By Jon Chase
Updated January 12, 2012 at 02:02 PM EST
Acer Aspire S5

Like tablets last year, some of the biggest buzz leading up to this year’s CES was reserved for Ultrabooks — the category name given to the latest generation of super thin, light, powerful, long-lasting, and purportedly more affordable laptops. (And no, not Netbooks, the super-cheap but craptastic mini-laptops of a few years back.) To Apple polishers, the term is just another way of saying “Windows laptops that copy the MacBook Air,” the svelte Mac laptop first launched in 2008. What’s not known by civilians though is that Ultrabooks are chipmaker Intel’s bold stance against the burgeoning tablet market, which don’t use Intel processors. In fact Intel trademarked the term, came up with a strict list of requirements for using the name, and is investing a few hundred million clams into marketing them.

There’s certainly no shortage of Ultrabooks being announced here, with a dozen or more models on prominent display ringing a giant arch at Intel’s positively swarmed booth. Most models fulfill the promise of thin and light(er) in spades, but digging a little deeper, the “powerful and more affordable” we were promised are in some cases as yet to be fulfilled.

The hope, proposed by Intel, is that consumers will be able to score an Ultrabook for not much more than the several hundred bucks they’re currently laying out for far less full-featured tablets. So far, though, prices still seem to hover around the $1,000 mark for most new models — on par with an Air or higher — or is yet to be announced, and several sport less powerful processors as well, presumably to keep costs lower.

For sure there are a few choice models earning admiring looks and praise, notably Acer’s stunning Aspire S5, which is the world’s thinnest, but otherwise the reception of Ultrabooks so far has been surprisingly, distressingly ho-hum. Granted, we’re talking about an audience of hardened and hard-to-please tech-skeptics, but if Intel is counting on hype to help move product, CES hasn’t produced it.