Microsoft and Intel are set to tackle Apple and Google and IT consumerisation head-on with Windows 8 powered ultra-books.
The ultrabook is a new form factor for the ubiquitous laptop. It is clearly aimed at the consumer market, where Apple has been gaining momentum, due to the desirability of the Apple brand and the combination of the iPhone, AppStore and MacBook devices.
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With enterprises feeling pressure to support IT consumerisation, the ultrabook gives consumers a laptop that is designed to work both at home and on the corporate LAN. Many ultrabook devices demonstrated at this month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas incorporated touchscreens, blurring the line between the lightweight and less functional iPad-like tablet devices and fully-fledged laptop computers.
With the 2011 collapse of the netbook market, the dominance of Apple of both the high-end notebook PC and the tablet market, plus the threat from both smartphones and tablets, a large number of PC manufacturers are fighting back with "ultrabook" form factor devices, according to analyst Ovum.
Similarly, Gartner predicts that 2012 will be the year of the ultrabook.
“We expect most vendors will put their emphasis on ultrabooks and Windows 8 in 2012. However, with spend toward alternative devices intensifying in 2012, the new ultrabook platform and surrounding ecosystem will need to form a highly compelling proposition to withstand this competition for consumer spend from other devices,” said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.
At the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft demonstrated ultrabooks running Windows 8 on x86 (AMD and Intel) and ARM processors. The device used by Microsoft chief marketing officer for Windows, Tami Reller (pictured), was powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU. The Tegra 3 is a quad-core processor, which Nvidia says will support “extreme multitasking” and provide up to two times faster browsing and hardware-accelerated Flash memory. The chip includes an integrated ultra-low power (ULP) NVIDIA GeForce GPU for high-end graphics and supports HD video.
Along with Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm are also working with Microsoft to bring Windows 8 to ARM. Qualcomm's ARM-based family, called the Qualcomm Snapdragon is used in Windows-8 tablets.
“Intel is continuing to put its eggs into the ultrabook basket, as indicated by its activities at the Consumer Electronics Show,” said Ryan Chien, research associate for memory & storage at IHS. “From the company’s introduction of the Nikiski reference design, to its announcement that more than 60 additional ultrabook designs will enter the market in time for the 2012 holiday season, Intel at CES showed that ultrabooks have become the centrepiece of its mobile computing strategy.”