intel's stated goal 40 percent of the PC laptop market in 2012 seems high. "Intel obviously has huge plans for the Ultrabook. They say 40 percent of the market by next year. I think that's pretty optimistic," said Deron Kershaw, an analyst at Gap Intelligence, a market research firm. "Acer and Asus, two of the biggest proponents, are starting to back off and say it's closer to 20 percent."

Kershaw says the challenges for the laptop ecosystem are huge. "It's the components, including the processor, the metal chassis, the batteries, the thin frame. It's harder to ramp up manufacturing. But once they go to mass [manufacturing] scale when [Intel's] Ivy Bridge comes out, all of the costs are going to come down," he said.

Other industry sources close to Intel say the 40 percent figure for 2012 is more of a way to get the industry galvanized into action. Intel has already announced a $300 million "Ultrabook Fund" in order to stimulate the market segment.

One source close to a major PC marker said the entry-level target for Ultrabooks with Ivy Bridge is $850. "Ivy Bridge will help with the thermals. Most of the work went into thermal containment with [the current] Sandy Bridge [chip]," said this source.

And Windows 8 will help a lot too. "When Windows 8 gets here there is going to be a lot of improvements in power management," this person said.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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