Saturday, November 21, 2009

Asus Eee PC 1201N is ION-powered

has announced a new 12-inch Eee PC 1201N netbook powered by Nvidia ION graphics and dual-core Intel Atom processor. This new 12-inch Eee PC 1201N netbook will come pre-loaded with Windows 7 Home premium and would be available in black and white colour options. As noted earlier, Asus has now made this netbook official and it will be available by mid-December for $500 (Rs. 24,000 approx.). This 12-inch netbook joins the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and Samsung N510 as ION-based netbooks.

The new Asus Eee PC 1201n sports 12-inch LED Backlit display screen offering 1366x768 pixel resolution and supports 720p HD content playback. Asus has packed in dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330 processor, up to 3GB DDR2 memory and 250GB SATA 5400RPM HDD for storage. Samsung N510 netbook boasts superior Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics compared to Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and the Eee PC 1201N.

Other features of Eee PC 1201N include HDMI out, WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth, Ethernet and 1.3 megapixel webcam comes built-in. Asus may add 6-cell Lithium-Ion battery that will last about five hours. With isolation keyboard, the build of this netbook resembles Asus' Seashell family netbooks.

Technical Specifications:

* 12.1-inch LED-backlit WXGA screen (1366 x 768)
* Genuine Windows 7
* Intel Atom 330 Dual Core processor
* NVIDIA ION Graphics
* 250GB HDD/320GB + 500GB* ASUS WebStorage
* 802.11b/g/n @2.4GHz, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
* 1.3M Pixel Webcam (with digital zoom function)
* Hi-Definition Audio CODEC
* Stereo Speakers
* VGA Port (D-sub 15-pin for external monitor), HDMI out, three USB 2.0, LAN RJ-45 port, 2 x Audio Jack (Head Phone / Mic-in), Card Reader: MMC/ SD(SDHC)

As this is an announcement (read launch), expect this netbook to be available in India by the end of December or January 2010.

Snow Leopard netbooks resurrected

So you dared to temp fate (and Apple) by converting your netbook to run Mac OS X. But when you upgraded your netbook to the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.2) suddenly your Hackintoshed netbook became toast. It rebooted in a never-ending cycle rivaling the infamous Macintosh “spinning ball from hell.”

For reasons never publically stated, Apple quietly made a change in the most recent version of Snow Leopard. “The changes Apple made to the latest mach_kernel removes support for (the Intel Atom) processor, leaving (Snow Leopard) updated netbooks in a useless state.” This according to the folks at InsanelyMac.

Now that we know what went wrong, it was simply a matter for those who understand things Macintosh to dig under the hood and fix the problem. And that’s exactly what they did. Again, according to InsanelyMac, “Fortunately, insanelymac user ‘teateam’ patched the new kernel just two days after Apple rolled out the update.”

They go on to tell netbook users that, “Many users are reporting success with this patch, so if your (sic) an Atom user looking to update to 10.6.2, give it a try.”

For readers concerned with this kind of activity, let me state that Apple does not support nor do they condone using Mac OS X with non-Apple hardware. In fact, Apple’s EULA specifically prohibits this kind of use of their Operating System. Remember, that Apple sells both hardware and software and these are designed to work together. Therefore, Apple isn't pleased to see their OS running on other vendor's hardware. In addition, in these circumstances there can be issues with hardware not working as expected.

On the other hand, many users, even those who are faithful to Apple, are miffed that Apple has stubbornly refused to release a Mac netbook. Wanting something that doesn’t feel like a chunk of heavy metal sitting on their laps, they’ve opted to convert their feather light netbooks to Hackintoshes. Now those users have the option to download the patch and run the latest, greatest, OS 10.6.2 on their netbooks.

Before long we can expect Apple’s engineers to put an Intel Atom processor squelch on the next version of Snow Leopard (10.6.3.) Then we can count on those creative and motivated hackers to figure a way to overcome this with another patch. Point and counter point! So it goes with Hackintoshed netbooks.

Google Chrome OS will be adobted From Broad Enterprise in 10 years

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Would AT&T Want Dell's Android Phone?

AT&T takes plenty of criticism for its aching wireless network, but it's rarely accused of lacking a stable of solid smartphones. So, the reports (from the Wall Street Journal's anonymous sources) that AT&T will offer an Android-powered smartphone from Dell, are a bit of a head-scratcher. But, when you really think about it, it makes plenty of sense for AT&T to be interested in this Android phone.

The clearest motive, as my colleague JR Raphael points out, is AT&T's need to join the Android party, as all three other major carriers have already shacked up with Google's operating system, or at least plan to. With one analyst from Gartner expecting Android to overtake the iPhone in global market share in 2012, AT&T could be planning ahead.

Moreover, AT&T needs to prepare for the day when the iPhone is no longer exclusive. Even AT&T says that's inevitable, so the carrier will want another exclusive touch screen phone to fill the void. Sure, the carrier has a nice line-up of Blackberry and Windows Mobile phones, but those lend themselves best to business uses, while the iPhone does not.

It's possible that the Dell smartphone could even look like the iPhone. Depending on who you believe, AT&T's Dell phone will either be similar to the Mini 3i Dell is introducing in China (that's the Journal's take) or basically the same phone with a few enhancements (says CrunchGear). While AT&T won't want an iPhone clone, some similarities could be helpful, as customers would see Dell's phone as a clear alternative to the iPhone.

If I'm right about all this, then there's just one snag: AT&T would be putting its faith in a computer maker that, before the Mini 3i, had no experience with smartphones. Dell is an unproven manufacturer, so this rumored deal is riskier than going with, say, HTC.

Then again, rolling the dice on a computer company with no smartphone experience worked out swimmingly for AT&T last time around.

Verizon Users: iPhone or Android?

We learned during the week that Verizon had made a deal with Google to start to provide Google Android powered handsets, the first is to be in partnership with Motorola. This is great news for fans who like the Android OS, but where does this leave Verizon Wireless users who long for the Apple iPhone?

Both companies announced that two Android based phones will be launched before the end of the year, with many more planned for 2010. Although the deal was only announced last week, they have both been in talks about a possible coming together for more than a year-and-half.

Verizon customers hope that this latest announcement will not affect Verizon’s desire to try to make a deal with Apple over the iPhone. We mentioned in a recent post that this would not happen in 2010, as Apple does not like the restrictions that Verizon have made.

The Google Verizon phone will come with Google’s standard app market preloaded, not Verizon’s VCast Store, which is what will happen if we have a Verizon iPhone.

The Google OS is becoming very popular and there is even talk that the mobile operating system will become even more popular than the iPhone OS. Apple has had a good run with its Apple OS, but it is limited to just one handset, not great for growth potential. Google Android is on a range of handsets on a range of networks in most countries.

Which of the two cell phone operating systems do you prefer?

Netbook Gets Speed Boost From Dual Atom Chips

A Colombian computer maker has designed a netbook that aims to provide the performance of a standard laptop at a lower price.

Haleron combined two of Intel's Atom processors in its new netbook, which it says provides better performance than existing models. Most netbooks today use a single Atom chip.

The Swordfish Net N102 includes two Atom N270 processors running at 1.6GHz. It is designed to provide the power of a standard laptop at a price most Latin Americans can afford, the company wrote on its Web site.

"The standard notebook or laptop computer, although an industry standard around the world, was out of reach for many Latin Americans," the company said.

