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Ultrabook pricing heads south

Ultrabooks are getting less expensive more quickly than expected. If this trend continues, consumers could see very affordable models in 2012.

Acer Aspire S3 is now $839.99 at Best Buy.
Acer Aspire S3 is now $839.99 at Best Buy. Acer

With Best Buy getting ready to sell a $799.99 Toshiba ultrabook and the Acer Aspire S3 now going for $839.99, the prospect of affordable ultrabooks is real.

Surprisingly, this didn't take long to happen.

"I think Intel is cheering right now--that the price came down that low that fast," said Deron Kershaw, an analyst at Gap Intelligence.

"What's the magical price point that sales really begin to take off? That's probably $599 to $699 next year. But we didn't think we were going to see anything around $800 this year," he said.

When Asus launched the ZenBook last month priced at $1,000 and up and Lenovo came out with the U300s, also above $1,000, it looked like ultrabooks in 2011 were falling into an old pattern: the luxury ultrathin Windows laptop, out of reach for the vast majority of consumers. (The $3,000 2011 Sony Vaio Z is a recent example of a long history of ultralight, ultra-expensive Windows luxury laptops.)

But Toshiba--which has historically sold pricey ultrathin laptops--was instrumental in breaking that pattern with the 2.5 pound Portege Z835, replete with an Intel Sandy Bridge processor and 128GB solid-state drive. That said, the 800-pound gorilla has yet to announce. That would be Hewlett-Packard, of course. All signs point to an announcement in the near future and, knowing HP, it will likely be competitive on price.

Of course, you won't necessarily get the same top-notch design, components, and/or performance found, for example, on a $1,299 MacBook Air.

But anything, like the Portege, that is 0.6-inches thin with a 128GB solid-state drive for about $800 isn't a bad deal. Look at the buying choice this way: a high-end iPad or and an ultrabook? Though a bit of a stretched comparison this year, ultrabooks could offer a practical alternative to an iPad when they dip to $700 or so next year.

Ultrabooks so far, a sampling:

  • Toshiba Portege: model Z835-P330, $799.99 ("coming soon," says Best Buy)
  • Acer Aspire S3: model S3-951-6646, $839.99, Best Buy
  • Asus ZenBook: model UX31-RSL8, $1,049.99, Best Buy
  • Lenovo U300S: above $1,000.