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Intel betting big on 'Ultrabooks' after Apple threatens to dump it

According to the Wall Street Journal, Intel is investing heavily into "Ultrabooks" -- thinner and lighter PCs similar to the MacBook Air. The company has made a US$300 million commitment to the technology and hopes to "define" the category the same way it defined the netbook category a couple of years ago.

Two of the chief requirements for the Ultrabook label are a thickness of no more than 21 millimeters and a wake-from-sleep time of seven seconds or less. By contrast, the MacBook Air's maximum thickness is 17 millimeters, and any newer Mac that takes more than seven seconds to fully wake from sleep probably has something wrong with it (or is experiencing a relatively widespread Wi-Fi bug introduced in OS X Lion).

Intel's new focus on Ultrabooks goes alongside a renewed focus on reducing power consumption in its CPUs. Reportedly, Apple threatened to switch to another chipmaker if Intel didn't drastically reduce the power consumption of its chips. The threat of losing one of its main customers has prompted Intel to refocus its product roadmap on reducing power consumption from its current level of 35-40 watts all the way down to 15 watts.

Intel's Ultrabooks will be arriving in three phases, tied to ever-lower power consumption in successive chip generations. The first Ultrabooks should be debuting later this year. While they'll likely be marketed as competitors to the MacBook Air, Apple will have access to the same technology and will likely use it to focus on improving the battery life across its entire notebook range.

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