A netbook with a single Atom chip "just could not support the multi-tasking needs of students and professionals," it said. So it set out to build its own. It modified Intel's 945 chipset to run the two processors, which took it about six months. The processors divide the workload, much like a dual-core processor does, the company said.

But running two processors took its toll on the netbook's battery life. A three-cell battery provides only two-and-a-half hours of run time, so the company offers an additional six-cell battery that adds up to four-and-a-half hours of use.

"We have developed what we feel is the best solution for a load sharing dual Atom processor netbook," the company said.

The netbook is priced at US$449, and the optional six-cell battery adds another $29. It comes with 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It also includes a Web cam, a 4-in-1 card reader and built-in WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G broadband module and 802.11b/g wireless networking.

The netbook comes with Windows XP Home Edition. "We found that it works best on the Windows XP operating system. Both Windows Vista and the new Windows 7 performed below Windows XP in the load sharing department," the company said.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weibu N10A netbook now out Japan

Japanese will be able to get their hands on the Weibu N10A netbook that comes with a 10.1" display, albeit running on NVIDIA’s ION chipset that will make portable graphical capability a snap on this diminutive device. Retailing for approximately $556 after conversion, it sounds rather expensive to us living Stateside but one must take into consideration that netbooks tend to cost a wee bit more in Japan compared to other countries around the world. The Weibu N10A will be running on an Intel Atom 230 processor, featuring 2GB RAM, a 160GB hard drive, HDMI connectivity and a 10.1" display at 1,024 x 600 resolution.

A Netbook/UMPC hybrid from Sharp

CHIBA, Japan--Part Eee PC, part Samsung Q1, the Sharp NetWalker comes off like a computer with an identity crisis.

It's also a little bit puzzling. The NetWalker is dressed up like a super-petite Netbook, weighing less than a pound, with a 5-inch touchscreen and a measly 512 MB of memory and wireless LAN. It's got a pretty robust battery life--up to 10 hours, according to Sharp--and runs Ubuntu. There's a Firefox browser, Thunderbird for e-mail, a Twitter app, and some open-source programs for word processing and reviewing spreadsheets, so you can perform some normal PC functions on a screen larger than an iPhone or Blackberry, but smaller than the increasingly standard 10-inch Netbook display.

The way you use it though, is more like a UMPC. Holding the NetWalker with two hands, you type with your thumbs. And on the right side above the keyboard is an optical pointer that, when you run a finger over it, functions as a mouse.

The price is a more Netbook-like $500, but it's unclear how consumers will respond. It's only been available here in Japan for a couple weeks, so there aren't any solid sales numbers yet to offer any picture of how customers are reacting to it. But history shows that just hovering somewhere in between two established categories of computing is an easy way to turn off a lot of potential buyers.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Windows 7: Can Your Netbook Handle It?

Most netbooks available as of this writing ship with Windows XP. The few models that offer Windows Vista have performed sluggishly in our tests.

Microsoft, however, stresses that Windows 7 will run perfectly fine on netbooks. In fact, Microsoft now gears Windows 7 Starter Edition toward netbooks (Windows Vista Starter was available in only "emerging" markets). Though Windows 7 Starter Edition isn't quite as crippled as its Vista counterpart was--hooray, no more pesky three-application limit!--it still arbitrarily disables certain features. (No ability to change the desktop background? Lame!) If you own a netbook, you might want to consider purchasing a less-hamstrung (translation: more expensive) edition of Windows 7 instead.

In our tests using a Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2, we looked at how the performance of three different Windows 7 editions compared with that of Windows XP.>On the other hand, you may want to stand pat with Windows XP. For our "Windows 7 Performance Tests" article, we tested Windows XP Home Edition and three editions of Windows 7 (Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium) on a Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 netbook with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, and we discovered that Windows 7 ran slightly slower than XP did. Windows 7 Starter, intended for use on netbooks (or as Microsoft puts it, "low-cost small notebook PCs"), managed to reach a score of 31 in our WorldBench 6 test suite, while the other two Windows 7 editions topped out at a mark of 30. By comparison, Windows XP on the Lenovo earned a score of 33.

A three-point decline in WorldBench 6 score on a normal laptop isn't much of a drop, but on a netbook it represents a difference of roughly 10 percent. So while it looks as though Windows 7 will run on a netbook, you may want to take the OS for a spin on a demo netbook at a store before you decide to upgrade.

Netbook Gets Speed Boost From Dual Atom Chips

A Colombian computer maker has designed a netbook that aims to provide the performance of a standard laptop at a lower price.

Haleron combined two of Intel's Atom processors in its new netbook, which it says provides better performance than existing models. Most netbooks today use a single Atom chip.

The Swordfish Net N102 includes two Atom N270 processors running at 1.6GHz. It is designed to provide the power of a standard laptop at a price most Latin Americans can afford, the company wrote on its Web site.

"The standard notebook or laptop computer, although an industry standard around the world, was out of reach for many Latin Americans," the company said.

A netbook with a single Atom chip "just could not support the multi-tasking needs of students and professionals," it said. So it set out to build its own. It modified Intel's 945 chipset to run the two processors, which took it about six months. The processors divide the workload, much like a dual-core processor does, the company said.

But running two processors took its toll on the netbook's battery life. A three-cell battery provides only two-and-a-half hours of run time, so the company offers an additional six-cell battery that adds up to four-and-a-half hours of use.

"We have developed what we feel is the best solution for a load sharing dual Atom processor netbook," the company said.

The netbook is priced at US$449, and the optional six-cell battery adds another $29. It comes with 2GB of RAM and a 160GB hard drive. It also includes a Web cam, a 4-in-1 card reader and built-in WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G broadband module and 802.11b/g wireless networking.

The netbook comes with Windows XP Home Edition. "We found that it works best on the Windows XP operating system. Both Windows Vista and the new Windows 7 performed below Windows XP in the load sharing department," the company said.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Google stops Android modder Cyanogen from making cool tweaks

When Google (NSDQ: GOOG) says “stop,” you stop (and desist). Just ask Cyanogen. The prolific Android hacker/modder/developer has apparently been issued the dreaded “cease and desist” notice from the almighty Google. From what we can gather, Google isn’t taking Cyanogen’s Android hacking lightly – especially the part where he distributes closed-source Android apps like Market, Talk, Gmail, and YouTube with his customized Android ROMs. The problem is that Cyanogen isn’t licensed to distribute those apps. For his part, Cyanogen is trying to arguing that he’s developing these customized Android ROMs for “Google Experience” handsets that are already licensed to use the controversial apps.

If Cyanogen were a lesser-known Android modder, this might not be a big deal. But, Cyanogen pushes out some of the most popular custom Android ROMs available today (One of my own Android smartphones is running a Cyanogen ROM). With over 30,000 users favoring a Cyanogen-flavored Android build to the more vanilla stock builds, a lot of people are going to be left out in the cold if Google refuses to work with Cyanogen.

The ball’s in Google’s court. Unfortunately, like a grouchy old neighbor hoarding your errant Frisbees, Google may not give it back.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ARM will overtake Intel in netbooks, smartbooks, says analyst

LONDON — Intel Corp. will claim 94 percent of the netbook/smartbook market in 2009 but ARM Holdings plc and its processor licensees with take the lead in 2012, according to Robert Castellano of market research company The Information Network (New Tripoli, Pennsylvania).

