Analyst: Thin laptops have design issues

Some PC makers are hitting snags--such as cracking plastic--as they try to bring out ultra-thin laptops based on Intel's latest low-power chips.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
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.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Updated at 12:15 p.m. PDT: adding Intel comment and additional discussion about laptop casing.

An analyst said Wednesday that some PC makers are hitting snags as they try to bring out ultra-thin laptops.

"Early production units being built in plastic, with the bottom case being plastic, are cracking," said Broadpoint AmTech analyst Doug Freedman, in a phone interview, referring to discussions he had with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and and original design manufacturers (ODMs). Typically ODMs don't market under their brand name but supply devices to OEMs, which then slap on their own brand.

Freedman wrote about the problem in a research note distributed Wednesday morning.

"So, to get that really thin form factor that they're after, they're probably going to have to go with a metal case," he said.

Pricey ultra-thin laptops like the MacBook Air and Dell Adamo are made of metal. Lower-cost ultra-thin laptops are typically made of plastic.

In the report, Freedman refers to ODMs and OEMs trying to bring out laptops based on Intel's "CULV" technology. CULV, or consumer ultra-low voltage, is a strategy Intel launched at Computex in June to engender a category of low-cost ultra-thin laptops that offer the portability of Netbooks but are more powerful--and more expensive. These laptops use low-power "ULV" (ultra-low-voltage) processors, as dictated by the space-constrained, ultra-thin designs.

"ODMs were advising their customers to switch to full-metal cases," Freedman said of his discussions with ODMs. "Cost-reduction features are going to be hard in that form factor on the industrial design side," he said.

Intel issued a statement Wednesday saying that the case problem that Freedman refers to has nothing to with Intel processors. "Case design issues reported to be found by an ODM, not consumers, in early production units for ultra-thin laptops have nothing to do with Intel processors whatsoever. We want to be clear that this is not a CPU design issue," Intel said in a statement.

Freedman said some PC makers are opting for large, 11- and 12-inch Netbooks with the Atom processor--and Nvidia's Ion chipset in some cases--instead of ultra-thin ULV laptops based on Intel's Pentium, Celeron, or Core 2 architectures.

"Just look at Lenovo. They're the guy that is not falling in line with Intel's aspirations of 'we don't want 12-inch Netbooks.'" he said.

This summer, both Samsung and Lenovo will begin marketing 11- and 12-inch class Netbooks, respectively, based on the newest Atom processor and Nvidia's Ion chipset.