PC Ultrabooks Looking to Rain on the MacBook Air’s Parade

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the Asus UX21 - set to release later this year
the Asus UX21 - set to release later this year

The MacBook Air has ushered in a new era of powerful netbooks that function more like prosumer computers. In our review of Apple’s latest 2011 MacBook Air, it’s obvious that the Air now packs a punch and accompanying price tag that most notebooks of similar size haven’t been able to dream of for years.

The PC market is looking to level the playing field between the Air and its competition, with Intel announcing a new platform called the “Ultrabook.” The Ultrabook is the PC industry’s proposed MacBook Air killer, but these upcoming notebooks will also have an ultra-price tag that’s higher than the Air’s. Apple’s entry-level MacBook Air retails for $999.

Intel’s Ultrabook platform will be a new class of notebooks that Intel promises to be less than 0.8-inches thick, weigh about 2 pounds, offer longer battery life, and boast a price tag under $1,000. Ultrabooks will also run on Intel’s new 22nm Ivy Bridge processor. Unfortunately, the first Ultrabooks to hit the market later this year are predicted to be priced much higher than that.

The first wave of Ultrabooks are expected to drop in the coming months from manufacturers like Asus and cost an upwards of $1,600. Digitimes claims that, while Intel wants the first Ultrabooks to be sold at the $1,000 price point, “actual production costs render the hope practically infeasible.”

However, the leading Ultrabook for this holiday season will be the Asus UX21, and Asus has been adamant that their upcoming notebook will be less expensive than the 11-inch MacBook Air. Asus is also taking a cue from Apple by casing the UX21 in a familiar unibody design.

PC manufacturers have already been trying to make MacBook Air-like laptops, with Dell putting out products like the Adamo XPS and Lenovo touting notebooks like the Thinkpad XI. Nothing has really separated these attempts at super-thin laptops from the Air, but Intel promises that Ultrabooks will be different.

Intel is obviously trying to take a stab at the iPad as well, with Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney saying that Ultrabooks will boast “tablet-like features” in a very “thin, light and elegant design.” Sales results have not been impressive for Android-based tablets, like the Motorola Xoom. And Windows-based tablets have seen almost no consumer adoption whatsoever in the last several years.

While it’s true that the Air’s specs do not stack up to some of Dell and HP’s cheapest laptops, the Air still seems faster to most consumers. The Air’s quick prosumer adoption is mainly attributed to its lighting-fast SSD and amazing battery life. Superb build quality also sets it apart from most competitively-priced Windows notebooks.

Even if the average Ultrabook is offered at the Air’s entry-level $999 price point, it’s unlikely that the majority of consumers will opt for what is essentially a Windows-based copy of the Air. Unless PC manufacturers can differentiate with various features and technical specs that draw customers away from Apple’s clutches, the MacBook Air should keep leading the ultra-thin notebook race for quite some time.