Indeed Castellano sees the market splitting between Intel-powered netbooks and ARM-powered smartbooks, and offering slightly different market offerings. Netbooks will cost more than $200 and offer just 3.5 hours of operation on battery while being Windows-compatible. In contrast ARM smartbooks will cost less than $200, run Linux or Chrome operating systems and last 8 hours between recharges.

As such Castellano asserts that ARM processors, not Intel's Atom, will benefit from the current technology-economic cycle. In 2009 netbooks (powered by Intel) will hit 22.1 million units while the market for smartbooks powered by ARM will number 1.4 million.

In 2010, Intel netbooks will move to 31.1 million units while ARM smartbooks climb to 7.8 million units. In 2012 Intel will ship in 43.2 million netbooks while ARM processors will control 52.9 million smartbooks giving ARM 55 percent of the market and Intel 45 percent. Castellano does not foresee any other processor architectures breaking into the fast-growing sector.

The growing trend to offer subsidized computer equipment as a part of a service contract for 3G is also like to favor smartbooks over netbooks, the company said. "Sales of netbooks bundled with 3G services in the Taiwan market reached 15,000 units in August, accounting for 50 percent of total retail sales. Smartbook numbers, because of their design and need for cloud connectivity, will grow even more strongly," the Information Network said in a statement.

Windows 7 May Equal Fewer Bargain Netbooks

Microsoft must perform a tricky balancing act as it tries to keep Windows on netbooks but not get stuck in a market that generates little revenue, say industry analysts.

The software giant has still not disclosed how much it plans to charge PC makers for Windows 7 on netbooks. But an increase over the current $15 price for Windows XP is inevitable, says Richard Shim, PC analyst at research firm IDC.

Prediction: Oracle announces definite plans to get into the netbook/mobile Internet device market?

Windows 7 Bible: Your Complete Guide to the Next Version of Windows

PC makers will face pressure to keep price points down, Shim says, even as Microsoft charges them more for Windows 7 on netbooks than for XP. Microsoft plans to make the limited Windows 7 Starter version and Windows 7 Home Premium available on netbooks, with Home Premium likely costing more.

To be clear, Microsoft has not announced how much it plans to charge PC makers for any versions of Windows 7. Microsoft executives are saying that the average price that PC makers pay for Windows (across all versions) is $50. It currently charges PC makers $15 per copy of Windows XP on netbooks.

Are More Powerful Netbooks Still Netbooks?

Netbooks are still about price and portability, but that could change if consumers and businesses demand more power from small form-factor machines, Shim says.

"Netbooks could soon evolve from being price-focused to more feature-focused if users demand it," says Shim.

If that feature infusion happens, vendors would certainly raise the price, at which point people will stop calling the devices netbooks, says veteran analyst Roger Kay, president of tech research firm Endpoint Technologies.

"This is what both Microsoft and hardware companies want," says Kay. "They want to sell ultrathin laptops for $500 rather than netbooks for $300. But users like netbooks."

Indeed they do. IDC predicts netbook sales will more than double this year, from 11.6 million units in 2008 to 26.5 million in 2009.

Keeping Windows XP Alive

To stay in the netbook game, Microsoft has agreed to continue licensing Windows XP Home Edition to netbook hardware makers for one year after Windows 7 ships on Oct. 22.

The catch: Microsoft doesn't actually want Windows 7 Starter to gain steam on netbooks, Kay believes.

"Microsoft will offer PC makers Windows 7 Starter on netbooks probably at a price close to what it now charges for XP, but what it really wants to do is upsell to Windows 7 Home Premium on ultrathins or standard-size notebooks to make more money," says Kay.

Ultrathins: The New Netbooks

Kay predicts the industry is heading toward ultrathin notebooks, lightweight machines that lie halfway between netbooks and standard-size notebooks on power, size and price.

Ultrathin laptops typically weigh less than five pounds and have standard-size keyboards and screen sizes between 12 and 14 inches, compared to the 9 or 10 inch netbook screens. Ultrathins also have chips that draw less power than standard-size notebook processors but more power than netbook processors, which mostly use Intel's low-power Atom chips.

Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Dell have all released ultrathin models, and other PC makers are expected to release ultrathins before the holidays. These units generally sell for between $500 and $700, compared to the $300 to $400 pricetags on netbooks.

Windows 7 on Netbooks: Is It Worth It?

Ultimately, Kay says, the Windows 7/netbook connection depends on whether netbook users will be willing to pay more for the Windows 7 experience. "There's no doubt Windows 7 will be better than XP on netbooks," says Kay. "But is it $100 better when all most people do on netbooks is surf the Web, check e-mail and IM?"

Many users will get by with XP on netbooks even after support stops, reportedly in Oct. 2010, Kay says, adding that an opportunity exists for Google's Linux-based Chrome OS if users keep clamoring for basic netbooks that cost less than $300.

"Microsoft and Intel want to get away from netbooks because they are simply not making money on them," he says.

Intel Ports Linux Netbook OS to Desktops

Intel has expanded the scope of Linux-based Moblin by porting the OS from netbooks to mobile devices and desktops, where it could compete with Microsoft's Windows OS.

The company introduced a beta version of Moblin 2.1 at the Intel Developer Forum being held in San Francisco. The new version of the OS now builds in capabilities like native touchscreen input and gesture support, new user interface features, and support for more hardware drivers. It also includes incremental upgrades that expand the usability of the OS.

Moblin was originally developed and pushed by Intel as an operating system for netbooks. An Intel representative said that with Moblin 2.1, the OS will now come in three versions: for handhelds, netbooks and nettops. A nettop is an inexpensive desktop about the size of a hardcover book to which keyboards, mice and monitors can be connected.

Intel had to rethink the user interface of Moblin to fit the different screen sizes of handheld devices and nettops, said Amit Bapat, technical marketing engineer at Intel's open-source technology center. Older versions of Moblin were capable of filling up netbook screen sizes which have typically ranged from 7 inches to 12 inches. Moblin 2.1 will now work from small screens found on handhelds to the larger screens used with desktops, Bapat said.

The development of Moblin is now being managed by the Linux Foundation, though it is heavily backed by Intel. Intel is trying to use Moblin to push the Linux OS in more devices based on its Atom microprocessor. The previous release of the OS was a beta of Moblin 2.0, which was released in May.

Moblin 2.1 adds many features to make the OS work on devices like nettops and has been upgraded to size up to larger screens, Bapat said.

"Moblin will be scalable to fill the screen and make use of the real estate available," Bapat said. Moblin and its open source partners are working with PC makers to bring hardware support for Moblin's desktop edition, which Intel calls the nettop edition. Bapat did not provide further details on what the user interface would look like.

The desktop version will push Moblin into an area which has traditionally been dominated by Microsoft's Windows OS. Many nettops today ship with Windows Vista, and may carry its successor, Windows 7, in the future. Windows 7 is due for release on Oct. 22.

Native touchscreen support in Moblin 2.1 also lends the OS to handheld devices like smartphones, Bapat said. Moblin 2.1 has a new interface to fit into small screens, and also includes features specific to handhelds, like the ability to make phone calls. During a demonstration, the OS had a single window from which users could check missed phone calls, the latest news and unread e-mail messages.

Release of the final version of Moblin 2.1 for handhelds will be aligned with the launch of smartphones and handheld devices based on Intel's Moorestown chip platform. Devices based on Moorestown will ship in the second half of 2010, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said during a keynote speech at IDF on Tuesday. Moorestown includes a processor based on the Atom core.

