Year of the Ultrabook -- or the Ultradud?

Expect hype around Ultrabooks to reach new highs with CES just around the corner. But before you succumb, take a closer look at where the technology's heading

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Not likely. Right now, the Windows world is looking for Intel's Ivy Bridge processor, which will run faster and cooler than the current Intel Core i5 -- the center of most Ultrabooks right now -- and support both the Thunderbolt and USB 3 interface standards. Rumor has it that Ivy Bridge processors will start to trickle out in April.

Then there's the price. Chances are very good the CES Ultrabooks -- at least, the ones you can actually buy, and not just preorder -- will run Intel Core i5 or i7 processors; have 4GB of RAM, 128GB of SSD storage, and a 14-inch screen; run Windows 7 Home Premium; and tilt the pecuniary scales at $1,000 or so. Right now a Lenovo U300 with a Core i7, 4GB of RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium, a 13.3-inch monitor, and a 256GB SSD will set you back an ultra $1,499.  Compare that to a MacBook Air, with a Core i5, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 13-inch screen priced at $1,299 -- or an 11-inch with 2GB of RAM, and a 64GB SDD at $999. And the MacBook Air's screen is a very tough act to follow.

Will Ultrabooks unveiled at CES give the MacBook Air a real run for the money, either in specs or in cost? I guess we'll see.

But all of this -- even the anticipated April arrival of Ivy Bridge -- reeks of short-term thinking, particularly because Windows 8's looming for a widely anticipated third-quarter release. Even if you don't anticipate running Windows 8 on one of these newfangled Ultrabooks, the Wintel market's going to change enormously in the third quarter. DigiTimes reports that Acer and Lenovo are both working on new tablet PCs based on Intel's Clover Trail-W processor, slated to ship in the third quarter. Clover Trail is shrouded in secrecy at this point, but it's destined to update the Atom chip technology with dual-core processing capability. It's Intel's answer to ARM architecture, and it's built with Windows 8 in mind.

The real wild card, particularly if you have to think about long-term investment: Will tablets improve sufficiently in the next year to handle just about everything you'd think of doing on an Ultrabook?

This story, "Year of the Ultrabook -- or the Ultradud?" was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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