Intel Says Plastic Chassis Could Drive Down Ultrabook Prices

A concept chassis made of plastic could result in Ultrabooks that are as durable as current systems but cost significantly less, according to Intel officials.

For Intel, driving down the cost of Ultrabooks is a key to driving adoption of the very thin and light notebooks.

Now officials with the giant chip maker are saying they have created a concept chassis for Ultrabooks made of plastic that could prove just as sturdy as the current machined aluminum and die-cast metal used to make the systems, and at a fraction of the cost.

The new chassis could result in lower-cost Ultrabooks €œin the near future€ and that systems built with the new plastic chassis likely will hit the market next year €œafter further refinements in engineering and design,€ Intel officials said in a June 4 post on the company€™s Chip Shot blog site.

The plastic chassis could prove a significant step for Intel in driving the adoption of Ultrabooks, a form factor that the company introduced last year at the 2011 Computex show. The basic idea behind Ultrabooks is to create systems that offer the same productivity capabilities of traditional laptops along with features€”including long battery life, instant-on and constant-connect capabilities, and touch-screens€”that are found in popular tablets.

Intel also has laid out certain features systems must have to be considered Ultrabooks, including a price tag of less than $1,000, to enable them to compete not only with tablets but also with Apple€™s popular MacBook Air. Analysts have said that price will continue to be a key factor in driving adoption, and executives with rival Advanced Micro Devices have said that with similar systems based on their technology€”which they have dubbed €œultrathins€€”price will be a key differentiator. AMD officials made that point last month, when they launched their highly energy-efficient Trinity processors.

Those chips will help power ultrathins, which will be a little larger than Ultrabooks, but will also have quad-core processors and price points of about $500. Currently, some Ultrabooks have come in below $800, but many still cost more than $1,000.

€œWe€™re taking a different tack from Intel,€ Leslie Sobon, corporate vice president for desktop product line management at AMD, told eWEEK at the time of Trinity€™s launch. €œYou should not necessarily have to pay a premium for thinness.€

Intel executives have said that there are almost two dozen Ultrabooks on the market powered by Intel€™s 32-nanometer Sandy Bridge chips, which were released last year. However, Intel recently launched the first of its 22nm Ivy Bridge processors, which offer better performance and significantly better power efficiency and should help lower the costs of Ultrabooks. Company officials have said there are as many as 100 Ultrabook designs in the works, with many expected to be unveiled at Computex in Taiwan this year, which begins June 5. Many also will be running Microsoft€™s upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which also will help drive adoption, according to analysts.

Several vendors, including Acer and Lenovo, already are touting new Ultrabooks that will be on display at Computex. Lenovo reportedly is offering new IdeaPad U-series, including a 13-inch model that starts at $749.

Intel executives have aggressively pushed the Ultrabook idea, seeing it as a way to not only bolster a somewhat stalled PC market but also as an avenue into the lucrative mobile device market. Currently, most smartphones and tablets run on chips designed by ARM Holdings.

Intel last year established a $300 million fund for companies that make hardware and software for Ultrabooks, and also is putting aside hundreds of millions of dollars for a massive advertising and marketing campaign behind the systems.

In addition, Intel continues to support Ultrabooks through its technology, including new Ivy Bridge-based Mobile Ultra processors, announced May 31 and aimed at Ultrabooks.

The new plastic chassis is the latest Ultrabook effort by Intel. According to officials, the company used engineering techniques found in the automotive and aerospace industries in creating the chassis, and involved what they called €œstructural reduction analysis€ to get the needed added strength using existing plastics.

Intel officials said they will be sharing the results of their work with Ultrabook ecosystem partners.