AMD responds to Intel Ultrabooks with Ultrathin line

With chip maker Intel declaring that its range of Ultrabooks will be the form factor of 2012

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AMD responds to Intel Ultrabooks with Ultrathin line About 40% of the market this year will be ultrabooks, says Al Schamma.
By  Manda Banda Published  April 18, 2012

With chip maker Intel declaring that its range of Ultrabooks will be the form factor of 2012, the vendor has been countered by rival AMD after the company announced that it is gearing up its own version of the super thin, light-weight laptop form factor. But who will emerge victorious in the battle for top spot in this market segment?

It is official, Intel won’t be the only chip maker pushing the Ultrabook form factor this year. Rival chip vendor AMD has revealed that it is gearing up to launch its own version of a super-thin, light-weight notebook form factor – fittingly called the ‘Ultrathin’ – sometime around mid-year, which will be powered by the company’s next-generation line of A-series ‘Trinity’ accelerated processing units (APUs).

According to AMD, the new processors can deliver the same performance as its current A-series line used in standard notebooks, while using only half the power and drawing 17 watts of power.

In addition to power efficiency, the new Ultrathin line is expected to deliver a feature perhaps even more attractive: a low price point. According to a recent report, AMD’s Trinity-based Ultrathins will be offered at a price point approximately $100 to $200 less than upcoming Intel Ivy Bridge-based Ultrabooks. The report also suggested that the modest Ultrathin price point will be possible because AMD’s new Trinity-based platform delivers little in terms of boosted performance or function.

Exact price points for the Ultrathin platform have not been confirmed, but Andy Lutzky, an AMD spokesperson, cited affordability as a critical factor behind the company’s overall strategy for the soon to be launched platform. “The price point is definitely a goal,” Lutzky said. “Anything in the $599, $699, $799 range is the goal.”

In addition to pricing models, Lutzky stressed AMD’s upcoming Lightning Bolt technology as a potential draw for the chip maker’s Ultrathin line. Lightning Bolt will be a high-speed input/output technology that delivers USB 3.0, DisplayPort and power over a single cable with mini DisplayPort connectors.

Upon its release later this year, AMD’s Lightning Bolt technology will enable the consolidation of various notebook input ports, making it ideal for use within the super-sleek and space-conscious Ultrathin model. The hope, Lutzky said, is that it [Lightning Bolt] could eventually appear in Ultrathin notebooks that have Trinity in them.

Like the Ultrathin, AMD’s Lightning Bolt technology appears to be a counter-attack to a move already made by rival Intel, whose own high-speed input/output technology, Thunderbolt, can be found within Apple’s popular MacBook Pro and MacBook Air line of notebooks.

Intel on the other hand, has predicted that its new laptop form factor called the Ultrabook, which was launched in late 2011, will capture a 40% market share by the end of 2012.

Analyst company Canalys expected around 50 new Ultrabook devices to be announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which took place in the US last month, while Intel predicts around 70 Ultrabook models will be released by various vendors in 2012.

The Ultrabook specification is hoped to provide a boost to sales in the notebook sector.

Tim Coulling, analyst with Canalys commented: “Ultrabooks show some much needed, and long overdue, innovation in the notebook market and will pose a new threat to premium pads.

“With increased battery life and portability, the continued development of the Ultrabook will bring some of the features that consumers love about pads to the notebook space,” he added.

Other analysts have commented that the Ultrabook is a reaction not just to the feature rich tablet market, but also to declining margins in general notebooks. Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD, told the New York Times, that with average notebook spend of less than $500, manufactuers have seen too much pressure on margins. Higher cost/higher margin alternatives are confined to gaming or professional segments, so the industry is looking for a consumer form factor that can drive average prices back up.

“They’re trying to make products for mainstream consumers that have the right look and feel, and gives them the incentive to spend more money on the computer,” Baker said.

Ultrabooks at present have the high end features, but the price tag of around $1,000 is too rich for most. The sweet spot for Ultrabooks, says Baker, would be $500-$700, a price point that is not feasible at present due to component costs, but that should be achievable as prices come down, so long as the segment is able to persist long enough.

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