Heading Into the Fourth Generation
Touch issues aside, Intel knew that the key to bridging the tablet and clamshell worlds would lie in system resume performance. This is, in part, why Intel required a drop in resume-from-hibernation times with the touch-enabled Shark Bay—from seven milliseconds down to only three. Ultimately, to serve as a tablet, the PC would have to wake up like a tablet. That includes the idea of “fresh data,” so when a user opens his or her convertible in tablet mode, information such as current email is already refreshed and waiting.
“The second major vector [after touch] was around responsiveness,” says Rob DeLine. “This is not the speeds and feeds of the processor and graphics. Responsiveness is about how this thing wakes up and whether it feels snappy when I’m in the flow doing my workload. We spent a lot of time and reliance on using solid-state memory devices and cache to get the system to wake up fast and multitask quickly, so it would snap between applications.”
Over 90 Ultrabook designs arrived with the Ivy Bridge generation. Now, with Haswell and the fourth generation of Ultrabook, we have more in store. Although Haswell left us disappointed on the desktop, we already knew that the architecture's feature set was molded around certain mobile goals. Improved efficiency means that a battery's capacity goes that much further, even before taking new design elements into consideration. According to Intel, most devices will see over nine hours of runtime, and some are already peaking over 12 hours. Intel bills this as a 50% battery life leap, the largest such jump in its product history. To put it in perspective, the Ultrabook platform figured on a 35 W TDP envelope in 2010. Looking into the Bay Trail generation now launching in the second half of 2013, that number plummets to 6 W.
If you caught Chris Angelini’s June deep dive into Haswell, then you’re already up to speed on the architecture's subtle improvements to IPC and faster graphics. All of that feeds into the next generation of Ultrabook (except for ultra-low power models that will be based on the Silvermont Atom design). Expect the number of models available with touch to triple in this generation. For the 2012 holidays, there were five 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabooks on the market. This year for the holidays, expect more than 50.
What else? Fourth-gen Ultrabook will have Thunderbolt—better late than never. You’ll get the Intel Identity Protection and Anti-Theft features enabled via the security improvements in Haswell. (Since I’ll be carrying my two-pound Ultrabook around and forgetting it everywhere, or having it filched by my kids, I want an app that can help me locate it inside my house.)
Not least of all, new Ultrabooks will ship with Intel WiDi built in. WiDi is Intel’s spin on the Wi-Fi Direct and Miracast standards. In a nutshell, WiDi provides an easy way for devices to stream content directly to a TV, monitor, or similar supporting display device. Samsung has dabbled with such capabilities in a proprietary way, but perhaps Ultrabook will push the technology to its tipping point and into the mainstream. Again, I should point out the importance of having big wireless pipes (particularly of the 802.11ac variety) in order to make this an enjoyable experience.