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Building an aluminium ultrabook? Forget it

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MacBook Air competitors may have to be made out of plastic, rather than aluminium, because Apple has first dibs on the factories that make the light metal cases.

The success of super slim MacBook Air has kickstarted a trend for svelte laptops called ultrabooks. But although the Air's tough and light unibody aluminium casing is part of its appeal, rival products from companies such as Samsung may have to be made out of plastic or high-density fibreglass simply because supply of aluminium unibody chassis is limited.

There's no shortage of aluminium, but only some factories - all in China - can make the unibody cases and internal parts, and it takes three hours to turn around the slim cases. DigiTimes and AppleInsider report that each computer-controlled machine used to cast the boxes can only produce eight pieces a day.

And when they do, it's Apple that gets them.

AppleInsider reports that Catcher Technology, the largest unibody chassis maker, is restricted due to a production stoppage in China. But Catcher is still giving priority supply to Apple, which means other PC makers are feeling the squeeze.

But if there's demand, surely it won't be too long before some smart Chinese guy with lots of cheap workers creates a new factory.

In the meantime it looks like Ultrabook makers are investigating making their computer chassis out of a combination of aluminium and plastic, with aluminium outsides and plastic internal parts, a process that could halve the costs of production. Manufacturers and Intel are also well aware that driving down prices could give them an edge over Apple. ®

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