Acer, Asus said to be planning fiberglass ultrabooks

The first wave of ultrabooks is due this fall, and that’s exciting enough. I’m much more giddy about the second-gen models, though; we’ve heard that they’ll cost as little as $599, and DigiTimes now reports that fiberglass models are in store for early 2012. Word is that Acer will roll out a 15" fiberglass ultrabook in early 2012, and Asus also has a fiberglass machine in the works.

Using fiberglass for laptop shells seems like a tantalizing prospect if you consider the advantages of the material. As Wikipedia explains:

Fiberglass is a lightweight, extremely strong, and robust material. Although strength properties are somewhat lower than carbon fiber and it is less stiff, the material is typically far less brittle, and the raw materials are much less expensive. Its bulk strength and weight properties are also very favorable when compared to metals, and it can be easily formed using molding processes.

In fact, DigiTimes says fiberglass laptop enclosures are even cheaper to produce than aluminum ones, in the order of $20 per system. Take a tough and light fiberglass chassis, chuck in a fast and power-sipping 22-nm Ivy Bridge processor, and you could have the makings of a very appealing laptop.

Comments closed
    • jpostel
    • 11 years ago

    Sand is Si02 aka crystalline Silica.
    Glass is also SiO2, but amorphous.
    Both are insulators.

    Silicon is Si, which is chemically derived from Si02
    Si is not an insulator.

    CPUs are made out of Si.

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    Why not a carbon fiber notebook? I mean, sure, it’d command a premium, but holy hell that thing would be stronger than THE EARTH. Seriously.

    Carbon fiber is awesome.

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    I’d argue that there are plenty, and have been plenty of good MacBook Air competitors on the Windows side…

    …and they’ve been made of metal. Frankly, I’d rather have a good metal notebook than a fiberglass one… :/

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    I hope that nothing ever comes out that will ever need more than the anemic performance that that Intel IGP offers you.

    I do play games, and I get more than a little pissed off when a brand new notebook in 2011 has trouble running the “Flurry” screensaver because Intel’s graphics are just [i<]that[/i<] bad.

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    [quote<]Obviously, the stakes are much lower when you drop your ultrabook. But people may be surprised when it seems undamaged after the fall and then just snaps one day when they pick it up (probably long after they'd forgotten the drop, leading to complaints about sudden failure "out of nowhere.")[/quote<] All the more reason to buy a new one... which is exactly what Intel et al. wants you to do.

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    Somebody needs to come up with a sand-based supercapacitor.

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    …and by far less sexy than aluminum.

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    [quote<]The emphasis on thinness above all else seems very misguided[/quote<] Apple has shown that it has value in the market. [quote<]Unfortunately, they'll also reinforce the acceptance of 40w "6 cell" batteries, but now with no higher capacity options, so it's a wash.[/quote<] I suppose it's meant to be compensated for by the more efficient CPUs..

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    [quote<]The case of the machine really shouldn't be counted on as a heatsink, but it won't even be an option here.[/quote<] I guess that's the key here. These are supposed to be more power efficient, with temperature-based throttling mechanisms. Moreover, the insulation might actually be a net win, as counter-intuitive as it may seem... The CPU can comfortably handle much higher temperatures than your skin can. Having a good thermal conduction path from the CPU to your body means the CPU will just have to be cooler in the first place, or you'll cook vital parts. If it's enclosed in an insulating case, the part touching your body will be cool even if the internals are smoking hot (but still below the melting point)... and vents on the side can try to keep the thermal equilibrium sustainable.

    • NeelyCam
    • 11 years ago

    At around Ivy Bridge it’ll be good enough. I’m personally waiting for Haswell, though. If that interposer thingy that Charlie is suggesting materializes, Haswell could close most of the performance gap at a much lower power consumption level.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 11 years ago

    CPUs are made out of sand, and they aren’t insulators, sooo

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    Fiberglass in applications that will be exposed to UV is generally coated with something that blocks it. And the degradation is slow: it’ll look ugly and discolored for a long time before there’s enough actual damage to worry about. And unless you leave your uncoated laptop out in the sun every day, it’ll be obsolete long before that point.

    Failure in composites like fiberglass is a whole can of worms in itself, and really can’t be characterized in any simple way since there are so many different ways it can be manufactured (number of layers, orientation, the kind of epoxy and relative amounts to the fibers, etc). One of the general characteristics of the kinds of fiberglass used in aircraft (the kind I’m most familiar with, and perhaps somewhat relevant since strength:weight is a priority) is that it usually [i<]doesn't[/i<] fail catastrophically -- at least not initially. What tends to happen is internal delamination -- things like impacts and long-term fatigue often don't cause any visible cracking or permanent deformation, but instead creates voids between the layers, or the fibers, internally. These grow silently and then, some time later, lead to catastrophic failure. Obviously this is a concern in aircraft, and as the civil aviation fleet has begun to include aircraft containing composites, the inspection procedures have had to change. Looking for visible surface cracks, as worked for aluminum, is no longer enough; instead, various non-invasive probing techniques (ultrasound, etc) are used to look for internal anomalies. Obviously, the stakes are much lower when you drop your ultrabook. But people may be surprised when it seems undamaged after the fall and then just snaps one day when they pick it up (probably long after they'd forgotten the drop, leading to complaints about sudden failure "out of nowhere.")

    • smilingcrow
    • 11 years ago

    “but seriously why spend over 400 dollars on anything with intel graphics in it?”

    Why not? I don’t play games, don’t require GPU acceleration for anything but SD video all of which Intel handles fine. Myopic.