The netbook version of Moblin 2.1 is an incremental update from its predecessor, and includes support for the Pine Trail platform, which is Intel's upcoming platform for netbooks. Pine Trail integrates a graphics processor inside the Atom CPU. Netbooks based on Pine Trail could appear next year.

The beta of Moblin 2.1 will be available for download "very soon," Bapat said. "As soon as it comes to some stable state, it [will] get released on the site," Bapat said.

Moblin will be one way for Intel to promote its Atom Developer Program, which encourages developers to write applications for netbooks. The program, launched on Tuesday, will help developers optimize and port existing programs for use on mobile devices based on the Atom processor. Intel will provide tools and software development kits to write applications that could be sold through app stores.

As the size of Atom chips scales down to fit smartphones, the program could provide one way for developers to monetize applications they develop for Atom, an Intel representative said on the IDF show floor on Wednesday. Intel is working with companies like Acer, Asustek and Dell to create storefronts where developers can sell applications. Such storefronts could appear in the first half of next year, the representative said.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Intel's Moblin 2.1 to compete with Windows

Could Intel's new Moblin 2.1 OS make a dent against Windows in the mobile and desktop markets?

At this week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the chipmaker debuted a beta version of its Moblin 2.1 open-source operating system targeted to run on a variety of devices, including smartphones, Netbooks, nettops, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), and in-car systems.

Moblin 2.1 will compete with other open-source operating systems like Google's Android and bump up against Microsoft in the burgeoning nettop arena.

Originally developed for Netbooks, Moblin 2.1 (short for mobile Linux) will come in three flavors--one for handhelds, another for Netbooks, and a third for nettops.

In the market for handheld gadgets such as smartphones and MIDs, Moblin 2.1 will run on Atom chip-based devices. The beta demoed by Intel at IDF showed off capabilities for touch-screen and gesture input. The new interface will also let users switch among different open applications and will provide shortcuts to social-networking apps.

The Moblin 2.1 Web browser will also support Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight 3 technology to run interactive Web-based apps.

In the Netbook area, Moblin is slowly starting to find its way. Dell recently began selling its $299 Mini 10v Notebook with an option for Ubuntu Moblin Remix. Other PC makers, such as Acer and Asus, are also said to be planning Moblin-based Netbooks.

For the desktop crowd, Intel is positioning Moblin 2.1 for nettops, all-in-one desktops similar to the Apple iMac and typically powered by Intel's Atom chip. Most of today's nettops, such as the Asus Eee Top and Dell's Studio One 19, currently run Windows XP.

But with XP on its way out, Microsoft has faced a challenge switching to a version of Windows 7 cheap enough for the low-cost Netbook and nettop market but pricey enough to still turn a profit.

Moblin's success will also depend on the availability of third-party software. Intel has set up its Atom Developer Program to encourage developers to design apps for the new platform. Intel has also said that different programs could be sold through app stores, similar to Google's Android Market.

Of course, Linux has been available in various flavors as a desktop operating system for years. But its complexity has kept it a niche player mostly for IT folks and technophiles. Even Dell is positioning its Moblin-enabled Mini 10v notebook as an option for the tech-savvy developer rather than the average consumer.

Intel also needs to walk a tightrope between competing and yet partnering with Microsoft, a form of "cooptition" to the famous Wintel alliance. Moblin puts Intel in competition with Microsoft on several fronts, opposing Windows Mobile on smartphones and Windows desktop on Netbooks and nettops. But the two still need to play together.

Intel and Microsoft are teaming up to incorporate the Silverlight 3 technology onto Moblin-powered Netbooks next year. Intel will also support Silverlight for developers through the Atom Developer Program.

Intel's ultimate challenge will be to position Moblin to attract people outside the limited tech world. With the right push, Moblin could be the version of Linux to take off on devices from smartphones to desktops.

Moblin 2.1 is scheduled to be released before the end of the year.

Intel to Ship New Pineview Netbook Chips in Q4

Intel will ship a new line of Atom processors for netbooks and nettops during the fourth quarter of this year, a company official said late on Wednesday.

Processors codenamed Pineview will succeed the Atom chips that currently go into most netbooks, said Jeff DeMuth, who works with Intel's platform marketing, at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. The processor will ship to PC makers in the fourth quarter, DeMuth said.

DeMuth declined comment on when netbooks with Pineview chips would reach consumers. However, netbooks could ship a few months later, perhaps as early as the first quarter of 2010.

Netbooks are small and inexpensive laptops designed to run Web and basic productivity applications. Intel introduced the first Atom chips last year, and today most netbooks are based on the processor.

Earlier this year, Intel said it was going to update the original Atom chips with the Pineview chips, which would be faster and lead to thinner netbook designs with better battery life. Pineview is part of the Pine Trail platform, which has a number of improvements that makes the chip smaller while dropping power consumption.

Intel will also ship new chips as part of the Pine Trail platform for nettops, small form factor desktops the size of hard cover books.

The chip integrates graphics and memory controller inside the CPU, which has reduced the package size by as much as 70 percent compared to the previous generation of Atom chips, DeMuth said. Intel officials have said they wanted to make smaller chip packages so PC makers can design thinner netbooks. The integrated chips also reduce the power drawn by netbooks.

Integrating the memory controller will help the processor and memory communicate faster. An integrated graphics processor will process multimedia faster, while freeing up bandwidth for the processor to communicate with other components.

Intel's current netbook architecture puts the graphics and memory capabilities on a separate chipset. However, as netbook users demand better graphics, Intel's integrated graphics have been criticized for limited multimedia capabilities. DeMuth declined to comment on the level of video support offered by Pineview's integrated graphics chip.

The integration also helps reduce the CPU cost which could lead to cheaper devices, DeMuth said.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Netbooks Promise a Sea Change in the PC Industry


The average computer user is not a high-end gamer, not an engineer or physicist running complex analyses, and is not a professional multimedia producer. It's your spouse, your parents, your friends for whom convenience, portability, and connectivity makes the netbook "good enough".
Netbooks use very power efficient processors, often with multimedia engines designed into the silicon so that consumer-oriented tasks like movie watching or music playing work well and don't tax the more limited processing power. Netbooks are great for the vast majority of consumer-centered activities, like reading/sending e-mail, watching Hulu or listening to Pandora. The ARM-based processors that power the netbook run circles around the "battleship" Intel and AMD processors and system components that drove cost and power consumption. An entire generation of consumers has become used to smaller screens, suffering for years with small cellphone and smartphone displays. The step up to a 10-inch (26cm) high-resolution, brilliant netbook display is a breath of blue sky.
Much like what happened to GM and their reliance on trucks and SUVs, the netbook threatens major manufacturers of desktop and notebook PCs. The next few years will see huge growth in mobile internet devices, netbooks, smartbooks, connected internet companions like the Chumby and the Wayve. For the smart netbook vendor, the potential multiplication factor due to the shrinking size, cost, and complexity opens up brave new lands. For those stuck in the battleship world, there's stormy seas ahead.

Sharp unleashes Ubuntu-based Netbook

Lest you think that Netbooks are dead, Sharp is out with the PC-Z1, released under the "NetWalker" brand in Japan.

Running an Ubuntu Linux derivative, several sites have compared the PC-Z1 to the fabled Sharp Zaurus.

