A term used to describe a category of thin-and-light ultraportable laptops, coined by Intel Corp
It seems like this could be how Intel imagines the future of mobile computing to be -
- small (between 9" and 13" screens),
- thin (less than 1" thick),
- light (less than 2kg and without an optical drive),
- loaded with wireless technologies (3G/4G, Bluetooth, 802.11n, etc.)
- long battery life (≥7 hours),
- powered by an Intel Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge multicore CPU,
- and a solid-state drive.
There are a couple of examples of Ultrabooks that are coming soon/available now. Apple's recently-updated MacBook Air is probably the most well-known ultrabook out there, alongside various iterations of Vaio X/Z models, as well as some up-and-coming Asus and HP products.
As a user of a 15" MacBook Pro, there are a few things that I find appealing in the Ultrabook concept, and a few that I have gripes with.
The most appealing feature about laptops in general is probably its portability. The ability to work from anywhere with a slab of electronics-plus-casing-with-batteries, at the expense of a bit of horsepower, has made the laptop an attractive product offering in any PC manufacturer's product lineup relative to their desktop counterparts.
The ultrabook concept seems to be the natural evolutionary step for the laptop, then - getting lighter, more compact, and setting in stone the transition from the fragile and vulnerable HDD (with disk heads moving around barely microns over some platters) to the more robust and faster SSDs (which are basically NAND Flash).
However, as laptops shrink, the thermal environment in which to squeeze the essential components of a computer also shrinks, leading to crippled, low-power, "energy-saving" parts going into an overpriced and sluggish device. This has always been why I never buy sub-14" notebooks. It's rare to see a laptop under 14" that has a discrete GPU (read: not the Intel Graphics, or the occasional Nvidia/AMD-ATI integrated cards) - the only one that springs to mind right now is the Alienware M11x.
In an ideal world, my dream laptop would be a 13" laptop with a discrete GPU card, SSD+HDD, and because I love this feature on my current laptop, a backlit keyboard.
In reality, a 13" laptop would either weigh like my current 15", or be powered by the Intel Graphics.
But recent developments in the laptop arena, specifically from the Sony and Apple camps, have given me this new image of computing in the future.
Picture this scene: you're at work, working on a Word Document on your laptop. Suddenly, you've been given a task that involves heavy use of the GPU. It could be editing a video files, or perhaps giving a presentation on an external projector. This is when you normally get fed up, because your laptop just can't handle the task. What if you could add some extra horsepower to the laptop, just for this task? Something like an external dock, which has a GPU, connected via a fast connection (ExpressCard, eSATA, FireWire, USB3, Thunderbolt, etc.), maybe even build it into the projector/display itself. When you don't need the extra power, just unplug the GPU, and you are back to working on a thin-and-light, long-battery-life ultraportable.
We can run wild with this idea. The Ultrabooks shown on the gadget blogs seem to only have the essentials. The external docking device might include things that you only need when you're at a desk - a charging solution (a la Apple's Thunderbolt Display), extra ports, extra disk space (for your movies/photos/music), extra screen/projector, an optical drive (when was the last time you used the one in your laptop, anyway?), external GPU (upgradeable?). The list goes on.
With the development of Thunderbolt/USB3 and the emergence of Ultrabooks, perhaps there is a potential demand for power-boosting external docks again. Just imagine - a 13" sub-1kg thin-and-light laptop with 10 hours battery life, and when plugged in at home, can transform into a gaming rig churning MW3 at 60fps. All for the price of a MacBook Air + GPU.
The only issues I can foresee are these:
- The CPU on the MacBook Air may become a bottleneck, relative to the GPU.
- PC gamers would probably build proper rigs, not get an ultrabook + dock.
- Will the typical ultrabook buyer be savvy enough to understand the benefits of the external dock, and if so, will they be willing to buy it?
- Each company/manufacturer will probably have their own proprietary docking solution. Monopolies ensue.
In spite of these issues, I really think it's a solution that's worth a try. Just make sure the price is right (glares at Sony).