Project Athena aims to improve next-generation laptops.

Intel unveiled Project Athena at CES earlier this year, and now, at a Computex 2019 event, the company is revealing a lot more about what to expect from this initiative. And, from what we can tell, it sounds like what Intel did with "Ultrabooks" eight years ago - or at least we hope so.

What is Project Athena?

Project Athena, at its purest form, is basically a set of standards that Intel wants for laptops. Intel said its engineers will work with companies like HP, Dell, and many more to create laptops that meets its standards. It'll even test them before they can become Project Athena-certified.

The idea is similar to Intel’s Ultrabook program that began in 2012, but with a much wider set of criteria. The original Ultrabook standards were based around getting the best battery performance in the smallest device possible. They had to meet exact standards for thinness, weight, responsiveness, and battery life. The result helped close the gap between Windows-powered laptops and MacBooks.

Within a couple years, plastic PC rigs transformed into metal beasts, with the likes of Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360. All these, if they met Intel's criteria at the time, were called Ultrabooks. Now, Intel wants to try this again, with Project Athena, all in an effort to spur more innovation among premium laptop makers - even Google! But these won't be known as Project Athena laptops.

Intel said, for now, there is no Project Athena brand, which is disappointing if you were hoping for marketing materials or laptop stickers that clearly indicate you're getting a Project Athena laptop with a guaranteed experience.

How are Project Athena laptops different?

The biggest takeaway is that Project Athena laptops will need to deliver nine hours of battery life. That includes while browsing the web over Wi-Fi and with the screen set to a level of brightness (250 nits). No more of this bogus "24-hour battery" promise - but only with Wi-Fi off and the lowest screen brightness. Intel said it put serious research behind the creation of its standards criteria.

It wanted to gauge what was most important to real-life laptop users both at home and in the workplace. It also plans to perform rigorous testing on each laptop seeking Project Athena certification. They'll have to pass Intel's idea of real world use - out of the box display and system settings, 250nits of brightness, and multiple tabs and applications running So, how most of us use a computer.

Intel believes its criteria will actually satisfy modern users' needs, and it's going to make sure manufacturers don't cheat them. It said Project Athena laptops will have to meet a range of specifications based on its design, battery, and hardware. It actually broke it all down into six categories: instant action, performance and responsiveness, intelligence, battery life, connectivity, and form factor.

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Instant action

Instant action refers to how quickly the laptop needs to be ready to go when you open it. It calls for the laptop to wake from sleep in under one second and be able to browse the web a second later. It also requires features like Modern Connected Standby for Windows or Lucid Sleep for ChromeOS, as well as biometric login capabilities in the form of face recognition or fingerprint scanners.

Performance and responsiveness

This area speaks directly to the hardware requirements. A Project Athena laptop will need a 10th-generation Core i5 or i7 processor. Intel also expects a minimum of 8GB of dual channel RAM with a 256GB NVMe solid state drive. There’s also an optional Intel Optane requirement. The Optane is Intel’s new storage device that can be used for extra RAM or as a solid state drive.

Intelligence

This standard requires Far Field voice services, OpenVINO AI, and WinML support to ensure the laptop is capable of using Intel’s Deep Learning Boost, which will make the laptop’s AI perform 2.5 times better.

Battery Life

A Project Athena laptop needs to have 9+ hours of battery life. It must be able to offer a minimum of 16 hours of video playback, as well as the ability to charge from zero to four hours of battery life in under 30 minutes via USB Type-C fast charging.

Connectivity

Project Athena laptops require Wi-Fi 6 Gig+ for connecting to high-speed Wi-Fi. There’s an optional standard for Gigabit LTE as well. The Modern Connected Standby feature we mentioned earlier will also ensure instant internet access as soon as you open your laptop. Lastly, this spec standard demands a Project Athena laptop comes with Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 USB Type-C ports.

Form Factor

This standard refers to the design. Laptops must have either a clamshell or 2-in-1 hybrid design. Devices will also have to have at least 1080p screen resolution and narrow screen bezels. The final requirements are a backlit keyboard, precision touchpads, and pen support.

Will Project Athena standards stay the same?

Intel is calling its initial criteria list for Project Athena laptops the 1.0 Target Standards, which suggests it may evolve into 2.0, with the addition of new standards in the future when needed.

Which laptops are Project Athena-certified?

None at the moment. However, that will change by autumn 2019. Intel is currently working with manufacturers so that the latest high-end laptops will be Project Athena-certified. We saw some of the future devices during teased at Computex, including laptops from Acer, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Google, Microsoft, Asus, Samsung, and Xiaomi were also present in one form or another through Intel's announcement.

For instance, Lenovo said its new Lenovo Yoga S940 will be powered by Intel's Ice Lake processor and will be the first PC to "offer a suite of smart features leveraging the Athena spec". Keep in mind we figure most of these companies will produce more than one Project Athena device, so it seems likely we’ll have upward of a dozen certified laptops come holiday season.

Just by virtue of the standards necessary to become an Athena device, we expect these laptops to be expensive devices.