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Intel adds Sandy Bridge chips for ultraslim laptops

Intel updates processor price list with faster chips targeted at growing market for ultraslim laptops, while an analyst says chipmaker will become a major "solutions package" provider for this market.

The MacBook Air is expected to be updated with Intel Sandy Bridge processors.
The MacBook Air is expected to be updated with Intel Sandy Bridge processors.

Intel has added three power-frugal Sandy Bridge chip models to its lineup, while a research note Monday from a Gleacher & Company analyst says the chipmaker will boost its presence in the burgeoning market for ultrathin laptops like the MacBook Air.

The processors, which appeared Sunday on Intel's updated processor price list, are faster than current power-efficient Sandy Bridge chips used in skinny laptops such as the Samsung Series 9.

Apple is expected to use this type of Intel chip in its upcoming MacBook Air refresh. The Air, to date, has used older-generation Intel Core 2 Duo chips.

Referred to in Intel argot as ULV, or ultra-low voltage, the processors have a thermal envelope of only 17 watts. This is a crucial metric because mainstream Intel laptop chips dissipate 25 or 35 watts--too much heat for ultraslim, ultrasmall designs like an 11.6-inch MacBook Air.

New Intel processors for ultraportable laptops (chips can overclock or "turbo" to higher speeds):

  • Core i7-2677M: 2 cores, 1.8GHz (turbos to 2.9GHz), 4MB cache, 17 watts, $317
  • Core i7-2637M: 2 cores, 1.7GHz (turbos to 2.8GHz), 4MB cache, 17 watts, $289
  • Core i5-2557M: 2 cores, 1.7GHz (turbos to 2.7GHz), 3MB cache, 17 watts, $250

The yet-to-be released Asus UX21 will use the Core i5-2557M listed above.

Intel is expected to become very active in this laptop market in the coming years--what Intel now calls "ultrabooks," according to a research note this morning from Doug Freedman, an analyst at Gleacher & Company. He refers to this class of laptops as "SSD notebooks," or laptops that use solid-state drives as their primary storage device.

"How big is this opportunity? In the 4-year lifespan of [Apple's] iconic MacBook Air, units sold as a percentage of its total notebook supply was 8 percent in 2008, 9 percent in 2009, and 17 percent in 2010 to an estimated 48 percent in 2011," he wrote. "We expect total notebook SSD penetration at a conservative 5 percent in 2011 growing to 30 percent in 2014."

And Intel is expected to bundle it own solid-state drives with power-efficient processors--what Freedman calls SSD + MPU. "[Intel]...stands to benefit from bundling content (SSD + MPU) into a solutions package," he wrote.