Will cheaper MacBook Airs sap ultrabook momentum?

Apple's new MacBook lineup may not bode well for the skinny laptops being pushed by Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell.

Both high-end 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch  MacBook Air configurations got a $100 price cut.
Both high-end 11.6-inch and 13.3-inch MacBook Air configurations got a $100 price cut. Apple

Apple's cheaper-but-better MacBook Air isn't good news for ultrabooks.

Ultrabooks surfaced last year as a niche product in response to the Air. And now Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, at el are trying to mainstream the skinny laptops.

There's one problem. Apple just cut the price and upped the processor specs on the MacBook Air today.

So, is Apple still standard bearer and ultrabooks just pretenders to the lightweight laptop throne?

Only time and market-share numbers will tell.

Spec check: $1,099 11.6-inch MBA: The high-end model has dropped to $1,099 from $1,199 and packs a quicker 1.7GHz Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, faster Intel HD 4000 graphics silicon, 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3L memory, and a 128GB solid-state drive.

Spec check: $1,499 13.3-inch MBA: The high-end model has dropped to $1,499 from $1,599 and now has a 1.8GHz Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor, Intel HD 4000 graphics silicon, 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3L memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive. It still has the same 1440-by-900 display.

These are available now at Apple stores.

What's an ultrabook maker to do? Start shipping a competitive Ivy-Bridge-based model.

A Dell XPS 14 ultrabook has appeared on Amazon, but nothing officially from Dell yet. And the XPS 13 ultrabook is offered -- at the moment at least -- on Dell's Web site with older Sandy Bridge chips only.

The recently announced 13-inch Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook 13t-2000 series from HP sports an Ivy Bridge configuration.

HP Spectre XT.
HP Spectre XT. Hewlett-Packard

For $999.99, you get a 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U Ivy Bridge processor, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB DDR3 memory, a 128GB SSD, 4 Cell Lithium Ion Battery (rated up to 8 hours), and a 13.3-inch diagonal HD 1,366x768 display.

So, that's $200 less than the low-end 13-inch $1,199 MacBook Air. If you up the drive to 256GB, the Spectre XT is $1,299 versus $1,499 for the 256GB high-end 13-inch Air.

And HP has updated its Envy 14t-3000 Spectre ultrabook with Ivy Bridge. That goes for $1,399.99 with an Core i5-3317U Ivy Bridge chip, 128GB SSD, and a 14-inch 1600x900 display.

Toshiba's Portege Z835-P360 is also in the running. For $999, it has a Core i5-2467M processor, 6GB DDR3 1333MHz memory, 128GB SSD, and 13.3-inch 1366x768 display.

Let the Ivy Bridge ultraportable laptop wars begin!

Dell XPS 13 ultrabook.  So far, it's available with Sandy Bridge processors not the newer Ivy Bridge chips.
Dell XPS 13 ultrabook. So far, it's available with Sandy Bridge processors not the newer Ivy Bridge chips. Dell
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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