Intel's Project Athena is a program created by the chip maker to help laptop makers build the revolutionary laptops of the future.
Announced at CES 2019, Project Athena sees Intel working with some of the biggest names in the laptop industry – including Acer, Asus, Dell, Google, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft and Samsung – to create the next generation of laptops that are thinner, lighter, more powerful and have better battery life.
It's similar to what Intel and laptop manufacturers did with Ultrabooks a few years back. By coming up with a list of minimum specifications that laptops would have to meet to be known as Ultrabooks, consumers would know they are getting the very latest – and best – hardware.
With Project Athena laptops, Intel and its partners are looking to make devices that can cope with the demands of modern-day computing. So, we've gathered together the news and rumors, and everything else we know so far about Intel's Project Athena.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A partnership between Intel and manufacturers to design the next generation of laptops
- When is it out? Possibly late 2019
- What will it cost? Project Athena laptops will vary in price, but don't expect them to be cheap
What is Intel Project Athena?
Intel Project Athena is a laptop design initiative that will see Intel work closely with a number of laptop manufacturers to help shape the future of laptops.
Some people also view Project Athena as Intel's way of combating the growth of Windows 10 on ARM devices, and laptops running on Qualcomm Snapdragon hardware. These devices offer always-on connections and exceptionally long battery life – and they don't use Intel hardware.
While Windows 10 on ARM devices have excelled at battery life, start-up times and always-on connectivity thanks to built-in 4G LTE support, they have so far failed to offer decent performance compared to Intel-powered laptops.
Project Athena will see Intel offer guidance to equipment and PC component manufacturers to create future laptops that are smarter, faster (thanks to 5G) and more power efficient – which will hopefully mean much longer battery life.
Intel has also revealed at the Project Athena Ecosystem Symposium event in Taipei, Taiwan that it will open three global Project Athena – two in Taipei, Shanghai, China, and one Folsom, California – to work with manufacturers and test their laptops to ensure they meet Project Athena's specifications. These labs should be open in June 2019.
Josh Newman, Intel vice president and general manager of PC Innovation Segments, Client Computing Group, stated that "Project Athena Open Labs are a critical step in enabling more extensive, day-to-day collaboration with the components ecosystem to continuously raise the bar for innovation across the platform."
Intel has also revealed how Project Athena "creates a path forward to accelerate laptop innovation" through:
- An annual spec outlining platform requirements
- New user experience and benchmarking targets defined by real-world usage models
- Extensive co-engineering support and innovation pathfinding
- Ecosystem collaboration to accelerate key laptop component development and availability
- Verification of Project Athena devices through a comprehensive certification process
Intel Project Athena release date
Intel has suggested that initial Project Athena laptops could release as early as the second half of 2019. However, if that's the case, then we wouldn't expect to see any Project Athena-certified laptops until very late this year.
Considering that the Project Athena Open Labs won't launch until June, the early Project Athena laptops that we could see in 2019 will likely be Intel-made reference devices that will give consumers and manufacturers a taste of what Project Athena laptops will be capable of.
According to Intel, "the next wave of Project Athena designs" will come in "2020 and beyond," so expect to see Project Athena laptops from manufacturers, like Asus and Acer, next year.
Intel Project Athena price
We don't currently have any information on what sort of prices Project Athena laptops will sell for, but we can make a few educated guesses.
Considering the target spec and features of Project Athena laptops (which we'll get to in a moment), it's likely these are going to be pricey laptops.
Intel's Ultrabook initiative, which was similar to Project Athena in the fact that it saw Intel working with laptop makers to develop laptops that met certain design and specification criteria, were high-end machines with premium price tags, so it's not too much of a stretch to assume that Project Athena laptops will be pitched at the high-end when it comes to both hardware and price.
If we do see Intel-made Project Athena laptops this year, with third party Athena laptops in 2020, then that's another hint that the first wave of Project Athena laptops will be quite pricey.
However, when third-party Athena laptops launch, prices could become more affordable, as there will be greater competition between the companies.
It seems likely that Project Athena laptops will be pitched as alternatives to Windows on ARM laptops, like the HP Envy x2, which have prices around $1,000/£1,000/AU$1,500, so we'd expect Project Athena laptops to be around that price point as well.
But, before you get too dismayed about being unable to afford an Intel Project Athena laptop, there are some clues that suggest we may see more affordable Athena-certified laptops as well.
For a start, Intel has talked about how Project Athena will cover a range of laptop types. It's also announced that Athena laptops will run Windows 10 and Chrome OS. Coupled with the fact that Google is one of the Project Athena partners, it looks like we'll be getting Project Athena Chromebooks.
Chromebooks are traditionally a lot cheaper than standard laptops, so they may provide an affordable way to get some Project Athena goodness.
Intel Project Athena features
To release a laptop as part of Project Athena, manufacturers will have to meet certain features and specifications. While we don't have a definitive list so far, here's the features we know will be part of Project Athena.
5G connectivity: One of the biggest features of Project Athena will be 5G connectivity. This means that every Project Athena laptop will come with the ability to connect to 5G cellular networks (via a SIM card).
5G will offer speeds far in excess of 4G, and 5G-equipped laptops will be able to access the internet without having to connect to Wi-Fi. This is not only more convenient – as you'll be able to check your emails and browse the web from pretty much anywhere that has 5G network coverages – but also more secure, as you're not relying on open Wi-Fi networks.
The speed increases promised by 5G could also allow us to use our Athena laptops in exciting new ways such as streaming 4K content, or playing games on services such as Nvidia GeForce Now and Google Stadia, which use remote PCs to power games, which are streamed to your device.
Longer battery life: Improving the battery life of laptops has been a constant struggle for manufacturers. With laptops getting ever thinner, the space to add batteries shrinks as well. With laptops getting more powerful – and more power-hungry – laptop makers have to carefully balance maximizing battery life without throttling performance.
Project Athena aims to drastically improve battery life of laptops, with times between charges of around 9 hours, which is a lot longer than modern Intel-based laptops.
However, Snapdragon-based laptops have seen battery life figures of beyond 24 hours, which makes the 9 hours aim a bit less impressive. It's worth noting, however, that Snapdragon-based laptops have drastically poorer performance.
If Project Athena results in laptops that perform well and have long battery life, then Intel could be on to a winner.
Instant-on: No one likes to hang around as our laptops and PCs boot up Windows. Smartphones and tablets have spoiled us when it comes to devices that power up almost instantly, and Project Athena aims to bring that to Windows-based laptops and Chromebooks with Intel hardware inside.
Again, Windows on ARM devices already manage this, and they also remain connected when in sleep mode, so emails can continue to be downloaded, for example, so when you open up the laptop, your emails are already there.
We hope – and expect – for Project Athena to offer similar functionality.
Intel hardware: We also expect Intel to set minimum hardware specifications, such as including SSD storage and support for Wi-Fi 6, the latest wireless networking technology.
By setting these minimum specifications, Project Athena laptops will guarantee some of the latest and most cutting-edge technology available.
Hopefully, we'll find out more about the exact hardware specifications for Project Athena soon.
- Can't wait? Here's our pick of the best Ultrabooks of 2019