Ubuntu is a logical choice for Netbooks and other low-cost consumer devices. Besides being highly customizable, the open-source aspect really helps. Companies can tweak the operating system to meet their needs without having to be burdened with licensing fees. But having owned a 7" Asus Eee PC for more than a year, I can safely opine that Netbooks are not all they are cracked up to be. Between the challenging keyboard and questionable battery life, their utility varies between models and user styles.

Gizmodo doesn't think that this is a Netbook, but at this point, the whole category is so confusing, I can't figure what you're supposed to call it. (An extra batch of pictures of the PC-Z1 is available at Akihabara News.)

Odds are, you are better off with a smartphone, unless you really love this form factor or have very tiny hands for the very tiny keyboard. I find it hard to imagine people lugging these around as their main machine. Nonetheless, Sharp has raised the bar with better boot time and a claimed a 10-hour battery life. According to its release Thursday:

The PC-Z1 features a quick-launch function (approx. 3 seconds) similar to mobile phones, enabling users to conveniently check e-mail while on the road. Also, a long battery running time (approximately 10 hours) allows users to fully enjoy net services, such as videos or blogs.

The high-resolution, 5-inch touch-screen LCD enables intuitive touch operation while the full keyboard provides for comfortable text input. Additionally, in business settings, users can create documents, spreadsheets, presentation materials, etc., and edit them stress-free.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nokia Booklet 3G Refines the Netbook Design

While the original intention of the netbook form factor may have been to have a small, cheap computer for Web surfing, the Nokia Booklet 3G appears to be geared more for the worker on the go than the cash strapped student. It also is poised to create a new class of mobile worker who eschews smartphones and uses a basic phone in tandem with a netbook instead.

While Nokia isn't yet giving us the full details of its Booklet 3G computer, we do know that it's a Windows PC inside an aluminum chassis weighing 2.75lbs, with a 10-inch screen, 12 hour battery life and a scant 2cm thickness. It has your typical netbook features, such as a webcam, Atom processer, and SD card reader. It also includes a number of premium features, including 3G/HSPA networking, a GPS, an HD display, and HDMI.

[ Get the analysis and insights that only Randall C. Kennedy can provide on PC tech in InfoWorld's Enterprise Desktop blog. | Download our free Windows performance-monitoring tool. ]

Given that it's likely to be more expensive than your typical netbook, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Booklet 3G ship with either Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional instead of the stripped starter edition. If this is the case, then this Nokia might surpass the typical 1GB memory and 160GB hard disk limitations that manufacturers using Windows 7 Starter are stuck with.

The HSPA-equipped Booklet 3G likely be packaged with a mobile data plan and subsidized accordingly. Business travelers who are frustrated with trying to use an iPhone or other smartphone as a GPS in a foreign city are likely to have a better experience on the Booklet's 10-inch screen.

Netbooks like this could create a market shift away from smartphones in general. Rather than pay for a separate data plan for both a smartphone and a netbook, it may make sense for some mobile professionals to carry a simpler phone and pull something like the Booklet 3G from their briefcases or purses when it comes time to check a map, search the Net, or write an e-mail. Certainly this would help alleviate the frustration that many experience with their smartphone's battery life.

Since Nokia's intention is to bundle its Ovi services with its netbook, I think we can expect to see some tie-ins with Nokia mobile phones. I'm sure Nokia would like to see mobile professionals carrying a Nokia phone to accompany the Booklet 3G

Nokia's netbook certainly isn't revolutionary, but its unique combination of features will meet the needs of the mobile professional better than the inexpensive plastic netbooks that are currently flooding the market.

More details will be announced at the Nokia World conference on September 2.

Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Netbooks with Nvidia's Ion wait on Windows 7

Nvidia’s Ion platform may be off to a slow start, but that could change once Windows 7 arrives in late October. To date Ion has been used only in nettops–including two new ones from Asus and Lenovo–but the first netbooks should finally arrive around the time Microsoft releases its new operating system.

Ion is supposed to be a performance-enhancing drug for netbooks. Nearly all netbooks and nettops currently use an Intel Atom processor and basic integrated graphics–a combination that is easy on the battery but lacks the performance to, for example, play high-quality video. The Ion chipset, which includes an Nvidia GeForce 9400M GPU, promises to significantly boost performance.

Lenovo, which was the first to announce a netbook with Ion back in May, has confirmed that it will now ship this version of the IdeaPad S12 sometime after October 22 when Windows 7 arrives. The netbook was originally slated for late summer. The Ionized IdeaPad S12 will be priced at $549–$50 more than the current configuration. Similarly, Samsung will wait for Win7 to launch its N510, an 11.6-inch netbook with Ion, according to It is expected to sell for around $599. Digitimes reported today that HP would also release an Ion-based netbook in September, and that Asustek planned to release both an all-in-one and a nettop using Nvidia’s chipset around the same time.

Earlier this week Lenovo announced a nettop that will be available with or without Nvidia’s Ion. The IdeaCentre Q110 will have a 1.60GHz Intel Atom 230 single-core processor, 2GB of memory, 250GB hard drive, Nvidia Ion chipset and either Windows XP or Vista Home Premium. The configuration without Ion, the Q100, will have 1GB of memory and a 160GB hard drive. Lenovo hasn’t announced pricing, but the Q1-00 series will be available in mid-September. The Acer AspireRevo, which has the same configuration as the Q110, sells for $299. (Lenovo also announced a new home theater PC, the IdeaCentre Q700, and a home server, the IdeaCentre D400.)

Asus has started selling–at least in some markets–the Ion-based all-in-one it announced at Computex back in June. The Eee Top ET2002T has a 20-inch touchscreen, 1.60GHz Intel Atom 330 dual-core processor, 2GB of memory, Nvidia Ion chipset, 250GB hard drive and DVD drive.

Timing the release of Ion netbooks to Windows 7 make some sense. It’s hard to make the case for the added cost of Ion in a netbook running Windows XP, but with Windows 7 the GeForce GPU it should make a bigger difference. Some questions remain though. First, it’s not clear what Ion will do to battery life–one of the strengths of netbooks. Second, Intel isn’t standing still. Its upcoming netbook platform, Pine Trail-M will be out shortly after Windows 7–most likely January 2010–and it should offer better performance, including HD video playback. I’m also expecting to see more netbooks and ultraportables using AMD’s Athlon Neo processors and either Radeon X1250 integrated graphics or Radeon HD 3410 discrete graphics. All of which means Ion has an increasingly short window in which to prove its value in netbooks.

Nokia 'actively looking' at own netbook

Nokia could follow service providers into netbook territory, by offering a machine of its own.

President and chief executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo is reported to have said in India: "We at Nokia is [sic] actively looking at this converged market... We are looking at the netbook market to see what kind of opportunity is there."

If Nokia does deliver a device then it would join a trickle of other handset manufacturers also becoming netbook makers. So far, it's been OEMs like Asus and Dell, solidly versed in the build and delivery of PCs, who've made most of the running, building and selling netbooks.

A Nokia netbook would also mean the company enters a market that's being tested by the very service providers that typically sell its handsets.

AT&T and Verizon in the US and Orange and O2 in the UK have begun offering netbooks with data plans. These netbooks are from PC markers and consumer electronics companies like Samsung that make PCs and mobile phones.

Questions remain over what a Nokia netbook would literally look like - whether it would fit the template of a small form-factor notebook, or would Nokia opt for a tablet or a smart-phone inspired design with a large screen and soft keys.

Also, there'll be the question of operating system. Would a Nokia netbook run the giant's Symbian open-source operating system or would Nokia go with Windows or Linux?

