Ultrabooks: Which MacBook Air wannabes lead the pack?

June 6, 2012, 12:05 PM UTC

Source: ChangeWave Investing Weekly Update

FORTUNE — Ultrabooks were supposed to be Intel’s (INTC) and Microsoft’s (MSFT) answer to Apple’s (AAPL) MacBook Air — featherweight laptops powerful enough to do the heavy lifting that power users require.

But so few sold in their first year on the market that the
New York Times
reported in April that the research firms NPD Group and Gartner “can’t even get their fingers on a pulse.”

With the second generation of Ultrabooks now available for purchase, that may be changing. In a survey released Tuesday, ChangeWave reported that although only 1% of respondents owned an Ultrabook, 7% were planning to buy one in the future – “a clear sign,” according to ChangeWave’s Josh Levine, “of momentum for the new PC category.”

Half of the respondents didn’t know which model they wanted, but among those who did, Dell (DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) were the clear winners, with 44% of likely buyers split evenly between them.

But even among these potential customers, only 14% said they planned to make a purchase within the next 90 days; 64% said they would wait six months or longer.

Apple is widely expected to unveil a new version of the MacBook Air next week. Could the Ultrabook holdouts be waiting to see what Cupertino’s new machines are like?

That’s the advice of Topeka Capital’s Brian White, reporting this week from a trade show in Taiwan. “Ultrabooks Are Still Too Pricey, Stick with the MacBook Air,” he wrote in a note to clients Tuesday:

“During our second day at Computex, we analyzed more Ultrabooks; however, our checks thus far indicate that the price points for the new releases will be well over the $699 price threshold that we deem necessary for this new category to be a big success. For example, Gigabyte showed off a new 11-inch, carbon fiber Ultrabook that will launch in July with a price point of $999 to $1,299, while Acer and Asustek also showed off attractive Ultrabooks but we believe price will be an issue. In our view, if consumers are not getting a significant discount for a Windows-based Ultrabook, they will simply opt for the best and pay $999 for Apple’s MacBook Air.”