If the push toward netbooks didn't excite many people, the trend toward ultrabooks might. At least Intel thinks so. During the company's most recent earnings call, CEO Paul Otellini talked about the success of its ultrabook-optimized Ivy Bridge processor. Intel, he said, is tracking more than 140 Ivy Bridge-based models in the design and production pipeline. More than 40 of them will be touch-enabled and at least 12 will be convertibles, with screens that pivot around and down to turn into tablets. Pricing isn't known, but industry observers — and Otellini himself — often mention a $700 price point. At the same time, Intel’s low-power Atom chip (codenamed Clover Trail) may show up in at least 20 Windows 8-based tablets, but probably not until well into 2013. Hardware engineers may have a tough time keeping up with Intel’s CPU geniuses. Their processor road map is crowded into 2013 and beyond. Even though Ivy Bridge is just debuting, engineers are analyzing the best uses for its successor, code-named Haswell, which should become available in about a year. And after that comes 2015’s Skylake, which will likely enable a new class of systems that hardware engineers have yet to dream up. For hardware designers, simply keeping up with Intel’s CPU plans has become a career unto itself.

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