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Intel revs up ultrabook campaign: A better MacBook?

Chip giant is going to throw hundreds of millions at marketing the ultrabook -- should Apple be worried?

With Intel's latest silicon due soon, the chipmaker is cranking up the marketing volume for ultrabooks, saying the skinny laptops usher in a "a new era of computing."

The marketing campaign launched this week is the biggest in about a decade, spanning television, online, and print ads, the company said today. And Intel is putting its proverbial money where its mouth is.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be allocated for the "largest marketing spend for the company since launching Intel Centrino in 2003," Intel said in a statement. (See first TV ad below.)

Centrino was a technology that, among other things, made Wi-Fi standard on laptops. And an unqualified success.

For the uninitiated, an ultrabook is defined today essentially as a thin laptop -- typically less than 0.8-inches thick -- using Intel Core processors. Ultrabooks attempt to emulate the portability and responsiveness (the ability to turn on instantly) of a tablet.

Later this year when Windows 8 hits, some ultrabooks will morph into hybrid designs that straddle the laptop and tablet worlds.

But here's the stickiest problem for Intel: the ultrabook is targeted at the MacBook Air, another Intel customer and progenitor of the category of skinny, aluminum-clad 13-inch laptops. (And note that Intel was instrumental in the rollout, in 2008, of the original MacBook Air: it designed a special Core 2 Duo processor for the Air and Intel's CEO Paul Otellini appeared on stage with Steve Jobs on launch day.)

So, why should a consumer buy an ultrabook instead of the much-vaunted MacBook or MacBook Air?

Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC, provided a few reasons why ultrabooks may be better for some consumers:

  • It's Windows: Certain work-related applications need Windows--that is, the latest version of Windows running natively on a Windows laptop. "There are still plenty of people that have an investment in Windows applications."
  • Better bang for your buck: "You're generally going to get more for your dollar." For the $999 you pay for an 11-inch MacBook, you can get a 13-inch ultrabook design, typically with heftier specs like larger solid-state drives, more memory, more ports.
  • Choice: "More variety of vendors, more variety of designs."

Is that reason enough? And does Intel's commercial win you over?