It seems reasonable to assume Nokia would stick with Symbian, but try to make its netbook useful by running Microsoft applications. Nokia earlier this month announced a deal with Microsoft to put Office on its phones using native Symbian versions of Microsoft Office and also to extend web services such as SharePoint to devices. Office is due next year.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin has encouraged the PC markets in the past to become more like Nokia by selling customized and subsidized machines in this high-growth market. Zemlin has, naturally, championed the cause that netbooks should run Linux.

"Learn from Nokia - meld a kick ass, industrial design with customized software experience and have it subsidized by an alternative business model, be that subsidy or services offering, movies and entertainment - that's a better way to skin this cat," Zemlin told The Reg in March. ®

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Convertible netbook has high-res screen

Gigabyte says it is now shipping a netbook that offers a swiveling touchscreen and an Intel Atom N280 processor. The T1028X/G has a 10-inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, an ExpressCard slot, a HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) cellular modem, and optional WiMAX, the company says.

Netbooks whose screens flip around into a tablet configuration are still uncommon, though Asus recently entered the market with its T91, offered with single- or multi-touch displays. As far as we're aware, it's Gigabyte that first pioneered the breed with its M912 (right), released just over a year ago with an 8.9-inch screen, a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, and a 160GB hard disk drive.

Gigabyte's new successor, the T1028X/G, once again offers a touchscreen that rotates 180 degrees and folds down over its keyboard. This time, however, the display has gone up to 10.1 inches in size, and the LED-backlit screen now packs 1366 x 768 pixels. Apart from the touchscreen display, the T1028X/G has a "92 percent full-sized" keyboard and a "multi-touch" mouse pad, according to Gigabyte.

In addition, the T1028X/G now offers Intel's slightly more powerful, 1.66GHz Atom N280 processor, still with the 945GSE northbridge and ICH7M southbridge. (An available T1028M configuration gets the larger display, but sticks with an N270 CPU and a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels.)

The T1028X/G's 2.5-inch, 160GB hard disk drive and 1GB or 2GB RAM are par for the course, but, unlike the majority of netbooks, the device is also said to include an ExpressCard/34 slot. Gigabyte says the T1028X/G is available with an HSDPA-compatible cellular modem and with 802.16 WiMAX on board, though there's no word on whether either of these options fills the ExpressCard slot.

Other more typical netbook capabilities include Bluetooth 2.1, 802.11b/g/n wireless networking, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and a 1.3 megapixel webcam, according to Gigabyte. The device is also said to include stereo speakers, three USB 2.0 ports, an MMC/SD/MS/MS Pro card reader, and a VGA port.

A six-cell, 7650mAh battery is standard on the T1028X/G and is said to deliver up to six hours of battery life. The T1028M gets a four-cell, 4500mAh battery that is good for four hours of operation, according to Gigabyte.

Gigabyte says the T1028 runs the Windows XP Home operating system, but no word of any supplied touchscreen-specific addons was provided. The device is also said to run Linux, though Gigabyte warns users of that operating system they may need to "download Linux drivers from chipset vendors' websites or third party websites."

Features and specifications listed by Gigabyte for the T1028 include the following:

  • Processor:
    • 1.66GHz Atom N280 (T1028X/G)
    • 1.6GHz Atom N270 (T1028M)
  • Memory -- 1GB of DDR2 RAM, expandable to 2GB
  • Storage -- 160GB SATA hard disk drive (2.5-inch, 5400rpm)
  • Display:
    • 10.1-inch touchscreen with 1366 x 768 pixels (T1028X/G)
    • 10.1-inch touchscreen with 1024 x 600 pixels (T1028M)
  • Camera -- 1.3 megapixel
  • Keyboard -- "92 percent" QWERTY keyboard and multi-touch mouse pad
  • Networking:
    • LAN -- 10/100 Ethernet
    • WAN -- HSDPA cellular modem or WiMAX (both optional)
    • WLAN -- 802.11b/g/n
    • PAN -- Bluetooth 2.1
  • Other I/O:
    • 3 x USB 2.0
    • Microphone in, earphone out
    • 1 x VGA
  • Expansion:
    • ExpressCard/34 slot
    • MMC/SD/MS/MS Pro card reader
  • Battery:
    • 6-cell 7650mAh battery (T1028X/G)
    • 4-cell 4500mAh battery (T1028M)
  • Dimensions:
    • 10.4 x 8.4 x 1.62 inches (265 x 214 x 41.4mm) with six-cell battery
    • 10.4 x 7.67 x 1.51 inches (265 x 195 x 38.5mm) with four-cell battery
  • Weight:
    • 3.26 pounds (1.48kg) with six-cell battery
    • 2.86 (1.3kg with four-cell battery)

Get a red Asus Eee PC Netbook for $189.99

New rules for Netbooks: Don't pay more than $300 for a model with a 10-inch screen, and don't pay more than $200 for an 8.9-incher.

Mwave has a pretty sweet deal on one of the latter: A refurbished red Asus Eee PC 900HDB for $189.99 shipped.

What are the specs? They are solid, starting with a 900MHz Intel Celeron M 353 processor (which may not be faster than the more common Atom CPU--I've read varying opinions), the Eee offers 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, Windows XP Home, and the aforementioned 8.9-inch screen.

And it's red! It's pretty rare to find a cheap Netbook that's anything but black (or occasionally white). This one's downright purty.

It's also a refurbished unit, meaning the warranty is a fairly typical 90 days. I'm going to state once again for the record that I don't consider that a negative, especially considering the $60 or so you're saving on a new unit.

I will, however, direct you to the return policy (at the bottom of the product page) for the Asus. It states that this is a nonrefundable item. You can return it within 30 days, but only for a replacement.

While this would make a fine portable PC for children and students, I think business users would find it a welcome travel companion as well. It's a svelte 2.5 pounds and its four-cell battery should be good for at least a couple hours' work.

Agree? Disagree? What's everyone thinking about Netbooks these days: Getting better all the time, or still too underpowered (or uncomfortable) to be practical? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Why not all 12-inch netbooks are the same

I’ve been skeptical of 12-inch netbooks, especially as prices for real notebooks continue to fall fast. At that size, netbooks start to run up against laptops, so it’s no surprise that the PC industry is feeling its way. Acer has been selling an 11.6-inch model since May, but Asus has only just released its Eee PC 1101HA. Lenovo and Samsung both sell 12.1-inch netbooks, but Dell dumped its Mini 12 over the weekend. Dell’s Chief Blogger, Lionel Mechaca, wrote that the decision “really boils down to this: for a lot of customers, 10-inch displays are the sweet spot for netbooks.” Anything smaller is a toy; anything bigger ought to be a notebook. But after spending a couple of weeks using two 12-inch netbooks, the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 and Acer Aspire One AO751h, I’ve decided it’s not quite that simple.

The IdeaPad S12 comes closest to a true notebook in terms of features. It has the same 12.1-inch display found in most ultraportables, a full-size keyboard and a comfortable wrist-rest with a large touchpad and two discrete buttons. The 16:10 display has a resolution of 1280×800. Like its little sibling, the IdeaPad S10, this version is built around a sturdy barrel hinge and the case, which comes in black or white, has a solid, quality feel. Lenovo includes some extra software such as Quick Start, a version of DeviceVM’s Splashtop pre-boot environment, and VeriFace III, a facial recognition utility.

