Ultrabooks, expected to be hot at CES, could be boon for enterprise IT

Major PC makers expected to unveil new models

With ultrabooks poised to be the hottest computers to come out of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), analysts say the new hardware should be a boon for enterprise IT shops.

Backed by Intel, all of the major PC manufacturers are expected to unveil or show off ultrabooks -- super thin and lightweight, high-end laptops. The launch of new ultrabooks is expected to be a blow to the netbook market and could even make the burgeoning tablet market stumble a bit.

However, the biggest impact could be on enterprise IT.

"The ultrabook is really about creating a new baseline for mobile computing for consumers and businesses alike," said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Inc. "Since ultrabooks are mostly Windows-based machines, they should actually be easier for enterprises to incorporate into existing IT management and security schemas than Apple products."

King added that ultrabooks should be far more appealing to most IT departments than the popular, consumer-oriented Apple iPad.

"The iPad laid down the challenge for what people could expect in media delivery and battery life, though at significant cost in overall system features, flexibility and performance," he said. "With ultrabooks, Intel is suggesting that users can and should have it all."

Intel is pushing hard on ultrabooks -- Intel coined and trademarked the term -- as a way to fire up the PC market and do battle with netbooks, tablets and Apple's own popular, high-end MacBook Air.

So what qualifies a laptop as an ultrabook? Intel has some stringent criteria: Ultrabooks can weigh no more than 3.1 pounds, be no more than 0.8 inches thick, and offer five to eight or more hours of battery life. They also will have flash-based storage, and use Intel's Rapid Start Technology for fast boot times.

"Ultrabooks are the answering salvo of the traditional PC industry to the Apple iPad and other tablet manufacturers," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "We're going to see a wide range of systems offered by every major manufacturer. While they'll each have their own twist on the system, all of them will have to adhere to the ultrabook party line by pushing their small size, long battery life, fast boot time and the fact that these systems can run the software that customers already have."

And Olds also noted that he expects ultrabooks to turn a lot of enterprise heads.

"I do expect to see [enterprises] starting to outfit their employees with these new systems," he added. "For enterprises, ultrabooks will probably simplify their lives. These new systems are essentially traditional laptops in new form factors and some new technical wrinkles -- something that is well known to corporate IT departments. So I would think they'd be happy to support ultrabooks as a corporate laptop standard."

King added that with so many different PC manufacturers - think Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer, Asus and Toshiba - coming out with ultrabooks, MacBook Air sales could take a hit.

"Generally speaking, I think we'll see quite a few...that will challenge or even eclipse the form factor and performance of Apple's Macbook Air," he said. "And this could also reset what customers can and should expect from ultralight laptop and mobile computing solutions."

But Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat, isn't as excited about ultrabooks as many others and warns that users shouldn't fall prey to too much Intel hype about them. "This is nothing more than a notebook PC," McGregor added. "I guess Intel's market has had some success if it has people believing it is something more."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, however, sees more potential for ultrabooks.

"They're kind of like having the best parts of a tablet merged into a notebook," he said. "It is a stronger counterpoint to adopting Apple products, and enterprises don't like diversity on the desktop so they should like this product class once it mainstreams."

Want more on CES? See our roundup of everything you need to know from CES.

Follow our staffers live from CES in Las Vegas Jan. 8-12 on Twitter: @Computerworld/CES.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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