New materials to bring ultrabooks down to $599

Plastic ultrabooks are coming. The ultrabook realm is populated almost solely by aluminum-clad systems right now, but according to Focus Taiwan, that will change in the second half of the year—and the cheaper materials will translate directly into lower system prices.

The site quotes Intel Taiwan chief Jason Chen as saying, "It is likely there will be US$599 models in selected regions, but the mainstream price should fall around US$699." Chen adds that, thanks to these cheaper systems, ultrabooks will end up accounting for 30-40% of all notebook shipments this year.

The folks at Lilliputing got some dirt on plastic ultrabooks from Intel’s IDF presentations. By the looks it, the systems will actually be made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, and Intel claims they will respond similarly in torque tests to metal chassis—in other words, they’re supposed to be just as stiff. Some future ultrabooks may feature aluminum-coated plastic chassis, as well.

Frankly, I’m not married to aluminum as a material. If plastics and fiberglass can give us lower prices without compromising build quality, then all the better. I just hope ultrabooks don’t devolve into ugly, cheap-feeling machines.

Comments closed
    • dpaus
    • 8 years ago

    Trying out some new materials, lower costs, better graphics…. Sounds like the holy Trinity to me.

    • mattthemuppet
    • 8 years ago

    if Intel really wants UltrabooksTM to be premium offerings, I would have thought it would make more sense to spend any cost savings on making the experience (screen, keyboard, TRACKPAD) better, not the price lower.

    • shaurz
    • 8 years ago

    I guess they won’t really be ultrabooks. More like prettygoodbooks or okaybooks.

    Although I would say Aluminium is not a great material for laptops or portable electronics in general. It’s too soft and heavy.

      • FranzVonPapen
      • 8 years ago

      [i<]>aluminum is too soft. >too soft.[/i<] OK. I guess I should scrap my planned lineup of lead-framed ultrabooks.

      • Chrispy_
      • 8 years ago

      Aluminium things I own that are too soft and heavy:
      [list<][*<]Road bike (frame is soft like jello) [/*<][*<]Car engine block (again, not sure why they use something so soft in for [i<]that![/i<]) [/*<][*<]The frame for my glass table (probably doesn't matter, the glass slab is only 60KG or so....)[/*<][/list<] And other things that they shouldn't use soft, heavy aluminium for: [list<][*<]Aeroplanes, especially the wings. [/*<][*<]200MPH sports bikes [/*<][*<]Macbook Pro. Renowned for their soft, flexy bodies above all else. [/*<][*<]Spaceships, rockets, etc (the heavier the better, which is why they also use bricks on the outside of the space shuttle, I think).[/*<][/list<] But the worst things about aluminium for PC use is that it is feromagnetic, so it interferes with wifi-signals more than steel, it shatters if you crack it near a corner (unlike plastics, and anything-fibre) and lastly the matte-finish goes shiny where it wears out, unlike that soft-touch matte finish on plastic palmrests which lasts FOREVER. I'm going to make a rubber laptop. Flexing is a feature and it won't break when I drop it, though I need to find a way of making all the internal components out of jello instead of silicon and copper first......

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      The magic words here is “alloy”. Nearly all of the metals we use or encounter on a daily basis are alloy blends that select for different improvements such as hardness or corrosion resistance.

      Laptops have successfully been using aluminum-based bits for years. An alternate material such as magnesium permits similar strength with less material but also raises the price a bit — another one of those pesky tradeoffs.

    • Malphas
    • 8 years ago

    I’m going to join the group of those with the unpopular opinion that this isn’t a good move. The most important factor in the high-end thin and light category is build quality and ergonomics – moreso even than the under the hood specification. plastic isn’t always awful or anything, but it’s very rarely as robust, stiff, and durable as metals. That’s why every high end camera body is magnesium, whilst plastics are relegated to the low-end.

    Thin and lights/ultrabooks/Mac Airs are basically used for accessing the web and very light productivity, no-body needs super-fast processors, gaming GPUs, tons of memory/storage, etc. The important things for OEMs to get right are the chassis, the screen, and the keyboard; cost cutting should be done by using cheaper, less powerful components (forget Intel altogether and use Brazos 2.0), and reducing the SSD capacity.

