The Race to Beat the MacBook Air Is On

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Laptop heavyweight HP may soon try to take on Apple’s MacBook Air with an ultra-thin notebook of its own.

The laptop would be part of a new category of PCs that Intel is calling “Ultrabooks,” measuring less than an inch thick and selling for under $1,000. According to DigiTimes’ unnamed sources, HP’s early entrant would use Intel’s Core i7 dual-core processors, with speeds of 1.7 GHz or higher. At least two models may be available at first, and could arrive in September or earlier, the sources said.

(MORE: Next in Notebooks: Super Thin ‘Ultrabooks’ to Cost Under $1,000)

So far, Asus is the only PC maker with confirmed Ultrabook plans. Its UX21 notebook (pictured) is due this holiday season, and looks pretty slick from what we’ve seen in photos and video.

Intel has big plans for the Ultrabook category, claiming that it’ll account for 40 percent of the chip maker’s consumer laptop products by the end of 2012. Although the first wave of these computers will run on Intel’s existing Sandy Bridge processor platform, next year Intel plans to transition to “Ivy Bridge,” whose 3D microprocessors can theoretically halve power consumption while increasing performance.

Intel obviously sees a trend in personal computing toward thinner and lighter, rather than simply more powerful. This may seem obvious now, but keep in mind that the original MacBook Air, which launched in 2008, was a flop, and PC makers who tried to imitate Apple, such as Dell with its Adamo laptops, got burned.

But now, Apple’s new MacBook Air is a hit, contributing to a 28 percent increase in Apple’s notebook sales last quarter. That’s because it’s cheaper than its predecessor — starting at $999, compared to $1,799 for the original — and has better specs. Ultrabooks will have similar cheap-but-capable ambitions, which should make the laptop market rather fun to watch this holiday season.

MORE: Two-Minute Video: Samsung Takes On the Macbook Air