Intel has been pushing the Ultrabook platform hard, but so far PC makers have had trouble executing and bringing a slim and affordable notebook to market, especially below the entry-level price of the MacBook Air.
It turns out the popularity of the MacBook Air is affecting the PC notebook market in more ways than you might think. As Digitimes reports, there is a shortage of aluminum notebook bodies. Apple’s monstrous need for aluminum notebook chassis, a shortage of materials and high cost of adding additional manufacturing capacity are causing a change in plans for PC manufacturers.
Rather than try to produce limited quantities at higher prices, manufacturers are turning to another high end, light and strong material — fiberglass.
Typically found in sports cars, where weight and strength are also important, fiberglass is a step or two up from the plastic found in most consumer notebooks. Fiberglass is close to the strength of aluminum according to Mitac, a maker of fiberglass cases.
The aluminum shortage is actually great news for consumers. Fiberglass chassis are reportedly $5-10 cheaper than aluminum bodies, allowing manufacturers to pass on savings of $50 to $100 to consumers.
The cheaper price for ultrabooks is especially important if they want to compete with the MacBook Air. We saw early thin and light notebooks suffer because of higher prices, and expect that to continue if prices don’t come down.
The aluminum chassis isn’t the only place where prices can be cut, but it isn’t clear if Intel is willing to drop the price of the processor in Ultrabooks, which can account for a third of the unit’s cost.
One thing is clear, if Ultrabooks are really going to go mainstream and capture 40% of the notebook market in 2012 something has to give. I hope that manufacturers can find a way to offer a more affordable notebook without cutting corners on performance, durability and style — but that will be a tough challenge.
We have seen successful launches for notebooks with aluminum bodies, most recently the Toshiba Tecra R840, which highlights the ability to use fiberglass in a premium notebook without a high high price.
What’s most important to you? Looks, performance or price? Personally I prefer a nice mix between all of those factors over a high point on just one or two.