      • Jambe
      • 8 years ago

      Seems to me that equating “plastic” with “cheap” is the [i<]popular[/i<] opinion, not the unpopular one! And yeah, plastic chassis usually suck, but they might come up with an interesting solution that doesn't seem cheap at all (like the machined polycarbonate of the new HTC One X, for example). As with all ethereal future product announcements, I'll judge it when I see it...

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    If you look back 20 years ago, notebooks are all gray, heavy, thick, dull boxes with small screens. If you still have one in your attic, put It beside that flashy Ultrabook. Amazing isn’t it?

      • Jahooba
      • 8 years ago

      That’s how I feel about the iPod Touch 4. If I hold it up to any cell phone it makes that phone look like a bulky metal and plastic brick of a machine. The iPod touch doesn’t get much press, but it’s such an amazing design. You really have to roll it around in your fingers to appreciate it.

    • internetsandman
    • 8 years ago

    Huh…..are they ASKING people to go buy MBA’s or something? They can claim that it won’t sacrifice any build quality, but until I see an agreement on that from a TR review those are just words, and who knows what else they’d sacrifice in order to profit from cheaper and cheaper price points?

    Never has the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ been more true than in the world of consumer laptops

    • Flying Fox
    • 8 years ago

    What will be the heat dissipation characteristics?

      • mesyn191
      • 8 years ago

      Won’t have a clue until we get a finished product reviewed. So long as they plan out the ventilation well and use a decent heat pipe HSF a fiber/plastic laptop could be just as good as any aluminum laptop.

    • Duck
    • 8 years ago

    Just buy a Macbook Air. We won’t judge you. It’s ok… It’s ok… *puts arms around you*

    • End User
    • 8 years ago

    Just make a large multitouch trackpad that fracking works.

      • torquer
      • 8 years ago

      +9999999999999999999999999999

      Seriously – why aren’t reviewers jumping all over the craptastic trackpads? EVERY major manufacturer uses hardcore fail trackpads that only intermittently even work for basic mouse movements, don’t have proper palm recognition, and iffy-at-best multitouch support.

      Is it because everyone is using bluetooth mice? Even Apple’s trackpad (which is arguably the best, even in Windows), is maybe 85-90% there.

      Sure Engadget and the like bemoan squishy keyboard keys and low resolution displays (as they shoudl) but I want to see some nerd rage over the epic failure on this most basic and critical of components.

        • ronch
        • 8 years ago

        Blame Rick Bergman. =P

        • Jahooba
        • 8 years ago

        I find that I need to use mice on ultra-portables. The added precision makes it easier to navigate. Touch track pads are easy, but they’re not at all ergonomic. In fact, it’s harder to get much further away from ergonomics – it’s literally just a flat plane you slide your finger on. Where’s the symbiosis between man and machine when you’re simply touching a cold, hard surface? Don’t even bother with that crap.

    • Madman
    • 8 years ago

    After all the years of research and everything, the carbon fiber is still out of reach for mass production…

    That would be an ultimate material. Durable, light, and looks great.

      • Corrado
      • 8 years ago

      CF isn’t even expensive. Its only MARGINALLY more expensive than fiberglass.

        • mesyn191
        • 8 years ago

        For raw material or as a finished product? My understanding, and I’m not an expert BTW, is that most of the expense with using carbon fiber is with shaping the material and quality control.

        Personally I’m fine with glass reinforced plastic “ultrabooks” if they don’t quite have the strength/weight of a aluminum “ultrabook” but cost way less.

        If they turn out to be flimsy then that would change things of course but they probably aren’t BS’ing about its strength. If glass reinforced plastic can be good enough for rifles it can probably be good enough for a laptop.

          • phileasfogg
          • 8 years ago

          I thought carbon-fiber became popular 20 years ago when a large # of tennis rack(qu)ets were manufactured with it. So one would expect they’ve wrung out all the production problems by now and would have gotten costs down to where CF can be sourced from many suppliers. I also seem to recall that CF helped make sailboats considerably lighter.

            • Chrispy_
            • 8 years ago

            +1 for acknowledging that the original spelling of rackets contains a q.

            • yogibbear
            • 8 years ago

            The original? It has ALWAYS been spelt with a q and still is.

