Intel originally coined the word ‘ultrabook’ for the long-overdue PC answer to the MacBook Air, the impossibly slim sub-notebook that Apple launched back in 2008. The idea was to design a notebook with comparable performance yet with a much greater battery life and further reduced weight and size. Several manufacturers came forward with ultrabook solutions, including Dell (XPS13), Acer (Aspire S3), Toshiba (Satellite Z830) and ASUS – which recently launched its Core i5 processor-based Zenbook.
In the case of the Zenbook, ASUS had to create an entirely new fabrication and assembly process, as well as new machine tools in order to mass-produce its new ultrabook.
But all ultrabook manufacturers first had to find new ways to minimise their current, smallest form factor portable to fit Intel’s ultrabook definition.
Two major factors in a notebook’s weight and size are the motherboard and battery: by improving general power consumption and redesigning the motherboard, the overall battery bulk has been trimmed and the motherboard components have been packed onto a drastically reduced printed circuit board (PCB) footprint.
The new generation of Intel processors -the Core i3, i5 and i7 central processing units (CPUs) – all have basic integrated graphics processing units (GPUs) that, while hardly capable of competing with the latest commercial graphics cards, are perfectly suited to the basic graphical number-crunching required of an ultrabook.
Finally, the chassis has been designed using a single piece of lightweight aluminium, removing the need for an internal framework to hold components in place and thus, cutting further weight from the final build.
The ultrabook project
The initiative for the ultrabook was started by Intel last year. The CPU giant offered significant financial subsidies to PC manufacturers willing to design an Intel-based solution to compete with the MacBook Air. The brief was to create a portable that fit the gap between a notebook and a tablet PC. According to Intel’s executive vice president, Sean Maloney, ultrabooks have to be “thin, light and beautiful”, less than 20 millimeters (0.8 inches) thick, use a Sandy Bridge Intel mobile processor and come in at less than USD 1,000 (GBP 630).
The current crop of ultrabooks, known as the Huron River phase, will be succeeded by the Chief River phase this June and finally the Shark Bay phase sometime next year. Each of these stages makes incremental enhancements to the basic specifications of an ultrabook and, significantly, adapts to match the new generations of Intel CPU microarchitecture.
What is Core i5?
At the heart of every ultrabook – or rather, its brain – is the Intel CPU. The core i5 2557M is an ultra-low voltage component designed with very thin and light laptops in mind. The Sandy Bridge series of this processor generation features an improved Turbo 2.0, which al lows the CPU to idle at a relatively low 1.7GHz when the ultrabook is being used for mundane tasks such as word-processing and desktop applications. It can throttle up to a maximum 2.7GHz on a single core or utilize both cores at 2.4GHz depending on the task and the power-saving potential.
The CPU also has a small 32nm core and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, both of which contribute to the ultrabook’s overall energy efficiency and heat reduction. Essentially, the Intel processor is a fundamental factor in lowering the minimum size and weight threshold of each ultrabook.