Meet the Ultrabook

The Ultrabook is a multi-year evolution from Intel's perspective. It's going to begin as a pilot program with some Sandy Bridge systems this year, it'll ramp heavily next year with Ivy Bridge and be mainstream by the time Haswell arrives in 2013.

What is an Ultrabook? It's basically a thin and light notebook that uses solid state storage in some form, has some additional security features and is available at mainstream price points. This isn't a new platform, there's no Centrino-like certification process, but Intel has trademarked the name so you won't see things that aren't Ultrabooks being called Ultrabooks (unfortunately this also likely means that you won't see any AMD notebooks being labeled as such either).

The first requirement of an Ultrabook is that it's ultra-thin. In Intel's eyes this means less than 0.8" (20.32mm) which is thinner than anything Apple offers in the MacBook Pro line (0.95").

The second requirement is that the system needs to be ultra responsive, either through the use of an SSD or SSD caching. Intel was quick to point out that an Ultrabook doesn't have to use an Intel SSD, it just needs to have SSD-like response time.

Here's where the requirements start getting vague. Intel asserted that Ultrabooks need to be secure. Today that security comes by way of Sandy Bridge, which offers Intel's Identity Protection Technology (IPT) - basically a unique hardware token embedded in the SNB CPU. You tell an application that your computer is secure, and going forward it uses the presence of that unique token as a form of authentication.

Ivy Bridge will add some additional security features (on-package digital random number generator, and higher level execution protection bit) and I'm sure Haswell will go even further. Remember Intel's acquisition of McAfee? I suspect that's going to be a part of this security strategy.

The final requirement is all Ultrabooks must be sold at mainstream price points, which Intel calls sub-$1000.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned Atom. That's on purpose as Atom will not be driving any of these Ultrabooks. Intel has separate plans for Atom, for use in smartphones and fanless designs which I'll get to in a moment. But Ultrabooks are the future of mainstream notebooks as far as Intel is concerned. A Sandy/Ivy/Haswell based notebook that's less than 0.8-inches thick, has some form of an SSD and is sold for less than $1199 is a-ok by me.

One of Intel's closest partners, ASUS, already introduced the first Ultrabook at Computex: the new UX21. Availability of ASUS' UX Series Ultrabook is slated for Q4 of this year:

Intel estimates that by the end of next year 40% of consumer notebooks will be Ultrabooks. Given the desirable set of features and reasonable price point, I can see that happening.

Always On, Always Connected

Intel views the Ultrabook as a new category of mobile devices, however everything I've described thus far sounds a lot like a thin and light notebook with an SSD inside it. There's a software component to all of this that Intel is promising, starting as early as Sandy Bridge.

Intel wants to bring the instant-on capability of tablets to Ultrabooks. Apple already did some of this with the new MacBook Air. Suspend to NAND allows for a reliable method to quickly hibernate and resume. ASUS is already promising a 2 second resume from sleep time on its new UX Series.

Intel also wants to bring the always on, always connected experience to Ultrabooks. 3G tablets and smartphones currently enjoy this but notebooks have lacked it. When you wake your notebook up from sleep you usually have to wait to download all new emails, receive all new twitter updates, etc... Through a software layer Intel isn't ready to talk about yet, Ultrabooks will be able to pull this data from the cloud while the machine is otherwise asleep. That's the functionality with the first generation of Ultrabooks; the second generation will move to a smartphone-like push model where servers push this data to your Ultrabook. Again, details on how this will all work are basically nonexistant at present but the goal is to take some features from the smartphone/tablet space and add them to a much sleeker, sexier notebook. Hence the name Ultrabook.


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  • StormyParis - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Intel has a history of failing at anything where they don't have a huge headstart (ie, anything non x86, or non purely process driven: Itanium, networks, wireless, DGX, RISC... basically, anything non Flash and non x86, and even x86 they managed to mess up a few times.

    They finally threw in the diversification towel and went all-in on x86. I'm very unclear about what advantages x86 has apart from Intel's fabs. MS dramatically dropping the ball in the phone/tablet space didn't help them at all. MS trying to avoid a catastrophe by going ARM doesn't either. Even if MS finally manages to put together something believable in the phone/tablet space, it won't be an Intel exclusive.

