Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba join Intel's Ultrabook push

If this year's Computex was a tablet-led affair, then the Berlin-based IFA is very much focusing on Intel's Ultrabook concept. We take a look at what the major players are offering those who think that Intel has the skinny on thin-and-light laptops.

There's no denying that the Ultrabook concept is inspired by Apple's MacBook Air: many in the industry believe that Intel gave the company early access to the technology that forms the heart of an Ultrabook, only deigning to give its other OEM partners the parts required relatively recently.

The Computex tradeshow earlier this year saw the first Ultrabook - the Asus UX21 - formally outed, but with an uncertain launch date and unfinished specifications. The remarkable device was all-but overlooked at an event which saw every brand under the sun - including non-technology brands like fashion label Pierre Cardin - showing off Android-powered cut-price tablets.

IFA is a very different affair. While it's true that tablets are very much out in force - Samsung and Sony have both launched a pair of new devices, and the Nvidia stand is covered in almost nothing but Tegra-powered proddable devices - the big reveal for many companies is thin-and-light laptops, some of which bear the Ultrabook label and others of which are taking a different path.

Dell used the first day of the show to launch its Inspiron 14z, a smaller variant of its existing thin-and-light 15z. It's not an Ultrabook - it's significantly thicker than the true examples on display from other manufacturers - but does include a choice of Intel Core i3 or i5 chips in its 23.87mm-thick casing and a claimed battery life of between six and eight hours.

The 14-inch display offers a 1366x768 resolution for native playback of 720p video, and includes the sadly de rigeur glossy finish that means you won't be using the device outside for long. Its biggest feature over true Ultrabooks, however, is in an on-board tray-loading DVD+RW drive - compared to the slot-loading version found in the larger Inspiron 15z - and ports including USB, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, and Ethernet.

For those looking for something more along Intel's design guidelines, there's an array of choice: Acer revealed its 13mm-thick Aspire S3, Toshiba its Portégé Z830, and Lenovo its U300, and while none were a particular surprise, with many having been hinted at during previous events, crowds soon gathered to see what Intel claims is the future of portable computing.

The specifications of the various Ultrabooks are - as you might expect from first-generation devices built around a master design from Intel itself - pretty similar: the laptops are available with the option of Intel's top-end Core i7 processors or the more sedate Core i3 or i5 versions, feature 13.3-inch 1366x768 displays, and promise a minimum of six hours of usable battery life per charge.

Despite the similarities, there have been some innovations made in the design of the devices: Acer's Aspire S3 includes a 'Deep Sleep' mode which allows the system to save its current state and maintain its battery charge for up to 50 days, while booting back up in just six seconds.

IFA also saw some preliminary pricing details for the Ultrabooks revealed, and while the price isn't at the £1,000-plus mark that Asus hinted at during its Computex launch they're still not cheap: base models - with Core i3 processors - will start at around €799 or $799, both Acer and Lenovo have confirmed.

With Intel betting heavily on the success of its Ultrabook concept, it will be watching the response to the first wide-scale preview of the devices here at IFA carefully to see if the public is going to bite.