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What's an 'Ultrabook'? Apple's already got one

The Ultrabook exists today, though Intel won't say this. It's called the MacBook Air, which borrows--as Apple has said--from iPad design themes.

Intel can be fast and loose with design concepts like its newest--"Ultrabook." But for those grasping for concrete examples, there's the MacBook Air.

Guidelines for the Ultrabook were announced by Intel today at the Computex conference. In a nutshell, Intel is trying to reinvent the laptop as a tablet minus the keyboard. Make a laptop very thin and portable like an iPad and you've borrowed some of the tablet's main--and most compelling--design attributes. That's the idea.

Alternatively, the Ultrabook could be seen as the death knell for the Netbook, the small, Atom processor-based laptop. But Intel is still promoting the Netbook for emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere so we won't see the Netbook disappear anytime soon.

Conjecture aside, the best tangible evidence of the Ultrabook today is the MacBook Air. Or, better yet, the upcoming MacBook Air using Intel's newest Sandy Bridge processors.

The Ultrabook (think: MacBook Air and upcoming refresh):

  • Design: Two to three pounds. Really thin. Under 0.8 inches.
  • Instant-on: Like a tablet, turns on instantly from standby mode.
  • Flash storage: Speedy solid-state drives or magnetic disk with ancillary flash storage.
  • Fast chips: No older (slower) Intel chips here. Sandy Bridge now, next-gen Ivy Bridge later.
  • Updated ports: Either Thunderbolt or USB 3.0.
  • 3G/4G: built-in 3G or 4G connections will likely be offered on many Ultrabooks.
  • Battery: relatively long battery life.
  • Price: Under $1000 (barely), like the $999 MacBook Air. Prices will come down more next year.
Some Ultrabooks due later this year will look a lot like the MacBook Air.
Some Ultrabooks due later this year will look a lot like the MacBook Air. Apple

But there's more to come, too. A couple of future technologies will also find their way into Ultrabooks.

Instant-on hibernation: Or what Intel now calls Rapid Start Technology. Hibernation mode is used today to put a PC in a deep sleep state, which uses very little power and extends battery life. The problem is that it can take as long as a minute to bring a laptop out of hibernation. With Rapid Start this can be accomplished in a few seconds, according to Umesh Shah, an Intel engineer, who demonstrated this technology earlier this month at Intel's investor meeting. The system must have either a solid-state drive or an ancillary flash drive, which works in conjunction with a standard magnetic hard disk drive to speed up certain operations.

Smart Connect: This periodically wakes up the laptop from a sleep state to get updates, whether they be email or social networking accounts like Twitter and Facebook. The point is to keep the computer up to date even when it's off.