The Highlander battle among chip manufacturers has started anew. This time it’s among the makers of chips that run smartphones. Besides initiating a new round of cutthroat competition, this battle suggests that computing is undergoing a substantive conceptual shift--from units that are all powerful to ones that are strategically powerful.
The objective is to make more powerful chips that consume less energy, and take up less space, with the intent of creating products that are smaller and less functional than their PC brethren, but are more in-tune to the particular needs of their users. The big players include the well known, such as Intel, ARM, Samsung, AMD, and Apple, and the lesser known, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Microelectroincs, and GlobalFoundaries. The money being spent in this competition totals in the tens of billions.
These chips are prevalent in smartphones, and they are working their way into netbooks, tablets and eReaders, where the current PC processor OS restriction doesn’t apply. This means that a whole new world of computing potential will be showcased as this little war plays itself out. It also means there will be some multi-billion dollar casualties along the way.
Suggested by this is the concept of computing shifting to address the particular, rather than the general, needs of users. If this market becomes economically attractive it might lead to a decrease in attention to the higher end, which in turn could mean slower development of the ‘hot’ technology that currently drives the market.
An ARM-based netbook running Ubuntu could be in your future with the newest version of Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Much like Windows, the popular Linux distro did not previously have support for ARM processors. This meant you’d only see Ubuntu on Atom-based netbooks, a category dominated by Windows. With the anticipated flood of ARM packing “smartbooks” expected to materialize, the devs got to work rewriting Ubuntu.
According to Ubuntu’s Jamie Bennet, the problem was that Ubuntu Netbook Edition required 3D graphics drivers that didn’t exist for ARM chips. They got around this by employing 2D Enlightenment Foundation Libraries to fake a 3D interface. We’re hearing that you won’t be able to tell the difference in the interface. If true, that’s a big win for smartbooks and Ubuntu.
This may be the space that Ubuntu specifically, and Linux in general, can succeed in. Windows is completely locked out of the smartbook game until such time as Redmond gets around to adding ARM support. Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Is an Ubuntu smartbook something you’d buy?
It hasn’t been that long since Intel released their updated Pine Trail Atom chips, but already there are some indications they may be refreshing the Atom platform. The word is that Intel’s new core is called “Oak Trail”. These new chips would replace the ailing ultra low-power Atom Z series. These are the Z5xx chips we’ve seen in the likes of the Sony Vaio P and Asus Eee PC T91MT tablet.
Atom N450 and N470 are the most common versions of the Pine Trail chips, most often found in netbooks. The Atom N series chips are higher power and not in danger of being replaced. The Oak Trail chips are said to consume much less power, but still remain capable of running a Windows device. Still no firm details, but it’s probably still safe to buy products running the N series Atom chips.
What a strange and topsy-turvy world we live in when a competing product from Apple can be considered a bargain next to its PC (as in, Windows) counterpart. What are we talking about?
Behold Netbook Navigator's Nav 9, the new 9-inch tablet which sticks it to Apple's iPad with the ability to multitask. But at $1,200, you had to be seriously committed to multitasking, because you would have been paying twice as much as Apple's entry-level iPad.
Wondering what's with the past tense? Well, the Nav 9 has been given a recent price drop bringing the base model down to a more affordable $799. Still expensive, but a lot easier to swallow than its previous price point.
What that gets you is an 8.9-inch 1024 x 600 multitouch display, an Intel Atom N270 processor, Intel GMA950 graphics, a 16GB SSD, 2GB of RAM, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LAN, 3 USB ports, a MiniSD card slot, SIM card slot, Windows 7 Home Premium, and a 3-cell battery. In other words, it's a netbook that's been flattened out, though at 10 x 6.6 x .8 inches, we hesitate to overstate its flatness.
If you're dead set on paying a premium, there are several higher priced models, the most expensive of which checks in at $1,399 and includes a 128GB SSD.
Asus is apparently making plans to release their first Pine Trail powered all-in-one PC. The Eee Top ET1610PT will come equipped with the fairly new Intel Atom D410 single core CPU, and of course, Intel integrated graphics. The PC will have a 15.6 inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1600x900. It will also come equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi, which is a nice feature on a low end machine.
