Intel Taiwan’s country manager Jason Chen told the press during an event on Wednesday that new Ultrabooks will likely dip down to $599 USD in the second half of this year by using cheaper materials. Currently Ultrabooks tend to price around $750 and more, and only dip into the lower range when they go on sale.
While speaking with the press on the sidelines, Chen said that one solution to reduce the price will be to use a mixed plastic/aluminum chassis instead of one made of metal. Given that many laptops on the market are already based on plastic frames, it's a wonder Ultrabook makers haven't already taken this route on a whole, ditching the more-expensive metal option. But the issue is obviously sturdiness -- the thinner the device becomes, the harder the chassis will need to be, hence the typical metal frame which is seven to ten times stiffer than plastic.
But Intel is pushing to use a special type of plastic which has been structurally optimized to be nearly as sturdy and almost just as attractive. A slide released weeks ago during IDF 2012 suggests that Intel also wants to build systems with high volume injection mold tooling, use existing materials, and create a good quality yet rigid feel while demonstrating a stiffness equal to a metal chassis.
Ultrabooks are also expected to feature hybrid storage solutions as seen with the Acer Aspire S3 and other Ultrabook models. This solution contains a small SDD for the operating system and cache, and a large HDD for everything else. As an example Acer's Ultrabook sports a 20 GB SSD and a 320 GB HDD, and costs around $779 USD; the pricier Asus Zenbook UX31 features only a 128 GB SSD and is priced around $1100.
Chen said that because of the potential price drop, Ultrabook sales are expected to reach 30 to 40-percent of global notebook shipments in 2012. Mainstream prices will probably reside at the $699 price point while low-end models will sport the $599 tag. Consumers may even see cheaper prices once the 1st-generation Ultrabooks go on sale to make room for the next wave.
With Windows 8 slated to arrive this fall, Ultrabook manufacturers may be forced to rely on the cheaper plastic/aluminum chassis in order to incorporate touch screens and still keep the devices within Intel's sub-$1000 realm. Currently there's speculation that manufacturers will have to cut corners somewhere due to the price of touch screens anyway, and the chassis will likely be the first to be altered. This is why Intel and Microsoft are working on various prototypes: to create a quality touch-based product while keeping the price tag reasonable.
Chen confirmed that new models will arrive by the third or fourth quarter sporting touch screens and gesture sensors. Asus has already said that it plans to roll out a number of new Ultrabooks priced from $799 to $1,999 starting in the April-June period.