Intel driving ultrabook cost-cuts after MacBook Air discount

Intel is circling the wagons among ultrabook manufacturers, it's reported, planning an all-hands conference next month to discuss cost-saving measures that will better challenge Apple's MacBook Air. The chip company has an ultrabook target price of $699 for the second half of 2012, DigiTimes' sources claim, responding in part to Apple's price cut of the Air of $100 earlier this week.

Among Intel's strategies for trimming costs, the company will supposedly suggest manufacturers opt for fiberglass-reinforced plastic casings rather than aluminum-alloy, and bypassing expensive Li-Poly batteries in favor of cylinder- or prismatic-shaped Li-Ion packs. Intel will also argue for hybrid HDDs – which combine a small amount of flash storage with traditional platter-based hard-drives, speeding access times using caching – rather than SSDs, the sources claim.

Such a strategy would certainly save money, but it could well leave ultrabooks looking like the drab cousins to Apple's strong-selling MacBook Air line. Plastic bodies and spinning drives may be cheaper, but they're nowhere near as luxury in feel, likely allowing the Air to retain the premium end of the market.

Intel's apparent goal is 20-30 million ultrabook unit sales in 2012 altogether; the first models using the latest 3rd-gen Core processor range have been announced in recent weeks. Of course, even if Apple continues to dominate the ultraportable segment, Intel is still in the enviable position of providing processors and graphics to the Air range as well.