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Thread: Ultrabooks: trying to beat the MacBook Air

  1. #1
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    Ultrabooks: trying to beat the MacBook Air

    Just heard a radio commercial trying to sell Windows 7 and the 13" Acer Ultrabook.

    Literally, their tagline word-for-word is: "Acer: it's just better, you know, in that smart and powerful way."

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    Has Apple really hired all of the world's competent marketing people?

    I'm pretty happy so far with the new Asus UX31 Zenbook I got though. Looks good, and feels powerful. The keyboard has received some criticism, but doesn't bother me very much (I suspect it's a matter of getting used to it), though the trackpad is a bit flaky. Have to check and see whether I'm missing some updated drivers.

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    Reviews say the trackpad sucks badly, so you may just be scrod.

    So why did you get that Zenbook instead of an MBA? It's almost exactly Apple-level hardware, except worse, for almost exactly the same price, as far as I can tell.

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    World's End Supernova stusser's Avatar
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    The 13" zenbook is $200 less than the MBA. It also lacks the backlit keyboard and has a reportedly terrible trackpad, so there's that.

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    More up to date reviews also note that the patch that Asus put out on release day fixes most of the issues with the trackpad. And after I've spent some time tweaking the trackpad/mouse settings (particularly increasing the speed of the cursor), it actually seems fairly OK. Not brilliant, mind you, but no worse than the trackpad on any of the other laptops I've had.

    Quote Originally Posted by mkozlows View Post
    So why did you get that Zenbook instead of an MBA? It's almost exactly Apple-level hardware, except worse, for almost exactly the same price, as far as I can tell.
    Stusser says $200. Try $250-300, once you've added the various accessories that Apple don't feel you actually need. It is possible that the MBA is better (I wouldn't know, not having tested it), but it is definitely not 20% better for the uses that we will be putting this machine to.

    In other words, the usual "why not" Apple story. Plus, I need a Mac about as much as I need another OS to spend my time on... in other words - not at all.

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    Nothing whatsoever prevents you from buying a Macbook Air, reformatting it and putting Windows on it.

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    Well then he would have to add the cost of Windows to the price of the Macbook Air. Making it really not worthwhile if he doesn't care about the Mac OS at all.

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    World's End Supernova stusser's Avatar
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    Worthwhile depends upon your price-tolerance. I would certainly get the MBA myself, but I can see why someone else wouldn't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strategy View Post
    Stusser says $200. Try $250-300, once you've added the various accessories that Apple don't feel you actually need.
    So I see the cheapest Zenbook UX31e on Amazon for $1100 and the Macbook Air 13 for $1235, which looks like a $135 difference to me, and that's what I was looking at for the price difference. Based on my experience with Apple trackpads (which are basically the only usable trackpads in the entire computer industry, for some reason) and Apple build quality, I'd happily pay the $135 difference for that. But yeah, if it ends up being a bigger difference, I can see where that adds up.

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    I have nothing in particular against Mac OS - I just don't need that added complication, when what I want is a laptop that plays nice with the Android/Windows ecosystem that I already have.

    As for putting Windows on a Macbook Air - why would I do something like that and throw away $300+? If I actually needed a backlit keyboard, I would have gotten a laptop with one. The trackpad is fixable - though it's stupid that an otherwise very impressive laptop is released with this kind of glitch. Very satisfied, so far. And the $300 I'll put aside for that Asus Transformer Prime tablet I'm waiting for.

    P.S. Regarding pricing - I live in Norway. Special price for you, my friend.

