Ultra-slim panels suitable for use in Ultrabooks have taken the notebook PC market by storm, with the thin display type accounting for nearly 77 percent of notebook PC display shipments in 2019, according to IHS Markit, now a part of Informa Tech.
The ultra-slim displays, which currently have a required thickness of less than 3.0 millimeters (mm), have displaced the wedge-type displays that were predominant as recently as 2012, when they accounted for 60 percent of the market. In the face of rising acceptance of ultra-slim displays, the wedge-type panel was discontinued in 2017.
“Display technology plays a very important role in building an Ultrabook,” said Jason Hsu, senior principal analyst, display supply chain, at IHS Markit | Technology. “When Intel first released the specifications of the Ultrabook in 2011, there was no panel solution ready in the industry. Instead, manufacturers used ‘hinge-up’ displays, which require an extremely complicated process to adapt to thin-form-factor LCDs. However, with the continuous efforts of the display industry, ultra-thin panels have evolved to the point where they have become the de facto standard for notebook PC makers.”
The ultra-thin form factor continues to advance, with the display thickness of no-backlight OLED displays set to shrink to less than 1 mm by 2021.
The book of Ultrabooks
Intel kicked off the Ultrabook market in 2011, when the company invested $300 million in a marketing fund to promote the product as the new standard for modern notebook PC design. At the time, Intel was aiming to achieve an extremely thin and light design concept, with the following design recommendations and requirements:
- A low-voltage Core-i U- series CPU with five to eight hours of battery life.
- Recommended solid-state drives (SSDs).
- Elimination of non-essential slots/ports.
- A suggested one-spindle design, eliminating the optical drive from the design.
- Limiting the weight to half that of ordinary computers, at 1.4 kilograms.
- Restricting the thickness to less than or equal to 20mm.
On the border
In addition to thinner form factors, narrow borders around the display represent another important display innovation. Although there were no specific requirements for border sizes when the Ultrabook was first showcased, the recent popularity of the full-screen concept in smartphones has been extended to notebooks. As a result, the screen-to-body ratio is more important than ever for displays. The adoption of narrower borders also is leading to further shifts in display size and aspect ratio.
In addition to dimensions, another critical technical requirement for notebook LCDs is power consumption, since manufacturers are promising 24 hours of battery life for the next generation of laptop PCs. Displays hold considerable potential for power savings, given that they account for more than 40 percent of system-wide energy consumption in notebook PCs. The emerging display technologies of LTPS and oxide panels have expanded to notebook sizes, allowing the creation of low-power panels.
Looking into the future
The lifecycle of notebooks is estimated to be six to seven years. Therefore, the early adopters of Ultrabooks are about to replace their laptops. PC brands should take this event seriously and strive to boost replacement demand in 2020 and 2021.
Several major factors are impacting the next wave of Ultrabook designs.
For one, SSD pricing has been slashed dramatically and now has declined to very reasonable levels. The current price for a 128GB SSD is close to that of a conventional hard disk drive (HDD). Such SSDs could penetrate the market for notebooks with mid-to-low price points. Meanwhile, a 256GB HDD can be preloaded into mainstream notebooks. The price erosion is accelerating the penetration of one-spindle laptops.
Looking at another factor, over half of laptops now integrate an Intel Core-i U processor, which meets the basic requirements of Ultrabooks. However, a fan for heat dissipation is still necessary in most cases.
Although the Core-i (Y) is great for ultra-thin designs, it is regarded as having less horsepower. This year, Intel is increasing the performance of its 10nm Ice Lake (Y) to 9 watts TDP, a remarkable improvement.
However, the upcoming Tiger Lake UP4 is even more exciting. Tiger Lake UP4 will have up to 15 watts of horsepower, achieving the equivalent performance of Whiskey Lake (U).
“Tiger Lake UP4 could represent another breakthrough for ultra-thin notebook design,” Hsu said. “The new CPU will not only improve overall performance, but it will feature artificial intelligence and biometric identification support to make the next-generation of laptops even smarter.”
As for displays, the Ultrabook used to focus on improving the Z dimension, i.e., thickness. However, competitions these days have extended their focus to slimming down the X and Y dimensions. That could make the design not only more stylish but could cut the weight of the product greatly.
In the meantime, emerging display technologies will endow next-generation notebooks with both top performance and reduced power consumption.
Tablet and Notebook Display & OEM Intelligence Service
The IHS Markit | Technology Tablet and Notebook Display & OEM Intelligence Service delivers must-have data and analysis on tablet and notebook industry players. This service features a monthly market tracker that provides historical data and the three-month outlook for displays used in tablets and notebooks, as well as a detailed supply chain matrix that tracks panel-to-OEM and OEM-to-brand shipments.