Intel’s next big bet: low-priced touchscreen ultrabooks to debut in 2013

8 Jan 2013

Kirk Skaugen, vice-president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, with a Lenovo touchscreen ultrabook due to debut this spring

The prospect of Windows 8 touchscreen ultrabooks hitting the market for less than US$600 took a step closer to reality last night when chip giant Intel said its fourth-generation Intel Core processor, which promises “all day battery life”, will debut on machines later this year. But the big question is, will Microsoft rival Apple use this technology on its MacBook Air line-up?

Kirk Skaugen, vice-president and general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel, at CES last night, said the company’s forthcoming fourth-generation Intel Core processor family will operate as low as 7 watts, resulting in thinner and lighter convertible designs.

He said there are now more than a dozen designs in development based on the new low-power fourth-generation Core processor.

The idea is users will be able to have full PC experiences on ultra-light mobile form factors.

It will be no doubt interesting if this will help or hinder the emergence of the Windows 8-based tablet market.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S Ultrabook and a future ultrabook detachable from Acer will be among the first to market this spring based on the new Intel processors.

“The fourth-generation Core processors are the first Intel chips built from the ground up with the ultrabook in mind,” Skaugen said.

“We expect the tremendous advancements in lower-power Core processors, and the significant ramp of touch-based systems will lead to a significant new wave of convertible ultrabooks and tablets that are thinner, lighter and, at the same time, have the performance required for more human-like interaction, such as touch, voice and gesture controls.”

To demonstrate the impact of the fourth-generation Intel Core processor family, Skaugen showed a new form factor ultrabook detachable reference design (code named North Cape) that converts into a 10mm tablet and can run on a battery for up to 13 hours while docked.

Will Apple put touchscreen technology on its MacBook Air line-up?

The emergence of low-priced ultrabooks with touchscreen technology brings to mind whether the biggest tech firm not to bother showing up at the aging CES – Apple, that is – will go with its MacBook Air family.

Could we see the advent of touchscreen MacBook Air devices later this year? After all, it was Intel processors that made the MacBook Air possible, unleashing the ultrabook form factor in the process.

Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Air comes in both Intel dual-core i5 and i7 configurations and all new Mac computers sport Intel’s Thunderbolt USB 3 technology.

However, rumours did emerge late last year that Apple may be mulling a move away from Intel, with Apple engineers exploring ways to replace Intel processors in its Mac computers with the same chip technologies it uses in the iPhone and iPad platforms.

Intel as a smartphone and tablet player

Intel last night unveiled a new low-power Atom processor platform – previously code-named Lexington – targeted at the value smartphone market, which it predicts will reach 500m units by 2015. Already Acer, Lava International and Safaricom have voiced support for the platform.

The configuration can achieve speeds of 1.2GHz, 1080p for up to two cameras and burst modes of seven shots in less than a second in 5-megapixel quality.

Another Atom platform – previously code-named Clover Trail – is a dual-core Atom processor with Intel Hyper Threading Technology that also comes with a dual-core graphics engine.

In terms of tablets, Intel said a number of Windows 8-based tablets are now on shelves that run on the Intel Atom Processor Z2760. Manufacturers of these devices include Samsung, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, LG and Acer.

Mike Bell, vice-president and general manager of Intel’s Mobile and Communications Group, said more tablet devices based on Atom processors will hit the market in the coming weeks.

He also unveiled details about the company’s next-generation 22nm Atom SoC, code named Bay Trail, which is already booting and scheduled to be available for holiday 2013. He said this, the first quad-core Atom SoC (system on a chip) will be the most powerful Atom processor to date, delivering more than two times the computing performance of Intel’s current generation tablet offering.

It will also include new improved integrated security offerings. Bell said these improvements will enable new experiences for business and personal use in devices as thin as 8mm that have all-day battery life and weeks of standby, all at lower prices.

“With Bay Trail we will build on the work done with our current SoC development and accelerate very quickly by leveraging Intel’s core computing strengths,” Bell said.

“We will take advantage of the tremendous software assets and expertise at our disposal to deliver the best products with best-in-class user experiences,” Bell said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years