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    I'd be interested in them if they had GPUs but all of them seem to just use the default Intel HD Graphics. I think I've also seen some with only 2 USB 2.0 ports which sucks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strategy View Post
    Has Apple really hired all of the world's competent marketing people?
    I think they just locked up most of the machines capable of producing unibody aluminum casing. It's a slow process, apparently.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thongsy View Post
    Well then he would have to add the cost of Windows to the price of the Macbook Air.
    I don't know if he qualifies, but I'd suggest anyone needing help with licensing costs check out Microsoft BizSpark.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Fortson View Post
    I think they just locked up most of the machines capable of producing unibody aluminum casing. It's a slow process, apparently.
    My question is, what the heck did they do to the trackpad market? Allegedly, they have Synaptics trackpads, and yet those same trackpads on any other laptop suck. And it's not a software thing -- if you run Windows on a Macbook, they're still great trackpads in a way that, say, HP ones aren't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkozlows View Post
    My question is, what the heck did they do to the trackpad market? Allegedly, they have Synaptics trackpads, and yet those same trackpads on any other laptop suck. And it's not a software thing -- if you run Windows on a Macbook, they're still great trackpads in a way that, say, HP ones aren't.
    Relatively recently (a couple months ago) I bought a $350 Asus laptop and the trackpad is really, really good. However, prior to this experience I was wondering the same thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkozlows View Post
    My question is, what the heck did they do to the trackpad market?
    They just spend more for more sensitive pads. They've always splurged on the components you can feel, see, and touch. Sensor density varies quite a lot between pads, even from the same vendor. There's a direct cost correlation, and if the bean-counters are in charge of production, good luck getting the "this looks the same but works better" option through.

    That's what happens when a market is commoditized: cost is the most obvious area of competition. That's why Dell was so successful early on -- he was very, very good at efficiency compared to everyone else. Apple is now even better (forget design -- Ive is a manufacturing genius working at the top of the chain, giving them an instant advantage), but they apply it to the high end and pocket the cash. Nobody trying to do what they do makes anywhere close to that profit margin.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Fortson View Post

    That's what happens when a market is commoditized: cost is the most obvious area of competition. That's why Dell was so successful early on -- he was very, very good at efficiency compared to everyone else. Apple is now even better (forget design -- Ive is a manufacturing genius working at the top of the chain, giving them an instant advantage), but they apply it to the high end and pocket the cash. Nobody trying to do what they do makes anywhere close to that profit margin.
    That's not Ive. Ive is just the design guy. Manufacturing is all Tim Cook. He came from IBM and completely overhauled the way Apple builds, and then contracts, all this stuff. Thanks to the billions they made off the iPod, then the iPhone (and the fact that Apple only has a handful of products that are almost all identical in terms of parts), Apple can put in orders that are worth billions of dollars to parts manufacturers, waaaaaaay more than any other company. Those parts manufacturers then bend over backward to get Apple's business, and they give Apple the best pricing (due to discounts for such humongous orders and such) and priority. And if those guys come up with a hot new technology or part (think Retina Display), Apple gets first dibs, and puts in billion dollar orders that lock that stuff down for the immediate term, making everyone else look late and slow. And Apple gets this stuff at a price that's lower than their competitors. But they still sell it at a high-end cost that means their margins are completely ridiculous compared to the Dells of the world, which are eeking out pennies to the dollar on each PC when Apple is literally making hundreds of dollars of pure profit for each Mac. And when the next generation comes around, Apple has an even bigger bank to spend on locking down all the sexy new tech, while the Dells of the world are desperately trying to eek out profits.

    And that's why Tim Cook is now CEO of Apple.
    Last edited by Woolen Horde; 11-30-2011 at 10:52 PM.

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    I wouldn't discount Tim Cook, first-mover advantages, or economies of scale either, but Ive is an industrial designer with a deep understanding of manufacturing. He designs things not just to look good and to work, but to be imminently manufacturable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Fortson View Post
    I wouldn't discount Tim Cook or economies of scale either, but Ive is an industrial designer with a fantastic understanding of manufacturing. He designs things not just to look good and to work, but to be imminently manufacturable.
    And yet Cook is running the show. Ive makes things sexy. Cook makes them print money.