The strength of the IdeaPad S12 is also its weakness. It feels like a real notebook because it is about the same size and weight as an ultraportable, weighing 3.4 pounds and measuring 11.5 by 9.1 by 0.9-1.4 inches with the 6-cell battery. By comparison the ThinkPad X200s, an ultraportable with the same size display, weighs 3.2 pounds and measures 11.6 by 8.3 by 0.8-1.4 inches, also with a 6-cell battery. In other words, you get no advantage in terms of portability by choosing thisnetbook over a notebook.

You do, however, get the performance disadvantages of a netbook. Like most netbooks, the IdeaPad S12 is equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, Intel 945GSE chipset with GMA 950 integrated graphics, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive and Windows XP. To be clear, this isn’t an issue with the IdeaPad S12–in fact, the IdeaPad S2 is even a bit faster than some netbooks (more on that below). It’s an issue with netbooks in general. I’ve previously posted performance tests results for netbooks, but the deficit is clear in day-to-day use–applications take longer to launch, Web pages load slowly and online video is hit-and-miss.

Back in May, when Lenovo announced the IdeaPad S12, it also promised a version with Nvidia’s Ion chipset–an industry first–later this summer. Several sites have reported that the Ion model has been delayed until this fall, but Lenovo declined to comment on the timing. Next month Samsung reportedly plans to release its N510 netbook with an 11.6-inch display and Nvidia’s Ion chipset. Whenever it arrives, an Ion-powered IdeaPad S12 should have better performance, though the price and battery life are still big question marks.

Though the Aspire One AO751h is technically in the same 12-inch class, it is a different beast. The 16:9 display measures 11.6 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1366×768. The keyboard is smaller, and the wrist-rest is narrower and it has a smaller touchpad with a single button. The result is a noticeably smaller and lighter netbook. The Aspire One AO 751h measures 11.2 by 7.8 by 1.0 inches, and weighs only 3 pounds with the 6-cell battery. While it doesn’t feel quite as solid as the IdeaPad S12, the build quality still seems very good.

There’s one big catch: The Aspire One uses a different chip, the 1.33GHz Atom Z520. Intel designed this chip primarily for Mobile Internet Devices, or MIDs. Instead they’ve ended up in a handful of netbooks and subnotebooks, including the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 and Mini 12, and the Sony VAIO P series. The rest of the Aspire One’s specs are basically the same: 1GB of memory, Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics, 160GB hard drive and Windows XP.

The real difference between the IdeaPad S12 and Aspire One AO751h comes down to price. The IdeaPad S12 starts at $499. (Lenovo also sells a $429 configuration with a 1.3GHz Via Nano processor and Via graphics, which performs “quite well” against Intel’s Atom, according to CNET Reviews, but most netbook buyers opt for Atom.) The Dell Mini 12 also sold for $499, while the Samsung NC20, which has a 12.1-inch display paired with the 1.3GHz Via Nano processor, is available for $490. The Aspire One AO751h-1192, the configuration I tested, is available online for $349. The Asus 1101HA, an 11.6-inch netbook which has nearly identical specs to the Aspire One AO751h, starts at $430.

The IdeaPad S12 is one of the nicest netbooks available, but it is caught between two worlds. If you are looking for a primary PC, and you really need portability, you’ll be better off spending more for a true ultraportable. The ThinkPad X200s starts at $900 with a 12.1-inch (1280×800) display, 1.2GHz Intel Celeron M 723 processor, 1GB of memory, 160GB hard drive and Vista Home Basic. The newer low-cost, ultra-thin laptops using AMD’s Athlon Neo processor or Intel’s ULV chips are also a good alternative. Last week I mentioned an HP Pavilion dv2z configuration–2GB of memory, ATI Radeon 3410 discrete graphics with 512MB, 320GB hard drive and Vista Home Premium–that is only $100 more than the IdeaPad S12. If you are purchasing a second or third PC for e-mail and browsing on-the-go, however, the Aspire One AO751h gets the job done nicely. It is thinner, lighter and costs $150 less than competing 12.1-inch netbooks.

Ion-packing Netbooks: Samsung N510 finally arrives next month

We feel like we've been waiting a long time for this, but Netbooks running Atom processors alongside Nvidia's Ion GPU are finally coming to the America...soon.

Reports from claim that the Samsung N510, an 11.6-inch Netbook, is on its way next month. Included in the N510 will be HDMI out and an "ability to handle Blu-ray," though we're not sure how that will apply in a laptop without an optical drive. We're still waiting for the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 Ion version to arrive--we reviewed the non-Nvidia Atom version of the IdeaPad S12, and found that we really missed the idea of an added graphical boost to what was otherwise a standard Netbook affair.

On the other hand, those Nvidia processors better hurry up--CULV thin-and-lights are spreading with costs in nearly the same range, and new Intel Atom processors with greater power are coming out sometime in the next year. While beefing up the graphics and HD capabilities of a Netbook is a fine idea--especially since the Ion in theory should have the power of a GeForce 9400M (the graphics in the 13-inch MacBook Pro)--the price and release date need to be right in order for this to not get lost in the shuffle. Price is reported to be $599, which is roughly a hundred-dollar upgrade from the highest-end Netbooks we've encountered. This also puts it square against the lower tier of budget mainstream laptops. $599 also gets you a Core 2 Duo Gateway NV5807u, albeit without the same level of graphics.

Our biggest questions at this point: will Ion Netbooks be more competitively priced? Will the Ion significantly drain battery life compared to existing Netbooks and thin-and-lights? And just how good are they as gaming machines? Stay tuned.

So, sound off: for the cost, would you rather have a graphically-boosted Netbook, a thin-and-light, or a budget laptop with a better core processor?

Dell's Mistake: Killing 12-Inch Netbook

Dell's dropping its 12-inch netbook raises the question of where netbooks stop and laptops begin. From a vendor profit perspective, the answer is simple: 10-inches, but for users the answer is different.

I am with TechCrunch's Michael Arrington on this one, at least in spirit. I believe Dell made a mistake and that netbooks need to be a bit larger than the standard 9 and 10-inch models.

Dell doesn't deserve too much blame, however, as Microsoft is the real force behind the intentional stunting of netbooks.

Customers want decent-sized screens on suitably powerful $300 portables, call them what you will. Nevertheless, at some point, an Intel Atom processor just doesn't have the oomph for the job and trouble follows.

Last month, I purchased an Acer Aspire One netbook with an 11.6-inch screen. The reason for the purchase was the full-sized keyboard more than the larger screen. This computer does as much as I can expect from an Atom processor and 1GB RAM and I am happy with the purchase.

Which is to say it is a tad underpowered for using multiple applications at once. However, since I can live with its limitations, this is a great $329 computer. Now, if I could get a faster processor and more RAM for another $100, I would be really happy.

Larger mouse buttons would also be nice, though I am not sure how Acer could accomplish this. I just use a Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 6000, which works great (even on a bed sheet).

Still, for not much more than what the Acer cost, especially with a $60 mouse and $60 USB DVD drive added to the price, I could purchase a more powerful, though less portable, standard-sized laptop.

I am still weighing that decision and whether the netbook's small size and weight outweigh the downside of it being a tad underpowered for how I am used to working. So far, I come down in favor of the netbook since I have other machines to use when I need to do more serious work.

The Acer is the perfect size for a netbook screen and keyboard. There is enough LED real estate to be able to see what I am working on and the keyboard is well sized for my fingers. For $329 (at Costco), it is a great deal.

