[AI] WILL ULTRA-THIN LAPTOPS KILL THE NETBOOK?

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Wed May 5 02:25:43 EDT 2010



Mini laptops rose in popularity almost overnight.  But, with ultra-thin
models
now hitting the market, Agam Shah considers whether their demise will be
just as
quick

They're lightweight, affordable and cool, but is the dominance of netbooks
about to be threatened by an emerging group of ultra-thin laptops?

Ultra-thin laptops are a new category of lightweight PCs that are just as
portable as netbooks and provide adequate performance to run most
applications,
including HD multimedia and casual gaming.  The first such model, HP's dv2 (
pictured), is a powerful laptop that can be configured with a discrete
graphics
card and a dual-layer DVD writer.

Netbooks, on the other hand, are designed for web surfing and running basic
apps, such as word-processing software.  They are relatively slow and are
characterised by small keyboards and screens between 8 inches and 12 inches.

Dell introduced its first ultra-thin Inspiron 11z in August at ukp399,
breaking
into the price range of many netbooks.  In a blog posting, Dell
representative
Anne Camden said the 11.6 inches-screen laptop provides "netbook-like
portability with laptop-like capability".

The 11z is powered by a 1.2GHz Intel Celeron 723 - a more powerful processor
than the Intel Atom chips found in the systems we tested in this month's
netbook group test.  At just 1.4 kilogrammes it's a similar weight
to a netbook, but the 11z adds the ability to play HD video.

Aggressive pricing

Roger Kay, president of research firm Endpoint Technologies, said Intel has
been
"anxious" to promote ultra-thin laptops, but until now they have cost too
much
for it to do so.  Now Dell's pricing for the Inspiron 11z could make it an
alternative to netbooks for price-conscious buyers, he said.

"It's extremely aggressively priced, but it doesn't have the performance
limitations of a netbook," Kay said.  For example, ultra-thin laptops can
run
Windows 7 Home Premium - the average netbook can't.

Another firm that could benefit from the emergence of ultra-thin laptops is
Microsoft, which is looking to eke out more profitability from the low-end
laptop space.  High netbook sales have affected Microsoft's earnings.

The company's revenue took a hit because of high netbook shipments and a
worldwide decline in computer sales during the fiscal fourth quarter of
2009.

"Microsoft is trying to land a version of Windows 7 that will be profitable
for
itself and the low-end market," Kay said.

David Daoud, research manager at IDC, said that while Microsoft plans to
offer a
version of Windows 7 called Starter that could go into netbooks, the
software
giant may want to push higher-end versions such as Windows 7 Home Premium
that
could run on ultra-thin laptops.  That could help the company generate more
licensing revenue.

"Ultra-thin laptops are an attempt to go back to a normal mode and high
price
points, so there are margins for everyone," Daoud said.  He added that the
economy is a factor.

The troubled state of the economy means that a ukp50 difference is
significant
to buyers, he claimed.  And, since some buyers don't care about performance
or
size, they may continue to buy cheaper netbooks.

"It just highlights the confusion in the market.  Some consumers really
don't
care.  For them, ultra-thin, Atom - perhaps they don't care too much," Daoud
said.

A size to fit

Netbooks have small screens and can easily be moved around the home, a
convenience that ultra-thin laptops may not offer.  However, ultra-thin
models
have larger screens and could function as primary PCs.

Mainstream, full-size laptops, meanwhile, are feeling the pressure, Kay
said -
customers are leaning toward netbooks and ultra-thin portables in search of
mobility.

Size and convenience are Dell's way of differentiating between ultra-thins
and
its existing line of netbooks, wrote Anne Camden.  "Dell has always
positioned
netbooks, aka minis, as companion devices - miniature laptops that are easy
to
slip into a bag and use while on the go," she said.

But the categories are bound to clash, and netbooks have a long way to go,
particularly in performance.  Ultra-thin models are far ahead in the
performance
curve and netbooks may need either a redesign or quick advancements in the
silicon they use, such as processors.

Netbooks don't have that much time to catch up, Kay said.






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