          • Thrashdog
          • 8 years ago

          IIRC carbon fiber thread and fabric is a few times more expensive than its fiberglass equivalent. As a fraction of the total cost of a laptop, it’s probably not much, but its something. Not to mention that it’s more or less wasted as a chopped strand, since f you’re going to spend the extra money for CF, you’ll typically want to get the most out of it.

    • jdaven
    • 8 years ago

    I’m glad to see the PC race-to-the-bottom philosophy will also extend to supposed luxury/ high quality Ultrabooks. I remember when Dell tried to release an Ultrabook like laptop called Adamo or something like that. It failed and so will Ultrabooks if they keep going this route.

    Next up in Ultrabooks, the Atom processor. It’s not just for Netbooks anymore. Mark my words. It will happen.

      • chuckula
      • 8 years ago

      If the race to the bottom always worked how come nobody is buying netbooks anymore?

        • Voldenuit
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]If the race to the bottom always worked how come nobody is buying netbooks anymore?[/quote<] Because cheap ARM tablets are the new 'bottom'?

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      Do you realize how much the Adamo XPS cost? It was ‘super ultra premium’ priced and it had a retarded monitor hinge that elevated the body when you opened it.

      It was gimmicky and expensive. That’s why it flopped.

    • torquer
    • 8 years ago

    Why does it seem like only Apple can make a laptop that:

    Has a backlit keyboard
    Has a clear, working built in mic
    Has something greater than a 1366×768 resolution
    Has a functional trackpad
    Has a sturdy, reasonable construction
    Doesn’t weigh a ton

    It seems every other laptop out there compromises on one or more of those, regardless of price. Asus and MSI make a hell of a laptop from a spec point of view, but the build quality isn’t great (I’ve owned both).

    Dell makes a generally nice laptop but the microphone always sucks. As an avid user of mumble and Ventrilo, thats key.

    HP makes a great laptop but you can’t get a decent spec with a backlit keyboard without going with an Envy.

    All trackpads suck. How this escapes reviewers is beyond me.

    At this point my 13″ Macbook Air is about as close to the “perfect” laptop as I’ve yet gotten. Give me Ivy Bridge and HD 4000 graphics and it’d be even better.

    I run Windows of course. Not a fan of MacOS.

    So why can’t the other manufacturers keep up? I’d be happier than a pig in **** to buy an HP or Lenovo or Dell that did everything my MBA does and help me avoid the Apple tax.

      • StashTheVampede
      • 8 years ago

      This is why Apple can do it: they bought up all the supply of the components you listed.

      Apple has several contracts that buy all stock of the items you’re looking for. Apple invests capital into these companies building their machines and their gains are exclusive rights for a period of time.

        • grantmeaname
        • 8 years ago

        Apple has all the backlit keyboards and clear microphones?

        • torquer
        • 8 years ago

        But HP is the world’s largest PC maker, suggesting that with regard to PC components, they have greater influence over the supply chain than Apple.

          • CuttinHobo
          • 8 years ago

          But HP wouldn’t add those features because it would add $3 to the BOM. =/

          • Decelerate
          • 8 years ago

          HP lacks all the economies of scale Apple has. HP’s own product system is fragmented to hell with too many models not sharing enough common components.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 8 years ago

        So when Apple finally makes a product that PC OEMs can’t match, instead of going “good job, Apple!”, you try to accuse them of shady business practices.

        I compare this to the Foxconn labor whining. Apple isn’t the only company that uses international labor. In fact, Foxconn is one of the best places for a laborer to work (conditions, pay, etc). But people don’t want to see that other places are just as bad (often worse) than Foxconn. They just want to dig on Apple.

      • swaaye
      • 8 years ago

      Most of the notebook manufacturers seem to target <=$700 plus maintain some profit margin. I really wonder where most of the notebook volume is. Maybe it’s at $500 and less? It’s been a downward trend since around 2000.

      Also, in my experience, most people just aren’t as discerning as us enthusiasts and couldn’t care less about most of what you’ve mentioned. They just want to get on iTunes, email and Facebook for cheap and don’t want a bulky desktop anymore.

        • torquer
        • 8 years ago

        Screw those people, its all about meeeeee 😀

      • ronch
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]All trackpads suck.[/quote<] That's why I never use it and instead always use a mouse.

