Saturday, January 28, 2012

UltraBooks or UltraClones?

Vidit Bhargava

Sometime back, Intel introduced this term called 'Ultrabook'. It defines it as 'a higher-end type of subnotebook'. The definition itself is so complex, that you can imagine what kind of weirdly boiled mockery the Ultrabooks will turn out to be.

The CES this year was paraded by Ultrabooks from Asus, Acer, HP, Dell, Lenovo. Almost every computer manufacture wants to wet its hands in the supposed Ultrabook Revolution.

Two give you a clearer picture of what an ultrabook looks like Here are a few details about this 'Revolutionary' product that comes once in a while: The Ultrabooks are thin, lightweight, come in Unibody Enclosures and with limited ports. They also have a long-battery life. And almost all of them use 'Flash Based SSDs'. The display size is 11.6" to 13.3" or 14" at most. None of them features a CD-DRIVE.

And Now you may have a clear picture of what the Ultrabook will look like:

Looks familiar? Isn't it? Its the MacBook Air that was launched in 2010. The Ultrabook thing came in mid-2011. The Ultrabooks not only shamelessly rip off the design of a macbook air. They also boast of similar specifications.

Many people right now will be planning to press that 'x' button on their devices, since they fear this is going to go the fan boy way. As a matter of fact it is not. It is for the truth that I write this post.

Write from the design ergonomics to the keyboard color. Everything is being cloned in the name of Ultrabook. The only thin wall between an ultrabook and a macbook air is the CULV processor by Intel. The MacBook Air has the same processor as that in their MacBook Pro.

CULV (Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage) is a low power Intel Processor with Integrated Graphics. It is designed specifically for the Ultrabooks platform.

Intel plans to release these low-voltage processors in three phases. (For their three micro-architectures). Hence, dividing the Ultrabook launch in three phases also. The first phase is going to be ruled by the Sandy Bridge. Second will have Ivy Bridge and the third will have Haswell. When you 'know' that Intel has Ivy Bridge and Haswell in works, which are better processors based on relatively newer technology (one of them is that of 3D Tri Gate Transistors), then why will you settle for a Sandy Bridge Processor which looks like Yesterday's discarded waste when compared to the glorious tomorrow Intel Promises.

Having said all that about the Ultraclones, I will like to add that not all is so-clone like about the Ultrabook genre. While 'most' of the ultrabooks may look like Chinese fakes of the macbook air. There are a few that are promising and aren't that abominable. Lets get back to CES to see whether the Ultrabooks have something 'different' to offer than the image of an Ultraclone.

At CES 2012: There wasn't any interesting news this time. Motorola and Intel got into a deal, Android revealed 'design standards for Ice Cream Sandwich', Qualcomm rolled out a new Snapdragon processor and Corning came out with Gorilla Glass 2. And Then there were Ultrabooks, more Ultrabooks, and an almost uncontrollable flood of them. Most of them were clones, and are not even worthy of being covered in this post, but some of them were notable and deserve a little mention.

According to Joanna Stern of The Verge, The HP Envy Spectre, XPS 13 and Lenovo Yoga were the best Ultrabooks at this year's CES.

Lets start with HP's Spectre. Its a comparatively thicker solution to the Ultrabook. and that's probably because of the Gorilla Glass it sports. So while the Gorilla Glass is a neat-trick, those obsessed with extremely slim solutions for a laptop won't be very happy about it. It does have a good display and does sport the high-end ultrabook specs, which include a 128GB mSATA SSD, and 4GB of RAM with a Core i5 CULV processor and NFC capabilities. The only thing that HP seems to have copied from Apple's Macbook is the the color scheme. The black-keyboard on on a grey body. HP's Spectre is better than the rest of Ultrabooks and is priced at $13,999.

XPS13 by Dell is Dell's first dive into the Ultrabook market. When closed, the XPS13 can easily be mistaken to be a chinese clone of the Macbook Air. However it has a completely different feel to it when opened. The Interiors are all black. The Specifications of the laptop are also good. They are nearly the same as that of Spectre except the XPS has a Core i3 CULV processor and a lesser screen-resolution of 1366X768. XPS13 also has the gorilla glass. No NFC over here though. The laptop is priced at $999. XPS13 is good but I won't seriously consider buying it, when i can get better at $999.

The last one on this list is Lenovo Yoga. It was the most uniquely designed ultrabook at CES and it has nothing similar to the MacBook Air in terms of design. The laptop turn into a touch screen tablet, and runs Windows 8. I am not sure if this qualifies an ultrabook (We still don't know if it has that CULV processor or whether a laptop needs CULV to be officially called an ultrabook*) but it has most of the qualities of an ultrabook. It has a Flash SSD, a large 'quoted' battery life, it is thin and its ultraportable. The hinge-design of which i am not a fan of, is a neatly done, but 'Yoga' might just prove to be very bulky to play the role of a Tablet. Also, the hinge may not be very comfortable for both Laptop and Tablet users. The Lenovo Yoga (An Ideapad) will hit the stores only after Windows 8 makes a debut.

Final Words:
While the Ultrabook platform is flooded with clones, there are a few which do stand-out and perform better than others. However, Even they sport similar designs and uninspired technology. So Ultrabook is largely an exaggerated and mass cloned platform. The herd might just survive, or may turn out to be Netbooks 2.0. doomed to die.

* Ultrabook is a trademark owned by Intel and this post has no-intention of demeaning the sales of the Ultrabooks.

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