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Intel may soon become synonymous with ultrathin laptops like the MacBook Air. It recently added three power-efficient “Sandy Bridge” chips to its lineup, chips that are likely to fuel the next generation of slim and hyper-portable laptops.

The eagle-eyed Brooke Crothers over at CNET was the first to note that three “ULV” (ultra-low voltage) processors had made their way onto Intel’s updated processor price list on Sunday. The new processors are the Core i7-2677M, Core i7-2637M, and the Core i5-2557M. In terms of processing speed, the devices run at 1.8 GHz (with turbo capabilities to 2.9 GHz), 1.7 GHz (turbos to 2.8 GHz), and 1.7 GHz (turbos to 2.7 GHz), respectively–and are priced accordingly at $317, $289, and $250. The chips have the basics in common, however: Each is dual-core and with a thermal envelope of just 17 watts, an essential number, since anything much higher would be too much heat to safely give off on an ultraslim laptop like the MacBook Air. The chips are widely expected to form part of the upcoming MacBook Air refresh.

We’ve known for a while now of Intel’s interest in “ultrabooks,” its fancy term for super-slim laptops. In fact, Intel tried to seed a market of ultrathin laptops two years ago, though those wound up not being too popular. As the MacBook Air has become more affordable and faster, however, analysts expect to see huge growth in this space. A research note from an analyst at Gleacher & Company, an investment bank, projects that Intel will become extremely active in this market in the years ahead. One need look no further than the numbers surrounding the MacBook Air. MBAs accounted for 8 percent of its total notebook supply in 2008, 9 percent in 2009, 17 percent in 2010, and is expected to account for fully 48 percent this year. “We expect total notebook SSD penetration at a conservative 5 percent in 2011 growing to 30 percent in 2014,” wrote the analyst, Doug Freedman, using yet another name for ultrathins (“SSD” standing for solid-state drive, the storage device used on MBAs and other ultrathins).

And speaking of names, where did “Sandy Bridge” come from? A cheeky article via Intel’s own Free Press blog explains the long and winding road to an Intel codename–one that takes product teams through maps of obscure counties in search of pronounceable town names that aren’t trademarked. “It’s the most thankless job you ever do,” one of the Intel product guys said of the search for the perfect name. “You’ll never make everyone happy. People always crap over the name.” The Intel team finally settled on “Sandy Bridge” since it was easy to pronounce and gently evocative–and, after all, because the hope was that the chips would form a sort of bridge to the next generation of laptops.

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