June 3, 2012

Intel Product Development Benefitting From Engineers’ Aerospace Background

In order to make their upcoming line of "ultrabook" laptop computers more affordable, Intel engineers are turning to secrets learned from the aircraft design industry, Noel Randewich of Reuters reported on Friday.

The company's forthcoming line of ultrabooks will feature large touch screens and super-thin, sleek designs that have raised questions among investment experts on Wall Street as to whether or not the average consumer will be able to afford the devices, which will be available starting at $699 but are expected to reach prices exceeding $1,000, Randewich said.

However, Ben Broili, the head of Intel's Dupont, Washington research and development team -- which includes former employees at aerospace firm Boeing -- told Reuters that they currently experimenting with ways to cut costs without harming the performance of the computers.

According to Randewich, Broili's team may be able to cut the costs of future ultrabrooks "by between $25 and $75 by letting manufactures use plastic cases instead of metal ones without sacrificing quality."

"Borrowing from product design methods used in the aerospace industry, the engineers have found that hard drives, motherboards and other components that make up the guts of a PC can be laid out in ways that make the laptops structure much stronger," he added.

"We didn't develop a new material. We are able to use an existing plastic with an existing manufacturing technology," Broili told Reuters during a telephone interview. "It just requires some more upfront thought initially about how you lay your system out and how you can bring these things together and tie them in."
In essence, the company is looking at different component layouts, which can be used to strengthen the chassis of the computer or help keep the Intel processors, which typically cost at least $200 each, from overheating, Randewhich said. The Intel exec also told Reuters that the company is experimenting with other cost-cutting, performance-enhancing tweaks, including some to motherboards and wireless connectivity.

"There is no one size fits all," Broili explained. "We're trying to enable the entire industry. You can make trades, move stuff around; and if you don't want your hard drive here, then move it. You have a menu you can pick from and see what you win or lose from a cost and quality standpoint."

Reuters reports that "dozens" of ultrabooks running on Intel Ivy Bridge processors will be introduced during this week's Computex technology show in Taiwan, and that touch-screen models based on Windows 8 are expected to be unveiled before the end of 2012.