With Ultrabooks taking flight, Intel twitches

With the first Ultrabooks out and about, Intel will be keeping an eye on the numbers to see if consumers approve of its skinny new format.

The chip maker had bent over backwards to give Apple the slimmest notebook it could manage. Intel, in due course, figured it could put what it learned in the MacBook Air exercise to good use, by promoting a slimline PC. It even sought to give this PC a new name - Ultrabook. Hmm.

Of course, it's the chips inside the box Intel wants to shift by the bucket load. Intel's 'platform' is built around its 'Ultra-Low Voltage' (CULV) processors which these days include Core i7 and Core i5 variants.

The growing - if still relatively slight - IFA show in Germany saw the launch of the first batch of Ultrabooks from the usual suspects: Acer, Lenovo, Asus, Toshiba. In truth, these are a much of a muchness, differentiated by processor choice and a new millimetres here and there. They float around the 800 dolllar/euro mark.

The aim is to fill that gap between a netbook that no-one really wants any more and a laptop you can't afford. And to deliver something nearly as sexy as a MacBook Air.

It's compromises all round and not even the manufacturers building the boxes themselves are convinced it's a flyer.

According to a Taiwanese report, those delivering their Ultrabooks this week - Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba and Asustek - are all hedging their bets. Having first complained that Intel should cut the price of its Ultrabook-bound chips, they have all decided to limit their first shipments of in the new-fangled format to 50,000 units each, the report citing un-named notebook makers states.

Wait and see, is the message all around. For Intel, surveying a wasteland of falling demand, reports of channels swimming in unsold inventory and struggling against a rising tide to get its Atom chip into a smartphone, there's rather a lot riding on this particular suck-it-and-see strategy.

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