Strangely, this new PC will come with Windows XP preinstalled. You read that right, no Windows 7 on this bad boy. The presence of that touchscreen display makes the decision to go with XP just that much more baffling. The machine is expected to go for 400 Euros when is ships.
Netbooks may be crippled laptops, but that doesn’t mean a little more performance can’t be squeezed out of them. Intel’s new Pine Trail Atom processor is a step in that direction. Another step is a Pine Trail that supports faster DDR3 memory. Intel has obliged, not with one, but two new Atoms.
Intel’s two new processors are the 1.6GHz N455 Atom and the 1.83GHz N475 Atom. The N455 will have a TDP of 5.5W, while the N475 will have a TDP of 6.5W, making them comparable to the N450 and N470, respectively.
While DDR3 is faster, Fudzilla doesn’t see it as making all that much of a performance difference in netbooks. However, Fudzilla says, because DDR3 is getting cheaper, the price of notebooks could become cheaper as well.
When you think of graphics, Intel probably isn't the first company that comes to mind, but believe it or not, the CPU maker's graphics market share is higher than both AMD and Nvidia combined. How can that be? It all boils down to integrated graphics, a sector where Intel rules the roost, unlike the discrete graphics market where Nvidia and AMD rule the GPU kingdom.
According to Jon Peddie Research (JPR), Intel increased its overall graphics market share in Q4 2009 to 55.2 percent, up from 53.6 percent one quarter prior and 47.7 percent in the same quarter one year ago. JPR attributes the rise to "Atom sales for netbooks, as well as strong growth in the desktop segment."
Both AMD and Nvidia also increased their market share from one quarter ago, with AMD inching forward from 19.9 percent to 20.1 percent, and Nvidia jumping a percentage point from 24.3 percent to 25.3 percent.
The graphics market as a whole grew year-to-year by 14 percent, which is the largest jump since 2006, and 2003 before that. In 2010, JPR reckons the graphics market will perform even better to the tune of 27.9 percent, before tapering off in 2011 to a 10.3 percent growth rate, which would be the lowest since 2004.
Netbooks might never become full-blown notebook replacements, but they do keep inching towards powerful companions capable of more than just basic Web surfing and emailing. Nvidia's Ion platform is largely to thank, and come April, Asus said it will have an Eee PC ready built around Nvidia's second-gen Ion platform, Ion 2.
The upcoming Eee PC will probably sport an Intel Atom N450 processor, currently the newest Atom on the block. And so will most other netbooks, as Intel's Atom N270 and N280 chips start to disappear from the limelight, with models built around those two chips starting to be phased out of the market place.
Asus will also tap into AMD's Congo platform with 12-inch Eee PCs. These should start shipping next month, though it's unclear if that includes the U.S. market.
Leave it to a company called Sparkle to deck out its latest nettop with a unicorn. We're not sure why, nor do we know what's up with the funky capitalization in the Calibre CUTi's name, but hey, it's the hardware that counts, right?
And on that front, the Calibre CUTi combines an Intel Atom dual-core 1.6GHz processor with Nvidia's Ion platform. It also comes with up to 4GB of DDR2 memory, a 160GB or 320GB hard drive expandable to 500GB (also supports SSDs), a 5-in-1 card reader, Gigabit LAN, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, six USB 2.0 ports, 7.1-channel audio, and an HDMI port.
Sparkle says the Calibre CUTi consumes just 14W while idle, or "less than an energy-saving light bulb," and 30W at full bore.
We’re finally starting to see some Pinetrail netbooks hit the market, and that’s what makes the new SVE600 of note. FIC has just announced the new netbook, which will have the Atom N450 CPU clocked at 1.66GHz. It comes with the customary 1GB of RAM and 10.1 inch screen. Storage is nice though, with up to a 500GB hard drive, or 32GB SSD.
It also packs lots of connectivity options. There’s Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth, WiMax and HSDPA. The computer can be purchased with either Windows 7 or Linux for the more adventurous. On a more superficial note, it’s a pretty nice looking netbook, right? No pricing has been announced.