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Intel targets laptop Holy Grail with Core ULV chips

What's between a Netbook and a full-size laptop? A whole bunch of options, and Intel's new processors are among them.

Part of the upcoming ULV laptop spectrum: are these your killer laptops? Intel

New Core i3, i5, and i7 ultralow-voltage processors have officially been announced by Intel. Consuming less power than standard-voltage Core i3, i5, and i7 processors, they're also slightly less powerful. We saw a similar move last year with Core 2 Duo ULV chips such as the SU7300, which wasn't as fast as a standard Core 2 Duo, but helped smaller laptops attain a higher battery life. We saw that processor in laptops ranging from the Alienware M11x to the 13-inch Lenovo ThinkPad Edge.

Though the spin on the news so far has emphasized "ultrathin" laptops, it's really a little different than that. After all, we've seen some thin Core 2 ULV 15-inch laptops lately, and they seem neither ultraportable nor cost-effective.

Instead, a real target could be for the strange middle ground between very affordable, highly portable, but slower-performing Netbooks and full-size mainstream laptops. The 13-inch machines, and even 12-inchers, fall into a strange spectrum. The MacBook Air was thin but too expensive. The Acer Aspire Timeline and MSI X340 sacrificed performance for battery life. Computers that are 12 inches with enhanced processors, such as dual-core Atoms, offered negligible performance advantages for their cost.

The Toshiba T135 series of thin 13-inch laptops seemed to attract a lot of interest for its more reasonable price and its size. Computers in that range--also including the Asus UL30A and others--could be a perfect size for many people, provided they're also affordable. Intel promises that systems will start appearing in June, so we'll see soon enough.

Another promising part of these CPUs could be their integrated Intel graphics. Though they're bare bones, we've found Core i3/i5 systems to be great at HD video playback and Flash streaming. Small laptops with these new Core ULVs could finally be as effortless at handling video playback as we'd always been expecting--Atom Netbooks certainly aren't.

The Alienware M11x, with its great combination of small size and impressive graphics paired with a Core 2 Duo ULV CPU, could be exactly the sort of laptop that would benefit the best from these new chips. In fact, news this weekend already confirmed that the M11x is going to include new Core i3, i5, and i7 processors.

ULV CPUs are a compromise. They offer reduced performance in exchange for better battery life. But, better battery life just might be worth it to most people. Apple's recent MacBooks have succeeded in finding a way to get there in a thin design, and with recent Atom Netbooks and Apple's iPad offering increasingly better battery performance, we just might be starting to find hours spent away from a charger to be the most important stat of all.