The arrival and popularization of ultrabooks could significantly impact the semiconductor market - positively for some, and negatively for others.
Market researchers from IHS believe that the market volume of ultrabooks could hit 136.5 million units by 2015, up from not even 1 million this year. While these devices offer a major opportunity for sensors as well as power and analog semiconductors, memory makers may not be so happy about their future. It's somewhat unlikely that many users would be able to handle memory upgrades in ultrabooks.
IHS noted that the ultrabook may be considered a notebook, but it is really a new category as it "requires changes in design and component selection compared to conventional mobile PCs" in order to achieve its thin and light form factor. Ultrabooks are generally less than 0.8 inches thick and have tablet-like features such instant-on operation, solid state drives and battery lives longer than eight hours on a single charge.
"In terms of usage of sensors, ultrabooks much more closely resemble media tablets than conventional notebooks," said Jérémie Bouchaud, principal analyst, MEMS and sensors, for IHS. "Media tablets make extensive use of such devices, incorporating MEMS microphones, accelerometers, gyroscopes and pressure sensors as well as non-MEMS devices like compasses, ambient light sensors and possibly proximity sensors. In contrast, today’s notebooks make relatively minimal use of sensors. With ultrabook shipments expected to rise to account for 42 percent of the notebook market by 2015, this represents a major growth opportunity for MEMS."
IHS said that media tablets in 2011 contain an average of $3.45 worth of sensors, compared to $0.51 for conventional notebooks, illustrating the huge opportunity for these devices in ultrabooks.
However, the outlook for DRAM is not so great. Ultrabooks will integrate memory that is permanently attached to the motherboard to achieve high-density product designs. Upgrade of the main memory will be a task that could be considered to be painful in some and impossible in other cases. IHS said that the ultrabook in 2015 will "reduce the number of upgrade notebook PC modules shipped by 13.5 percent, amounting to some 10.8 million units."