Asus has unveiled its first ultrabook, called the Asus ZenBook, a thin, brushed-steel laptop computer aimed to compete with Apple's MacBook Air, as well as with the emerging tablet market.

"ZenBooks are a perfect balance between strength and beauty," said Asus Chairman Jonney Shih, explaining the decision to name the new ultrabook after the Buddhist school of practice. He spoke at the launch event in New York.

At first glance the ZenBook, which costs US$999 (£850 and £950 in the UK for the 11 inch and 13 inch editions respectively), resembles the MacBook Air. The 11-inch ZenBook has a brushed-steel exterior and weighs only 1.09 kilograms. The thinnest part of the ZenBook is only 3 millimeters, or about .13 of an inch, thick.

In constant standby mode, ZenBook can boot within two seconds, and it can stay in standby mode for up to two weeks between charges, Shih said. It has a 128GB hybrid solid-state disk, which can ensure against data loss even when the data hasn't been saved to disk.

The device comes with a set of high-performance components: The SSD can ingest or read data at a rate of 6.6GB per second. It features USB 3.0, which is, according to Shih, 10 times faster than USB 2.0. It also features graphics capabilities that are 34 percent better than a competitor, Shih said, but did not name the competition. The unit also has Intel's Core 1.6Ghz i7 processor, comes with 4GB of RAM and runs Windows 7.

The Asus release comes the day after Acer launched its first ultrabook costing under $1,000/£1,000, the Acer S3, priced at $899 (about £700 in the UK). Toshiba and Lenovo are also shipping ultrabooks, though models from both companies are priced at over $1,000.

Intel coined the term ultrabook to describe a new category of ultrathin laptops aimed to compete both with the emerging tablet marketplace as well as Apple's MacBook Air. Intel specified that ultrabooks use Intel's Core processors, including Sandy Bridge and its next-generation Ivy Bridge processors.

Shih paused at the beginning of the presentation to honor Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died last Wednesday.

"We extend our condolences on the recent passing of Steve Jobs. We have always had a great respect for him and his dream will live on," he said.