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The rise of the ultrabook

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The ultrabook has arrived with a big bang and its super slim, light and small form factor – with mega performance and long battery life – is making mainstream laptops look archaic. Everyone wants one.
If the evolutionary path that notebooks and laptops have taken to date are anything to go by, ‘everyone’ is likely to get their wish – ultrabooks are a template for future devices, writes Francois van Wijk, business unit manager at Drive Control Corporation (DCC).
The ultrabook is faster, greener, smaller, lighter, less power hungry and has better performance than previous devices in its class. For Intel, who announced their Ultrabook concept in mid 2011, it’s going to define the next generation of notebooks.
“A tablet when you want it and a PC when you need it” is Intel’s vision, according to their blogspot. And it’s backing it with a $300-million fund which will be used toward developing technologies related to ultrabooks.
Intel wants the Ultrabook to be ultra thin and light, responsive and secure. What will drive its evolution and adoption is a combination of aesthetics and convenience in the form factor, and its “fit for purpose” quality.
A number of developments – technological advancement; trends like the proliferation of devices; and changes in lifestyle related to the use of digital tools – are converging to define the evolution of the electronic devices people use.
Computing versus consuming devices
Today, ultrabooks have their place, just like tablet PCs, mobile phones and minis, and the bigger, heavier laptops with bigger screens and more processing muscle that most people use to do grunt work. It fits into an interesting niche.
Miniaturisation of components has made it easier to build small for comfort and convenience, while the shift to solid state drives (SSD) and a ramp up in RAM means no moving parts (hard drives or CD/DVD ROMs) and so, less chance of failure.
Add to this Huron mobile platform, the low power Intel Core Bridge processors with integrated graphics, and battery life of 5 to 9 hours, and users have a very nice in-between device – one that could evolve either way.
Computing devices can be roughly categorised as being either for computing purposes (the desktop PC or high end laptop for daily work) or for consumption (tablet devices, gaming devices, mobile phones).
Most users have two or more of the following: a phone that uses 3G; a tablet device (wireless); a laptop and/or netbook; notebook or mini; and a desktop PC (Ethernet). As the personal devices carried with users continue to proliferate, challenges arise.
Devices that were once considered personal productivity tools are becoming a nuisance to carry and operate. The ideal is a device that combines the most powerful and useful features in an appropriate form factor and can access data seamlessly and safely.
Intel has it covered: the responsive and secure features of the ultrabook are underpinned by Intel Identity Protection and Anti-Theft Technology.
At the same time, users are beginning to expect all their devices to have the functionality they find most useful on their favourite devices. For example, mobile phones are now touch capable, always on, always available, always updating, and providing instant notifications.
That would be useful on a laptop, but a laptop also needs to be as conveniently mobile as the mobile phone and as robust and powerful as a desktop PC.
As the various devices used continue to evolve, it’s likely that they will converge toward more multi-functional devices. What would suit users best? Perhaps a lightweight wireless mobile device that has the computing power of a desktop and an ergonomic input device that makes it fast and efficient to use – even when driving?
There are an endless array of options; certainly no single solution that will suit everyone. Right now, however, the ultrabook looks like a frontrunner.
Current ultrabook specs
Typical ultrabook specs include a sub 14-inch screen; 4Gb of RAM; up to 256Gb HDD or 1Tb SSD; battery life of six to nine hours; maximum weight of 1,9kg; and a maximum thickness of 20,5mm.
They will run on Intel’s mobile platform Huron River (the next release, Chief River is expected in 2012); with the low power Intel Core Sandy Bridge processors with integrated graphics (Ivy Bridge microarchitecture to be released in mid 2012). Screen size is expected to go up to meet needs of some users and touchscreen technology is expected soon.
While it’s still fairly niche at a starting price of R12 000.00, in five years it’s likely to be the standard.