Ultrabooks set to steal the show at CES

Ultrabooks – slim, portable high-powered notebooks – are expected to soak up the limelight at CES 2012. 

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    A Lenovo ultrabook is shown at an event in November. Ultrabooks – slim, portable high-powered notebooks – are expected to steal the show at this year's CES.
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First it was laptops. Then it was netbooks. Then it was tablets.

Now it is "ultrabooks" – a term introduced and trademarked by Intel to describe a slim, portable, high-powered PC. (In a nice analysis of the ultrabook, Ina Fried of All Things Digital jokes that she has another name for the devices. "I call them laptops," she writes.) And according to an array of reports from tech analysts, ultrabooks are set to dominate the show at this year's CES, an annual technology gala staged in Las Vegas

Among the ultrabooks expected to be unveiled at CES are models from manufacturers such as Toshiba, Dell, Acer, Asus, and HP. Still confused about the actual purpose of an ultrabook?

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Think the MacBook Air, running Windows. Think small, light, and powerful.

So how will the ultrabooks end up performing on the electronics market? Over at Computerworld, Barbara Krasnoff advises a wait-and-see attitude. 

"I'm not so much a skeptic – the idea of a slim, lightweight, comfortable-to-type-on full-featured notebook with a very long battery life is extremely attractive – as I am cautious," Krasnoff writes. "The current crop of the first ultrabooks to make their appearance are attractive, but according to a review that Computerworld's Brian Nadel did of the Acer Aspire S3 and Asus Zenbook UX31, they aren't yet quite the wonders that we'd like."

Krasnoff also points out – correctly – that most of the ultrabooks debuting at CES hover in the $1,000 range, which is well out of the range of the casual consumer (but, of course, in the same range as the MacBook Air). "One of the factors that drove the netbook into almost immediate popularity a couple of years ago was that you could pick up one of the small, lightweight systems for about $400, more or less," Krasnoff notes. 

On a related note, if tech-savvy consumers have already shelled out for a smartphone (typical price: 200 bucks, with a 2-year contract), and a tablet ($500, let's say), will they really have the wallet capacity for an ultrabook? Well, yes, maybe, says David Johnson, an analyst at Forrester. 

"While the ultrabooks are thin, light and offer instant-on convenience, the tablet will still have a place in the computer bag for reading, reviewing documents, and informal discussions or presentations," Johnson told Wired. 

For more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut. And don’t forget to sign up for the weekly BizTech newsletter.

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