Like MacBook, Ultrabook will tap lots of new tech

Ultrabooks' diminutive size and thickness will spur the use of new technologies, potentially stimulating a moribund laptop market, researcher TrendForce says.

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
Ultrabooks may capture as much as 10 percent of the market in 2012, according to TrendForce. TrendForce/DRAMeXchange

Ultrabooks will adopt lots of cutting-edge laptop technology, not unlike what Apple did to perfect the design of its MacBook Air, according to research from TrendForce.

The first Ultrabooks from Lenovo, Toshiba, and Asus already tap into some impressive technology. Lenovo's 0.6-inch thick U300s, for example, boasts a "breathable" keyboard to reduce heat and RapidDrive solid-state drive technology to deliver a 10.5-second boot time.

Apple's MacBook Air has been the highest profile example of a laptop that continues to push the envelope on design with novel display, battery, and motherboard designs. "Intel, along with the rest of the PC industry, aims to produce an Ultrabook as thin and light as the MacBook Air...[as a result] we believe the Ultrabook market share will jump from under 2 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012, stimulating renewed growth in the PC industry," TrendForce CEO Kevin Lin said in a report released Tuesday.

Lin goes on to say that Ultrabooks, because of similarities in size and weight, will also present a challenge to tablets. This echoes statements from Intel, which has said that future hybrid Ultrabooks will straddle laptop and tablet design.

Here's a list of some the new technologies that Ultrabooks will integrate, according to TrendForce:

  • Solid-state and hybrid disk drives: Since SSD cost remains much higher than traditional rotating hard disks, some Ultrabooks will use hybrid drives (see: Intel Smart Response) that combine, for example, a 320GB HDD with a 16GB SSD for faster access times. Premium Ultrabooks will use pure solid-state drives.

  • Low power consumption RAM: As memory chip makers transition to advanced 20-nanometer manufacturing processes, single memory modules will shift to 4GB from 2GB. And more laptop manufacturers will weld the memory directly to the motherboard. Low-power DDR3L (1.35V) will replace standard DDR3 (1.5V).
  • Batteries: polymer, thin prismatic, thin cylindrical: The challenge for Ultrabook makers is higher power consumption compared to tablets: between 100 and 200 percent greater than tablets. That means greater cost--as much as 70 percent greater than tablets. Whether Ultrabook makers use advanced polymer batteries "depends on how the market responds to the first wave of Ultrabooks...it is a seller's market and battery core supply remains tight."
  • Low-voltage LED display backlights: Ultrabooks will require thin, low-voltage LED products, which will get increasingly thinner as demand for this technology increases. And display panel makers are planning ultra-slim panel modules, "utilizing chemical etching to reduce glass thickness from 0.5mm to 0.3mm, subsequently lowering module thickness from the 3.6mm of traditional modules to less than 3mm."
  • And Intel is playing its part with a $300 million Ultrabook fund to drive innovation "to invest in companies building hardware and software technologies focused on...achieving all-day usage through longer battery life, enabling innovative physical designs and improved storage capacity."