Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The days of the thin-and-light laptop are numbered

Just two years ago, the Php20,000 price range for personal computing belong to the netbook. These devices offered poor performance, but chugged along well enough to run Microsoft Office and could you run web browser. Intended primarily as highly portable internet access devices, these devices has plenty of limitations with the poor graphics performance rendering unable to play high definition video, cramped keyboards and constricting 1024 x 600 pixel resolution displays were hardly ideal devices, but were good enough for their asking price. Weighing in under 3 pounds and providing five hours or more of battery life, they offered a low cost solution for a particular need. People looking for portable affordable secondary devices or looking for cheap primary computers bought these new devices in the millions.

Today, things have changed. While netbook prices have dropped by 25% or more, and Intel's new Atom processors offer the ability to play HD video, it is hard to recommend these devices. With the advent of smartphones as low cost functional computers, people today are less likely to look for a secondary device. If the small 3.2 to 5.3 inch screens are not sufficient for your mobile internet needs, there is the tablet, and tablet like devices with screen ranging from 7 to 10.1-inches which start at just Php6,000. Occupying the netbooks Php20K price point are low powered AMD Fushion ultraportables with 11.6-inch HD displays. The larger size makes for a better viewing experience and gives you a more comfortable keyboard. People looking for a cheap primary computer can a very capable 13 to 14 inch laptops with AMD Fusion or Intel B940/950 processors at the same price a netbook would command two years ago.

Basically, the market for netbooks has shrunk dramatically over the past two years, and while it has taken a longer than expected time to die, the end is in sight for Intel's Atom powered mini laptops.

Acer Aspire S3

This is not the only category which is in imminent danger of extinction. The so called thin-and-light laptops are going the way of the Dodo too. Thin-and-light laptops have are traditionally defined as laptops which weigh in between 4 to 6 pounds. Half a decade ago, a 6 pound laptop was considered light enough for carry, and with lighter 3-4 pounds units costing an arm and a leg, have gotten fairly affordable. Intel's new category of Ultrabooks, 13-inch or so laptops weighing in at 3 pounds or less and with prices starting below US$1,000 will be the end of the thin-and-light.

When we started this blog over a year ago, we redefined thin-and-light as being between 4 to 5 pounds. Even back than, we could no longer consider a laptop weighing over 5 pounds as offering “balanced mobility.” That was even before the ultrabook.

Today you already have several offerings starting at US$899 from Acer, HP and Toshiba. The Acer Aspire S3 sells at the Php45K price point on local shelves. But we suspect that price will go down soon. While manufacturers reluctantly entered this arena because of high manufacturing costs, Intel's prodding and the realization that tablet gave a new meaning to the word portable compelled them to go this route. As volume production reduces the price of these under 1-inch thin and 3 pound light frames, you will see lower cost processors, like AMD Fusion and thin conventional drives find their way into Ultrabook-like devices. Following the Ultrabook will be a bevy of 13-inch 3.5 pound low cost laptops.

Helping in this effort will be Windows 8. Windows, Linux and MacOSX has grown heavier each year requiring more of the cutting edge hardware that Intel was happy to feed to the market. But with ARM processors in mind, Windows 8 will require less RAM and processing power than any Windows operating system since Windows XP. Testing the Windows 8 Developer Preview on an old HP laptop running Intel Core2 Duo T7100 on just 1 GB of RAM was eye opening. This early build of Windows 8 ran well on specifications that would make Windows Vista and 7 feel sluggish.

Low cost processors with ample power, the ability to play HD video with an operating system happy to play along will make the 13-inch 3.8 pound Sony's Vaio S (Php59,900) feel expensive and make Apple's 4.5 pound 13-inch Macbook Pro feel heavy. Hardcore gamers and those who need processing power for heavy applications will still need the fastest processors that Intel and AMD can churn out. The rest of the market will be happy with something that works, is light enough to carry around and equally light on the wallet.

With the Ultrabook, and Ultrabook like laptops, you will see the end of the thin-and-light laptops. I do expect to see in the next month or two a redesigned MacBook Pro weighing in under 4 pounds. I would not be surprise if eventually, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air are merged into a single product. Sony which had been reluctant to enter the Ultrabook fray as it would devalue their Vaio S and Z lines will have no choice but to follow the herd.

The technology world announced the end of netbook in late 2010. By the end of 2012, we will see the end of the thin-and-light. Anything weighing over four pounds should be a device targeted at gamers or workstation like laptops used a desktop replacements. The MacBook Air on which I am writing this on, which gets disbelieving looks from passers by, is about to become rather pedestrian. The days of thin, light and portable being expensive are at an end.


  1. I just hope that even if the thin laptops come to an end, it doesn't mean they will completely be out. They will never become mainstream, but atleast, a sort of "following" will happen - a group of people who just want a thin laptop.

    1. Don't worry, the thin-and-light, will just be replaced by the thinner and ligther Ultrabook.

  2. Cpmmentary by a writer with no knowledge of any facts! the laptops are getting more powerful, thinner, and even lighter than ever! And the desk top is fading away... Get your head out of your butt and back into reality! Your personal belief that Android is everything is WRONG! Android doesnt run FPS games!

    1. Did you even read the article. The Thin-and-Light category (4-6 pounds) is now basically, being replace by Ultrabooks and Sleekbooks, not Androids.

      From the post: "With the Ultrabook, and Ultrabook like laptops, you will see the end of the thin-and-light laptops."

      Please read, than comment.


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