What Will Laptops Be Like In 2011?

Written by:  Lamar Stonecypher • Edited by: Bill Fulks
Updated Aug 31, 2009
• Related Guides: Windows 7 | Laptops

Ready for the end-of-year time-honored tradition of trying to make a somewhat educated estimation of what the future of technology holds? How about a piebald GUESS? Here's my take on what's ahead for laptops merely around the corner. Let's zoom to 2011 and take a look around.


When it comes to making predictions, the Pew Internet Trust has the luxury of looking many years out and prognosticating, among other things, that our portable device in 2020 will be our primary connection to the Internet, the division between work and personal time will blur, and the “transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness.”

Our objective here is far less ambitious. Here we want to look at recent developments in the laptop area and make a guess about what is coming in the next couple of years.

For example, LED strips are beginning to replace CFL (fluorescent) display light sources in several of the current laptops, and not all of them are high-range. This can logically be expected to continue.

Onslaught of the Cheapies

2008 was the year that the buying public embraced low-cost laptops. This had two major forks – the netbooks and the low-end notebooks, although the specs of the commodity-priced notebooks were not all so low-end. Six to seven hundred dollars at a big box store bought a pretty decent, usable laptop running some version of Windows Vista. We can comfortably predict that this will continue at least until 2011, and that more features of the current high-end devices will trickle down to these machines.

What features? Solid state drives (SSDs) will be one. Currently, they are found on some netbooks in the smaller sizes and some high-end notebooks in the larger sizes. In the next few years, we can expect SSDs to become pervasive on all laptops and notebooks. Pointing the way are Toshiba, who announced a 512 GB notebook SSD in December 2008 and Intel, cautiously testing the market with the remarkably high performance, but expensive and smallish (80 GB) X-25 SSD.

Netbooks Will Become More Powerful

Netbooks and ulta-thin notebooks will get closer together performance-wise, with netbooks able to play and export to a TV high-definition video and even process resource-intensive video encoding. This will be possible by marrying the Intel Atom chip with a powerful graphics coprocessor and then off-loading the graphics processing to the graphics chips. Such a solution is entering the market soon, in the form of an Atom-based system board with a two-chip nVidia GeForce 9800m GPU. This tiny motherboard features HDMI-out dual-link DVI, and Ethernet, USB, and eSATA connections – all in an ITX form factor that fits comfortably in one’s palm. With these likely to start appearing in 2009, it might be justifiable to wait if contemplating the purchase of a netbook-class device.

This technology may have application to desktops and entertainment systems, too. Imagine a low-powered, paperback book-sized appliance that can push 1080p to a high-definition TV and do video encoding and transcoding, too.

Mainstream Notebooks will Inherit High-End Features

We can expect that the mainstream laptop of 2011 will, like its cousins the netbooks, become lighter, thinner, and more powerful. Quad-core processors will be common by then with some CPUs even having the graphics controller directly on the chip.

We are already seeing the movement to dual graphics – discrete and integrated – on some laptops. This will continue to be popular, but some other laptops will feature external graphics adapters. In a variation of dual graphics, these laptops will feature integrated graphics for portable use and an external graphics box for fixed-base use.

Desktop users have long been able to easily upgrade RAM, video cards, and hard drives, but this has not been the case, at least for video, for notebooks. External video adapters will change this. ATI, the graphics unit of AMD, is leading the charge. Imagine being able to upgrade the graphics capability of your laptop by simply changing the external graphics adapter. Imagine being able to play Blu-ray and future high-definition formats, as well as the latest, most demanding games, on your low-power, economical laptop.

Laptops Become the Charging Station for Other Devices

No new technology can be expected to revolutionize notebook batteries by 2011. There’s a chance however, that as our notebooks become the biggest device that we carry, additional battery power may be provided in order to recharge the smaller, lesser devices we also carry. I expect that USB ports, or their successor, will remain powered in low-power conditions in order to make the laptop a portable charging station.

Update: This feature has appeared on the Toshiba NB200 netbook. One of the USB ports is powered whenever the battery has power.

Next: Windows 7, Some Tech Fading Away, and the Summary

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