Economy ultrabook pricing is starting to take hold at $699 and below, where the thin and light Windows notebooks offer a substantial price advantage over Apple's MacBook Air.
The 13-inch Acer Aspire S3 (model S3-391-6616) is now $648 at Walmart.
The model listed on Walmart's site includes a 1.40GHz Intel Core i3-2377M processor, 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, a 320GB hard drive combined with a 20GB solid-state drive, 13.3-inch HD LED-backlit display (1,366x768), two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a three-cell lithium-polymer battery rated at 5.5 hours, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit Edition.
And, like all ultrabooks, it's thin and light at 0.68 inches and three pounds, respectively.
"Most manufacturers are afraid to go below $799 with their ultrabooks right now, but Acer is diving in head first," said Deron Kershaw, an analyst at Gap Intelligence.
"This is the lowest starting price we've seen for an ultrabook thus far, and we expect to see sub-$600 promotional pricing by the end of the year, which should spur greater adoption by consumers," he said.
How does it stack up against the least expensive 13-inch MacBook Air? (Which, BTW, is priced at $1,199 direct from Apple.)
Well, to begin with, the Acer is made from both aluminum and plastic parts, whereas the Air is an all-metal design. And Apple's laptop comes with a 128GB solid-state drive -- faster than Acer's hybrid HDD.
The Air also has the latest third-generation "Ivy Bridge" Intel Core i5 processors with Intel's updated HD 4000 graphics chip. Acer uses Intel's older second-generation "Sandy Bridge" chip with Intel HD 3000 graphics.
But, again, you're paying about $500 less for the Aspire -- even if you factor in a discounted price of $1,139 for the Air -- so it's not going to match the Air on features.
Next up, the $699.99 HP 14-inch Envy ultrabook (model 4-1015dx). That includes a 1.50GHz Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3 processor, 4GB of memory, a 500GB HDD (5,400rpm) with a 32GB SSD, 14-inch LED-backlit display (1,366x768), gigabit Ethernet LAN, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, up to seven hours of rated battery life, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit Edition.
HP says it has a "brushed aluminum finish," which comes in midnight black and natural silver. It is 3.9 pounds and 0.8 inches thick -- a bit heavy and thick for an ultrabook.