Ultra-slim Ultrabooks strut down the catwalk

IDF — Mooly Eden laid out the basic parameters for the new wave of laptops that Intel has been pushing during his IDF keynote earlier this morning. In a nutshell, Intel is encouraging PC makers to emulate Apple's MacBook Air systems, although (of course) they don't use those exact words.  The systems are intended to be very thin and light, with decent performance courtesy of Sandy Bridge processors, solid battery life (although that one seems negotiable so long as the thinness remains), and prices below $1000.  The first Ultrabooks should be arriving in the next few months, though obviously the Sandy Bridge-based MacBook Air is out now, as is Samsung's Series 9, which we've reviewed. In order to achieve their thin profiles, Ultrabooks are likely to include SSDs (almost exclusively) and non-user-replaceable batteries.

Good design is to be a part of the Ultrabook formula, too. As you can see in the raft of pictures we snapped in the gallery below, that oftentimes means emulating the MacBook Air in other ways: very large touchpads, chiclet-style keyboards, extra-thin and tapered case edges, and premium metal enclosure finishes.  Mostly, copying those traits from Apple's flagship is a good thing, although we're not entirely sold on the make-it-look-thin tapered edges in every case.

A host of ODMs and OEMs (device makers and large PC brands) have Ultrabook systems on display here at IDF, including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Pegatron, and Toshiba. Most of them are in the 11.6" to 13" display size range. Among those, the Toshiba was our instant favorite, with its distinctive looks and backlit keyboard. Asus' offerings are angular and striking, too, although key travel seems to have suffered during the process of making these systems so uncannily thin. Maybe a smaller steamroller would be in order next time.

We should see some Ultrabooks in the market for the upcoming Christmas shopping season, but our sense is that these systems likely won't hit full stride until the Ivy Bridge-based models arrive next spring. Those systems are more likely to deliver the combination of performance and battery life that users expect from fairly nice ultraportable laptops. Already, though, the demo units on display are striking and exciting to hold and behold, as the gallery below illustrates.

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