      • Jahooba
      • 8 years ago

      Mainly because Apple positioned itself in the market to get either first dibs, or exclusive manufacturing of high-quality parts. Apple retains control of a large manufacturing infrastructure through… well, being a good customer. Apple brings them steady money – everyone wants to work with Apple.

      • cygnus1
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, for exactly the reasons you listed I’m getting to the point where I think I’m going to buy the Ivy Bridge MacBook Pro update once it comes out. And like you, run windows on it. I’d order the current MacBook Pro if it just had USB3 on it.

      • ImSpartacus
      • 8 years ago

      Bu-bu-but Apple is SO expensive!

      A lot of people think that a laptop is just a box of parts. Apple’s box tends to be more expensive than everyone else’s, but it’s not because Apple’s stuff is arbitrarily more expensive. You get what you pay for.

      • havanu
      • 8 years ago

      I think my Asus UX31 qualifies to all those characteristics mentioned above.
      (Yes, the fucked up the trackpad on launch, but the new elantech unit is very nice indeed.)
      Oh crap. It actually doesn’t have a backlit keyboard.
      Well okay…. point made.

    • Rand
    • 8 years ago

    If Ultrabooks are to become mass market products and not just a high end niche device then it’s guaranteed that they will evolve into ‘ugly cheap machines’ because it’s a race to the bottom, as it is with virtually any electronics.
    And if hitting the absolute lowest possible profitable price point is your primary goal, then an awful lot can be sacrificed to hit that goal.

    • 5150
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]I just hope ultrabooks don't devolve into ugly, cheap-feeling machines.[/quote<] Of course they will, consumers demand it.

      • cfroese
      • 8 years ago

      No, consumers demand cheap (price-wise) and are mostly willing to accept crap in exchange for it because they will replace it in a year or two anyway. If they could get good looking and solid feeling machines for less money, that would be great.

    • adisor19
    • 8 years ago

    Great.. so the only way to drop the prices is to make crappier versions.. :s

    It`s like PC manufacturers have learned NOTHING from Apple this far.

    Adi

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      When did Apple drop their prices?

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        When the Macbook Air started out as a $1500 base model.

      • Arag0n
      • 8 years ago

      Just because it’s made of metal doesn’t means is better… Plastics are like nuclear power, they have bad reputation because there is plenty of dirty cheap plastics, but most of the time is a better solution for most of designs, just cheaper and more abundant than any metal.

      However, human perception is that metal > plastic, no matter what.

        • calvindog717
        • 8 years ago

        agreed. Go read the new review on the transformer pad 300,Geoff said the wireless and gps signals with the plastic case are many times better than those found with the all-metal transformer prime. The same applies to laptops/ultrabooks as well. plastics also are generally easier to hold, and conduct less heat, which can be a user issue in a slim laptop.The idea of using fiberglass (or carbon fiber, I think Dell released an ultrabook with a carbon fiber base) sounds pretty promising to me.

      • Yeats
      • 8 years ago

      Still caught within the RDF, I see.

      • funko
      • 8 years ago

      while i’m a windows user, i agree with your statement, but not because of the plastic casing. High quality plastic is fine by me, esp if it leads to knocking off $100 off the street price, but Apple still has the only solid trackpad in the industry after all these years, and is one of the few with higher res displays with good color performance, slim profile, solid battery life. ultrabooks for me are a secondary system, i’m still a desktop builder/gamer, so not going for high end for my portable system makes sense since i use my laptop about once every 3 months on average. $700 price range looks nice if it includes 8gb+ of ram, and solid batt life.

      i have no problem buying a macbook air just to load windows, as the value is there if i wanted higher end, and osx is a free bonus. its just strange that the likes of hp, dell, asus, and acer have yet to really make their own high end ultrabooks that are competitive with the MBA.

      the added choice if getting these cheaper options is welcome, but upgrade options to at least a 900p display is in dire need, at minimum.

      hp, dell and asus models are getting better though… but they are either too heavy/expensive/low spec, and all have mediocre trackpads!!!!!!!!! GAH

      • grantmeaname
      • 8 years ago

      Apple would [b<]never[/b<] make a laptop out of plastic... Seriously, how out of touch with reality are you?

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