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    [quote<]And it's clearly not emphasized strongly in general laptop design; I've not even found Apple ones to be noticeably better on this front.[/quote<] Unfortunately i think laptop designers are screwed by their physics teachers, because you cant make a fast laptop fast without using a fair amount of power, and that ends up as heat, which needs to leave the laptop through the vents and case (both of which will be on your lap, roasting your thighs). Unless they design it so that most of the heat is channeled up to the lid section and vented away from the user, but that would require heatpipes snaking up through to the back of the monitor, and this will not be easy or pretty, unless they go all out on the steampunk designs.

    • Voldenuit
    • 11 years ago

    It depends. Epoxy resins are more prone to UV degradation than polyester-based resins. In any case, paint and/or pigmentation can be used to shield against UV, and is commonly done in automotive and aerospace applications.

    Also, not all composites fail catastrophically. Brittleness is a function of fiber type, configuration and of the resin. Notebook manufacturers are most likely going to use chopped fiber injection methods for cheap production, which is unlikely to crack all the way through. Also, there are many types of toughened resins that are very resistant to damage.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 11 years ago

    Any form of competitor to the MBAs will be good. MBAs are a real joy to use, I’d love to see a few Windows competitors to them. Intel’s Ultrabook is a good attempt, we’ll see how well they do.

    • dpaus
    • 11 years ago

    [quote<]Fiberglass is an insulator -- of electricity[/quote<] I'll bet that's a factor in making batteries out of it...

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 11 years ago

    everything about ultra books has me excited except for the fact that they will be powered by intel graphics. Intel has typically done about as good a job in the graphics department as AMD has in the processor market.

    JK, but seriously why spend over 400 dollars on anything with intel graphics in it?

    • Wirko
    • 11 years ago

    Glass fiber reinforced plastics have long been widely used for enclosures and other parts that require high construction strength. [url=http://www.merrem-materials.com/uploads/File/Kunststoffen/PA6_GF30_black.pdf<]PA6 GF30[/url<] is such a material. What's the difference between these and fiberglass? Is it the length of fibers?

    • yogibbear
    • 11 years ago

    Doesn’t UV degrade fibreglass?

    Also IF it fails, it will fail catastrophically. i.e. crack the whole way through a large section. Whereas plastic will deform and metal bends and scratches.

    • Deanjo
    • 11 years ago

    Another thing to be considered is that fiberglass is not easily recycled at all. Visit any land fill and you will see tones of the stuff all which when it (after decades) decomposes leaves an environmental footprint that toxic.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 11 years ago

    The emphasis on thinness above all else seems very misguided, but at least it could finally spur OEMs into shying away from 1.5″ laptops as the standard and move them all to 1″, which works just fine.

    Unfortunately, they’ll also reinforce the acceptance of 40w “6 cell” batteries, but now with no higher capacity options, so it’s a wash.

    • cobalt
    • 11 years ago

    [quote=”UberGerbil”<]That may make your lap a bit more comfortable, but now you won't have that thermo-testicular warning that your machine is running hot[/quote<] Unfortunately, I haven't had a laptop in the past five years that didn't attempt to scorch my lap on a fairly regular basis; it doesn't take much CPU/GPU computation to heat the bottom of those things up. Maybe I'm reading the wrong laptop reviews, but I find they rarely do a good job measuring this. And it's clearly not emphasized strongly in general laptop design; I've not even found Apple ones to be noticeably better on this front. So for me personally, this sounds good -- I'd vastly prefer some heat insulation to protect my lap....

    • Corrado
    • 11 years ago

    This is my question as well. Fiberglass has been around FOREVER. It was carbon fiber before there was carbon fiber. Fiberglass WILL shatter on impact though, so maybe thats it?

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    Cheaper than aluminium, but more expensive than plastic used by most laptops.

    • sonofsanta
    • 11 years ago

    So why hasn’t fibre glass been used before? Is it the heat issue, as UberGerbil mentions? “Cheaper than aluminium” makes me wonder that manufacturers would have been all over this years ago…

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    One other thought: the glass fibers in fiberglass are pretty much pure silica. We’re approaching the point where the whole machine — case and chips and SSD and screen — is made entirely out of sand (plus a little copper and other metals). Only the battery stubbornly resists acknowledging our new beachbum overlords.

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    Fiberglass certainly can be strong for its weight — there are aircraft made almost entirely out of it — but it does have some other characteristics that need to be considered.

    Fiberglass is an insulator — of electricity [i<]and[/i<] heat. The former is a positive: you could actually lay down some of the circuitry directly on the inside of the case (circuit boards are a kind of fiberglass already), enabling thinner machines. But the latter is definitely a negative. Solid fiberglass isn't the same as the insulation you put in the walls of a house (which contains a lot of air) but it's not going to conduct heat away from the guts of the machine. That may make your lap a bit more comfortable, but now you won't have that thermo-testicular warning that your machine is running hot (until you feel the pizza-oven blast of air coming out of the vents... except maybe you won't, because a dust bunny is blocking it, which is why the machine is overheating in the first place). The case of the machine really shouldn't be counted on as a heatsink, but it won't even be an option here. Fiberglass is also less durable than metal, in that it chips and scratches easily. On the other hand, it's much easier to repair -- slap some epoxy on, mixing in microbeads if you have gouges, lay down some more fabric if you need to cover a crack or need more rigidity, let cure, and sand. Of course, it'll look like crap unless you paint it. And you'll have to paint the whole thing. Which brings us to aesthetics. On the plus side, it can be molded in nice swoopy curves, and they can gelcoat it in any color imaginable... but you know none of the mfrs will pick matte colors. It's going to be gloss, gloss, gloss. And fingerprints everywhere.

    • Decelerate
    • 11 years ago

    Interesting, at least they’re trying something new.

    Hope this Ultrabook segment will serve as a labtest and that successes will propagate to the other segments.

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