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Sunday, 15 January 2012 13:24

OEMs: time to take Intel reference designs more seriously


Way back in 2007 I remember seeing Intel demonstrate 'slider' tablet PCs where the screen slid down from a vertical to a horizontal position over the keyboard to create a tablet - long before the iPad hit the scene.

OEMs, or original equipment manufacturers, are a funny bunch.

Yes, that's the Samsungs, Lenovos, HPs, Dells, Acers, Asuses and the rest of the PC manufacting world.

Why? Because some of the Ultrabook designs that are seeing the light of day in 2012, and some that are coming, were previewed five years ago at an Intel IDF developer forum that I was invited to.

There are two examples that stick in my mind. One was a very slim notebook PC with an e-ink display on its outer shell, giving you access to information that was on the PC even though it was 'off' and 'closed'.

The other was an ultrabook-style tablet laptop that saw the screen 'slide' down over the keyboard so the screen remained visible in 'tablet' mode - something we saw Intel demo during CES.

I've wondered, over the past five years, given the crap-tacularness of most pre-iPad Windows tablets, why none of the OEMs had the sheer guts needed to actually take some of Intel's reference designs on board and make them actual products.

Indeed, why the heck has it taken FIVE YEARS for a slider ultrabook-style laptop to go from Intel reference design to products that will ship this year sometime?

Had Intel and its OEMs pushed such devices back then, tablets running Windows would likely have been far more popular than they are today, but I guess we'll never know if that would have been the case, or not.

Of course, should these new slider ultrabook/tablets take off in a big way, one might have imagined that they'd have taken off back then too, but today's ultrabooks are the beneficiaries of far more advanced processor, multi-touch screen and SSD storage technologies than was available five years ago.

Concluded on page two, please read on!

Then there's the Intel Nikiski Ultrabook/tablet that Intel's Mooly Eben showed off at this year's CES, as you can see on page three of The Register's list of top-ten CES gadgets.

The Register lists this product as 'unavailable' and 'priceless' because no OEM is making it - it's another one of those Intel reference designs that seems destined to take FIVE FREAKIN' YEARS before any OEM will have the guts to make it.

Why? Do the OEMs not have faith in Intel's designs? Frankly, they haven't produced much that was better over the past few years, with Intel needing to really kick off Ultrabooks in a massive, massive way to get OEMs on board.

Intel had to do this because its previous effort at 'thin and light' designs powered by CULV (consumer ultra low voltage) processors produced notebooks from the OEMs that certainly were thinner and lighter than previous models, but were still seriously overweight compared to the MacBook Air, launched in 2008.

This must have pissed Intel off to no end, especially considering that the MacBook Air was running Intel technologies within, and the best that the PC OEM competition could do was the crap they came up with, while Apple pioneered Ultrabooks.

Thankfully, Intel has been much more successful with its Ultrabook initiative than the previous CULV initiative, and we're finally seeing some decent ultra thin notebooks appear, with plenty do to be offered as ultrabook/tablets this year, especially in anticipation of the totally tablet-overhauled Windows 8.

So, OEMs'¦ maybe it's worth taking a closer look at some of Intel's reference designs, and instead of pussy-footing around, actually releasing computers based on the futuristic reference designs Intel has provided.

Sure, tweak them all you want, make the damned designs better, release products that will blow our socks off, as opposed to blowing our brains out through the sheer boredom of uninspired design.

2012 is the year that OEMs will be releasing all kinds of interesting ultrabook/tablet designs for the still incredibly dominant Windows platform, and while it should all have been happening years earlier, their arrival is certainly better late than never.

It has been a long time in coming, and for the most part, we're all still waiting - in part because Microsoft is still dilly-dallying with Windows 8 to get it ready for public mainstream release.

So, here's to computing's best year yet - and to ultrabook/tablet computing finally coming to hundreds of millions of computer users who are due for an upgrade - whether they're using Windows 8, Mac OS X, Linux, Android or any other touch-capable, modern OS.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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