Laptop Makers Taking a Timid Approach with Ultrabooks

Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba reportedly plan initial shipments of 50,000 units or less

Fearing slow sales and a market dominated by Apple's MacBook Air, major notebook makers plan to release a limited number of ultrabook laptops in 2011, according to an online report. Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba are all producing initial shipments of 50,000 units or less, adopting a wait-and-see approach to Intel's new laptop product category, according to Taiwan-based DigiTimes.

By comparison, Asus in May shipped 100,000 Eee Pad Transformer tablets, followed by more than 200,000 in June, according to Netbook News. Representatives from Acer, Lenovo and AsusTek were unavailable for comment.

Intel in May announced plans to recharge the PC market with a brand new laptop category called ultrabooks featuring longer battery life, ultrathin profiles of 0.8 inches or smaller and priced at less than $1,000. The new ultraportable laptops are supposed to merge the performance capabilities of laptops with "tablet-like features such as instant-on functionality," Intel said. The first wave of ultrabooks are due out this fall, with more advanced devices coming in 2012 and 2013.

About six months before Intel announced the ultrabook category, Apple was making wave with its overhauled MacBook Air. The new Apple laptop line is similar to what Intel wants to see in ultrabooks such as solid-state hard drives, instant-on functionality, full-size keyboards and at least one model priced below $1,000. The latest MacBook Air refresh in July featured Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors, more RAM (except the base model) and Thunderbolt I/O ports.

Apple does not break down its sales far enough to know how well the Air is doing, but most industry watchers believe the laptop is one of the most popular MacBook models in Apple's stable. Market research company NPD Group in August said the MacBook Air refresh and the introduction of OS X Lion have pushed Mac sales up 26 percent compared with the same time last year, according to AllThingsD. In March, an analyst with Concord Securities estimated that Apple shipped more than one million MacBook Airs between October and December 2010, about the first 10 weeks the new devices were available.

Apple appears to have tapped into a consumer need for smaller and lighter laptops that don't sacrifice on processing speed or responsiveness. If PC makers can produce comparable devices that run Windows and are priced below Apple's Air lineup ($1,000-$1,600), there's no reason ultrabooks couldn't compete.

But it's not clear how excited laptop makers are about the new device category. While DigiTimes says notebook makers are being timid with ultrabook rollouts, there are reports that Asus is planning to launch as many as seven ultrabooks in October. So far, Asus has announced two laptops, the UX21 and UX31. Acer recently debuted its forthcoming Aspire S3 ultrabook and said it expects the S3 to become the company's "star product during the fourth quarter." Lenovo's first ultrabook offering will be the 13.3-inch IdeaPad U300S, available in mid-October to November. Toshiba's 13.3-inch Portege Z830 ultrabook will be available in November.

But despite Intel's wish that ultrabooks sell for less than $1,000 only Toshiba's Z830 has announced a sub-$1,000 price tag. The IdeaPad U300S will start at $1,200 and Acer's Aspire S3 will be priced between $1,100 and $1,700, depending on the processor and storage size.

Perhaps to encourage more aggressive thinking by laptop makers, Intel recently announced a $300 million fund to help prop up the new laptop category. The Intel Capital Ultrabook Fund will invest in companies doing research and development on ultrabook features such as touch, battery life, thin bodies, and storage improvements.

The first run of ultrabooks may be timid, but there will be three waves of ultrabooks that may help bolster the image of Intel's new laptop category. The second wave will show up in the first half of 2012 using Intel's Ivy Bridge processors (basically smaller versions of Sandy Bridge) and a third wave will come in 2013 sporting Haswell chips, Intel's next-generation processors that will be even thinner than Ivy Bridge and consume less power. Future ultrabooks may also incorporate touch interfaces next year, once Microsoft comes out with the touch-emphasized Windows 8.

The first round of ultrabooks is expected in the coming weeks with the Asus UX21 leading the pack with a reported September launch.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags asushardware systemstoshibaLenovolaptopsultrabookintelacermac laptopApple

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?