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Bona fide Intel monopoly: Ultraportables

The MacBook Air, IdeaPad U110, and ThinkPad X300 are all exclusively Intel gigs.

The MacBook Air, IdeaPad U110, and ThinkPad X300 are the three hottest ultraportables out there. They all sport unique styling outside. And Intel blue inside.

The IdeaPad U110, like other ultraportables, uses an Intel low-voltage processor
The IdeaPad U110, like other ultraportables, uses an Intel low-voltage processor Lenovo

Styling and design are now so crucial in notebooks that when a model arrives in pink the color change alone is news.

Ditto for the styling imperative for some of the sveltest, lightest, and most impressive of notebooks: the Air, X300, and just-released U110.

Scratch the surface (or lift up the keyboard in this case), however, and you'll find that their unique exteriors house similar Intel core electronics.

Does this have anything to do with nefarious strong-arm tactics on Intel's part? Or just that AMD and Nvidia don't have competitive offerings in this space? The evidence points pretty convincingly to the latter.

Graphics--an increasingly important differentiator in any computer--is the same across all three notebooks: Intel X3100 integrated graphics. No Nvidia option here. No AMD-ATI. Intel across the board. The reason for this is strictly practical. For heat and power consumption purposes, these ultrasmall designs cannot accommodate an extra graphics processor. (It should be noted also that Nvidia and AMD-ATI integrated graphics are typically not used in ultra-low-power designs.)

The processors are all Intel too with some differences. Again, a practical consideration since AMD doesn't offer ultra-low-power x86 processors with relatively high performance.

The newest 11-inch U110 IdeaPad has gone with the Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 processor. It runs at 1.60GHz and integrates 4MB of cache. The low-voltage L7500 has a thermal envelope (referred to as Thermal Design Power or TDP) of only 17 watts. Much lower than the typical 35-watt Intel mobile processor. AMD mobile processors have similar above-30-watt thermal envelopes.

The 13.3-inch ThinkPad X300 uses the Core 2 Duo SL7100 LV chip running at 1.2GHz. This is a 60 percent package "shrink" of Intel's original Core 2 Duo design and draws a mere 12 watts. Why the shrink? These variants consume less power compared to larger counterparts, giving laptops longer battery life.

The Mermon package shrink featured in the X300 debuted with great fanfare in the MacBook Air. The Air uses 1.6- and 1.8-GHz versions of this Intel chip with a 20-watt TDP.

Similarities between ultraportables extend beyond Intel to storage options too. The Air, X300, and U110 all offer either 4200RPM hard disk drive options or 64GB solid state drives. The 4200RPM drives in the U110 and Air can be real performance bottlenecks if a user pushes the usage envelope. The X300 only comes with a solid state drive.

The solid state drives, while expensive, have proved to be able performers, even bettering high-end hard disk drives in some benchmarks.