    My new Desktop is a $350 E-350, and is plenty powerful for what I do with it. I'm guessing next year ARM will be at that level of power (basically, playing videos on one screen, office stuff on the other, very light gaming), and it will be a good time to take a long hard look at whether paying $150+ for a Windows license really makes sense.

    I think the weak link int the ARM food chain is Linux: no games, too fragmented, too experimental still, bad documentation. If a good strong and above newb-friendly version of Linux could emerge as a good all-rounder, ARM's chances would be even better. If the Linux camp doesn't wake up quickly, we'll end up with Windows on ARM, which will be... sad.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Generally speaking, all modern CPUs are now RISC, but the x86 processors have an x86 decoding front end that translates the CISC instructions into RISC. Intel did this first way back in the P6 days. Of course, we also have all the SSE, MME, and other extensions (not just from Intel -- all the other CPUs have specialized instruction sets as well for certain work), so I'm not sure how valid calling anything "RISC" is these days.

    I'd also take pretty strong exception with the assertion that Intel has "failed" at networks and wireless; my experience is that both their WiFi and NIC solutions are slightly better than the competition.

    Then we get to the part where you say that an E-350 desktop is "plenty powerful for what you do". I suppose that's great for you, but having used E-350 and a lot of other systems, E-350 would be way down my list for a desktop system. I might use if for an HTPC, but anything more demanding than that and there are far better options. Llano at least is looking pretty good in initial testing, though.
  • Wilco1 - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    CISC CPUs are NOT RISC, as this is about the instruction set. And they are not the same internally either. CISCs always carry the extra overhead of complex variable length instruction decoders, large micro code ROMs and micro sequencers, extra logic to deal with read/modify/write instructions etc.

    It is for this reason that you can have an Out-of-order RISC (Cortex-A9) which is not only several times smaller than an Atom, but also much faster while using far less power. That's the difference between RISC and CISC.
  • Penti - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    There's plenty of documentation, games and coherency in GNU/Linux but it is largely so in the embedded and mobile space as ARM doesn't target desktops.

    So a GNU/Linux platform with Gstreamer (Gstreamer and OpenMAX decoders), PulseAudio, GCC toolchain, libraries or middleware such as Clutter, Qt, Android and EGL/DRI/OpenGL ES support does plenty well in the phone, tablet and embedded market with multimedia, applications, user friendliness and games. You have players such as MeeGo, WebOS, Android and low-level infrastructure oriented LiMo. What you don't have and never will have is a consumer GNU/Linux distro that will run on everything from desktop oriented netbooks, desktops and server to phones and tablets. But you already has great games for the GNU/Linux platforms through the mobile-variants. There's no reason you can't use the same tools and API's for full size aka desktop games. For that matter Microsoft will never run Windows (NT) on phones. 8 for ARM I'm sure won't be for desktop users and I'm even more sure you won't be able to install it yourself. Intel however was rather set on running GNU/Linux on x86 tablets and smartphones. That might change now when their partner Nokia decided to go with Microsoft and downsize a profitable company, but I'm pretty sure they don't base their business on that. Different platforms should exist just fine tomorrow too. It's the normal consumers and hardware manufacturers that decides if Windows 8 tablets/smartbooks stick. Just being Windows based and building on ribbon won't do it by it self.
  • Freddo - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Looking forward to the fanless Cedar Trail netbooks a lot.

    I hope there will be at least one "quality" model that is released with metal, instead of just feeling like a cheap plastic toy. Oh, and support for HDMI, of course.
  • SteelCity1981 - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    "Silvermont to look like? I'd say it might look a lot like a modern, ultra low power take on Conroe."

    So that will mean by 2019 the Atoms should have similar performace as the first gen Core I series. :)
  • soydeedo - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Does anyone know the model of the laptop in the second picture on the very first page of the article? The picture below the new Padfone.
  • stonedatheist - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Yes I do, seeing as how I just ordered one :) it's the Asus Transformer inserted into its keyboard dock.
  • soydeedo - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Thanks a lot for the help, and enjoy your new toy. =)

    Very sleek indeed. ASUS isn't playing around these days.
  • Kepe - Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - link

    Yep, the URL to the picture is so it isn't that hard to guess what it is ;)

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