updated 04:00 pm EDT, Thu August 4, 2011
Company consuming much of Asian supply chain
A number of ultrabook makers have been forced to look for alternative chassis materials as a result of Apple, sources in the chassis industry observe. A magnesium-aluminum hybrid is said to be the normal preferred material, since ultrabooks must be less than 0.8 inches thick and still protect against damage. Creating a unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis requires a CNC lathe, however, which is cost prohibitive for many suppliers.
While two companies -- Foxconn and Catcher -- are reported to have over 10,000 CNC lathes each, the pair are also said to be Apple's chassis suppliers, meaning that the bulk of the industry has been forced to compete for remaining capacity and ship fewer ultrabooks with metal bodies. In cases where computer makers are ditching metal, the preferred alternative is said to be fiberglass, which offers the cost and durability needed to compete with magnesium-aluminum.
Each segment of a fiberglass chassis is $5 to $10 cheaper to make, says one supplier, Mitac Precision, saving $20 on the overall construction of a notebook. PC buyers can allegedly see prices $50 to $100 lower at retail as a result. Mitac adds that because of high yields and the ability to ship 4.5 million units a month, it expects to do well based on current trends.
Chassis materials are not the only issue with ultrabooks at the moment. Manufacturers are thought to be unfamiliar with the methods needed to produce unified designs instead of piece-by-piece assembly. Intel's ultrabook specification also calls for metal shells, SSDs and high-efficiency batteries, parts which are all expensive and make it difficult to undercut the price of Apple's MacBook Air, the archetypal ultrabook.