Anything an Ultrabook now

To help other PC manufacturers replicate the MacBook Air's runaway sales, Intel defined its specifications as the Ultrabook: slim, lightweight SSD-based laptops without the performance compromises of a netbook. But as soon as they became successful, the vendors slid, applying the hot branding to any old thing in their lineup: Samsung now has 4lb "Ultrabooks" with hard disks and optical drives.

Dan Ackerman charts how they lost sight of what they were doing, even after "Intel even set aside $300 million to help PC makers develop these new systems."

Instead of looking for an Intel ultrabook sticker on a laptop and knowing that it's going to be very thin, very light, rely on SSD storage, boot quickly, and run for a long time on a battery charge, now consumers will have to go back to checking the size and weight specs carefully. How is that helpful for anybody? ... The ultrabook, as originally presented, is still an idea whose time has come. Apple's MacBook Air proved that consumers could live without optical drives and large-capacity hard drives, and valued long battery life and portability over ports and connections

As a disappointed and temporary owner of one of these pretty things (I eventually went back to an elderly Thinkpad X200 for daily Windowsing and Linuxery), I'm just going to paste what I wrote months ago about what would happen to Ultrabooks:

Process by which marketing slowly loses sync with reality:
1. The MacBook Air is seen to conquer all.
2. Intel formalizes the sweet spot in computing that it represents, and brands it Ultrabook.
3. Some Ultrabooks are very good and the branding play gets some traction.
4. ????
5. Samsung starts branding refrigerators "Ultrabooks."

Ackerman thinks it's a good thing, though, because now PCs are lighter and better-designed in general. Sure, but that would have happened anyway. The insta-dilution of Ultrabook as a product concept highlights a problem for consumer electronics companies that make one of everything: most of their products fail, which means they become driven by novelty and branding association plays. The idea of making and marketing the same thing the same way for more than a few months is alien to industry DNA coded in the age of Dell computers and 20 new Walkmans a year.


  1. I like the idea of an ultrabook, but I don’t like the small SSD drives, and SSDs don’t seem ready for prime time anyway.  Truth be told, if I were shopping for an ultrabook, I’d look for one with a big hard drive even if it DOES corrupt the class a little.

    1. I fly a lot, and lugging around a heavy laptop through numerous airports can get tiresome. I don’t need a big hard drive, so I have been looking at ultrabooks. But it seems to me that given the specs many are overpriced.  If I wanted to pay a macbook air price I would just buy a macbook air.

      The margins are most certainly better on ultrabooks than anything else right now, which I am sure plays a big role in everything being called an ultrabook now.

    2. SSDs might not be ready for prime time in a server, but in a laptop?  Of course they are.  Think about how often laptops get tossed around, put in backpacks, etc.  A magnetic hard drive is a fragile moving part that was never intended for laptop use.  Solid state is the only solution that makes sense for a mobile device.

      But the fact is, you need a good backup solution either way with a laptop.

  2. Didn’t the same thing happen with netbooks a few years ago? It started out meaning a 2 pound laptop with a tiny screen (like the original Asus EEE) and eventually expanded to mean basically anything.

      1. Having actually followed that link you provided, I can see you’re… passionate about this subject. I hesitate to respond, but here goes:

        Compared to just about every other current laptop.

        Specs are not why you buy a MBA.

        1. Compared to just about every other current laptop. Specs are not why you buy a MBA.

          Could you be more specific? (no pun intended)

          You know we’re comparing Ultrabooks here, not just laptops of any size and weight, correct?

        2. > Having actually followed that link you provided, I can see you’re… passionate about this subject.

          Understatement of the century (or at least the thread :))

  3. I have a 11″ MBA and it wipes the floor with anything on the market for weight vs. size vs. performance.  And are we really whining about the cost of a notebook that will last 2-3 years that gets used every single day and still has a great resell value?  Relative to a 1994 DX2/66 which cost me over $2000, all computers are dirt cheap.  I for one an not poor enough to care about a few of $100 on a laptop if its ultralight and does everything I need instantly.

Comments are closed.