  20. #20
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    You wouldn't have the company's profitability without both of them, and Ive isn't just external design.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woolen Horde View Post
    That's not Ive. Ive is just the design guy. Manufacturing is all Tim Cook. He came from IBM and completely overhauled the way Apple builds, and then contracts, all this stuff. Thanks to the billions they made off the iPod, then the iPhone (and the fact that Apple only has a handful of products that are almost all identical in terms of parts), Apple can put in orders that are worth billions of dollars to parts manufacturers, waaaaaaay more than any other company. Those parts manufacturers then bend over backward to get Apple's business, and they give Apple the best pricing (due to discounts for such humongous orders and such) and priority. And if those guys come up with a hot new technology or part (think Retina Display), Apple gets first dibs, and puts in billion dollar orders that lock that stuff down for the immediate term, making everyone else look late and slow. And Apple gets this stuff at a price that's lower than their competitors. But they still sell it at a high-end cost that means their margins are completely ridiculous compared to the Dells of the world, which are eeking out pennies to the dollar on each PC when Apple is literally making hundreds of dollars of pure profit for each Mac. And when the next generation comes around, Apple has an even bigger bank to spend on locking down all the sexy new tech, while the Dells of the world are desperately trying to eek out profits.

    And that's why Tim Cook is now CEO of Apple.
    EKE out profits. Eek is reserved for startling events and cartoon cats.

  22. #22
    World's End Supernova stusser's Avatar
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    Those manufacturing efficiencies are critically important, but really Apple's secret is standardization.

    When you go to Dell or HP and try to customize a computer, they make you choose between multiple wireless adapters, DVD burners, blu-ray drives, screens, batteries, etc. Thing is, if you just standardize on one wireless adapter, you can design the entire thing around that one radio, including the motherboard, giving better reception and a cleaner enclosure. Better overall design, a superior user experience, and simplified support.

    And of course if you only use one wireless adapter in all your laptops, you can buy a billion of em and leverage economies of scale. That's really Apple's secret. That's why nobody other than Apple was able to build Ultrabooks without Intel subsidizing each and every one.

    Same deal with the rest of their product lines. There's only one iPhone 4S, and it works everywhere. Standardized.

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    Are there any Ultrabooks with an "ultra" screen yet?

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    Quote Originally Posted by stusser View Post
    That's why nobody other than Apple was able to build Ultrabooks without Intel subsidizing each and every one.
    Um... you're not wrong about economies of scale working in Apple's favor, but I'm pretty sure the reason nobody else made "ultrabooks" before now isn't because they needed a hundred extra bucks from Intel to make it remotely possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pg View Post
    Are there any Ultrabooks with an "ultra" screen yet?
    Not yet, but hopefully soon: a week ago, a rumor about 1920x1080 ultrabook screens developed by Asus and Acer popped up. According to the linked article, these may arrive in January / February.

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    Quote Originally Posted by extarbags View Post
    I'm pretty sure the reason nobody else made "ultrabooks" before now isn't because they needed a hundred extra bucks from Intel to make it remotely possible.
    Why hasn't it happened, then? The MBA was released several years ago and has proven extremely popular. Why couldn't anyone else match Apple's price?

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    Now that I finally have a decent upload speed at home, I'm going to play around with Plex myself. At a 768Kb upload, it just didn't seem worthwhile.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stusser View Post
    Why hasn't it happened, then? The MBA was released several years ago and has proven extremely popular. Why couldn't anyone else match Apple's price?
    I don't know. A few months ago the biggest PC manufacturer decided to close its PC business, and then reversed the decision a couple of months later. Who knows why these clods do what they do? But look, according to your own post upthread, the Zenbook is $200 cheaper than the equivalent MBA. The Intel subsidy is $100, which means that without it, they could have still released the Zenbook for $100 less than the MBA. Whatever you think about Macs and PCs and Ultrabooks and Windows and whatever the hell else, suggesting that PC manufacturers can't compete with Apple on price is flat-out ridiculous.

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by extarbags View Post
    suggesting that PC manufacturers can't compete with Apple on price is flat-out ridiculous.
    You seem to be stuck in 2005. Apple laptops have been competitively priced for years.

    That said, the macbook air is a special case due to its design (and thus cost) constrained by form factor, and until Intel's recent push, PC manufacturers proved unable to compete on price.

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