Sadly, the days of such larger netbooks may be numbered. Some vendors are concerned that they cut into sales of pricier (read: more margin) laptops in the 13-15-inch range.

While it is true that I did not purchase a larger laptop, if the 11.6-inch Acer had not been available, I would have made do with what I already have. Thus, by building a machine that attracted me, Acer got margin it would never have gotten otherwise.

Intel charges more for Atom processors used on netbooks with screens larger than 10-inches. Microsoft actively pushes against netbooks with screens larger than 10-inches, more than 1GB RAM, or a hard drive larger than 160GB.

While I understand wanting to protect laptop sales, this is simply wrong. Intel and Microsoft should know better than to stand in the way of progress.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Open Source Eee PCs in October, Chrome OS Netbooks

Awesome news from Engadget about the open source future of the next generation of Eee PCs. Their 'spies' have uncovered information that the first Moblin-running Eee netbooks will be in stores come October. Asus, the Eee PC manufacturer, is apparently considering making open source OSes an option for all their netbooks in the future.

This would save consumers who dislike Windows products a bundle of money. A free operating system cuts down on cost substantially, and will give all of us a much greater choice in our future purchases. With any luck, other netbook manufacturers will take Asus's lead and start offering open source versions of their products as well.

That's not all the good news, though. Apparently Asus is working with Google to put out a Chrome OS netbook sometime in the near to immediate future. Fans of open source software had better keep their fingers crossed and a few hundred bucks stashed away so that they're ready for release. Whenever that ends up being.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nvidia's new netbook platform made for Windows XP

Computerworld - Windows 7 may loom, but Nvidia Inc. is bucking the trend, releasing a second member of its ION graphics platform targeted at netbook and net-top PCs running Windows XP.

The ION LE is technologically identical to the existing ION technology, which is an Nvidia 9400M mobile graphics chip typically paired with Intel Corp.'s Atom CPU.

The difference is that ION LE will support, at best, the DirectX 9 graphics technology in Windows XP, not Vista's DirectX 10 nor Windows 7's DirectX 11, which will be able to spread processing work better to multiple CPU cores for better multimedia performance.

That would seem to be a disadvantage, with Windows 7 launching in late October, although it plans to continue letting PC makers install XP on low-end netbooks for a year after that.

Matt Wuebbling, senior product manager for notebook GPUs at Nvidia, says that the vast majority of games still run on DirectX 9, as well as all high-definition (HD) video content.

"For a $400 netbook, does [having] DirectX 11 really matter?" he asked, because ION LE will otherwise provide the same graphic performance and 1080p HD video as ION.

Despite ION's graphical capabilities, it has had limited success due, Nvidia says, to Intel's aggressive, unfair discounts for its Atom CPU when paired with Intel's graphics chip.

ION LE doesn't solve that dilemma, but it will enable netbook makers to release XP-based netbooks that perform as well or better than Windows 7 netbooks at a cheaper price, Wuebbling said. That's mostly due to Microsoft's lower price for Windows XP than Windows 7.

Wuebbling declined to give a price for ION LE. He said the platform will be available only to PC makers, not to motherboard makers offering boards to hobbyists building their own PCs, although that could change depending on demand.

Nvidia, however, won't restrict the screen sizes of netbooks using ION like Microsoft and Intel both try do, he noted.

Wuebbling said that ION LE is not "not really an answer one way or another to Intel's Pine Trail," the next-generation Atom platform that Intel is expected to release by year's end.

Nvidia's next-generation ION 2 platform could be the answer to Intel's Pine Trail, but Wuebbling declined to comment on it.

He did say that ION LE doesn't herald any new support for netbook CPUs from Via Technologies Inc. or AMD Corp. "We haven't announced support for any CPUs but Intel," Wuebbling said. "That might be something that comes in the future."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

HP Mini 5101 netbook

It may not have Pine Trail, NVIDIA Ion or, frankly, anything out of the ordinary from netbooks we’ve seen for the past six months or longer, but you can certainly say that HP’s Mini 5101 has some reasonable style. Reminiscent of Sony’s VAIO TZ, but a whole lot cheaper, the Mini 5101 has landed on jkOnTheRun’s kitchen counter for an impromptu live photo session.

Nothing more than these live images as yet, since James Kendrick is working on the full review, but he does report that his demo model has the standard 1024 x 600 screen rather than the HD upgrade, and that the keyboard is pleasantly large. The Mini 5101 also has the 6-cell battery, so it’s good to see that it doesn’t overly bloat the netbook.

The HP Mini 51010 is available to order now, priced from $399 with Intel’s Atom N280 1.66GHz processor, a 10.1-inch 1024 x 600 display and 1GB of RAM. It comes as standard with Windows XP Home, but is also available as a custom model with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10.

ARM-based netbooks set to arrive on US shores this year

DigiTimes has been making the rounds of the Taiwanese OEMs, and the company claims to have the scoop on a coming wave of ARM-based netbooks, often called "smartbooks," that will wash ashore in the US in the last quarter of this year. Smartbooks based on Qualcomm's SnapDragon processor and NVIDIA's Tegra line are allegedly on deck from netbook names like ASUS, Acer, and Foxconn. Lesser-known Chinese netbook maker Compal, which was showing off products at this past CES but which doesn't yet ship to the US, is also named as an ARM netbook maker, as are Inventec and Mobinnova.

Then there's the Touch Book, from Always Innovating, which sent out a note today to everyone who contacted them via web form (including Ars) to say that the device is is now shipping. We haven't really covered the Touch Book, but boy have we been getting reader mail about it. A lot of folks want us to review it, and I've contacted the company in an effort to get a review unit. (No response so far, but I'll keep trying.) The Touch Books' main gimmick is that its screen can be detached and used as a standalone tablet, and the second gimmick is that it runs the TI OMAP 3 chip, which is looking like a killer PMP/tablet processor.

In all, it looks like by Christmas of this year, we'll have the long-awaited Intel Atom vs. ARM Cortex A8 netbook price/performance/power smackdown that the gadget press has been waiting for since 2007. There's a sizable amount of hype around the Cortex A8 parts being considerably cheaper and more power-efficient than Intel's Atom, but it's worth taking a moment to think about how the two platforms actually stack up against one another.

In terms of absolute power draw, there's no question that the sub-1W ARM A8 platforms are going to smoke Intel's Atom platform. Atom alone has a TDP of around 2W (give or take 0.5W, depending on usage), and when you factor in the other two chips that make up the current iteration of the platform, then you can tack on another zero there.

Intel's forthcoming two-chip Pine Trail will help this situation considerably, but it still relies on a separate I/O hub that will add to the power draw vs. ARM SoCs; the latter have everything from the CPU and GPU out to the USB controller on one die. So these ARM-based smartbooks will face off against Pine Trail-based netbooks, and who wins will depend on which market you're talking about.

In terms of relative performance per watt at the platform level, it's not so clear that Cortex A8 really has a considerable edge over Atom. Benchmark data is close to nonexistent, but looking at the two fairly similar CPU architectures, Atom's x86 tax may not be that severe. By the time an A8 part is clocked high enough to go toe-to-toe with Pine Trail in raw performance, it will probably also be in Intel's ballpark in absolute power draw.

It's still likely that the A8 implementations will win in performance per watt, but in any contest where Intel is in the same ballpark, the company will try to close the distance with features in price. In Atom's case, this means that it can accommodate the full range of Intel platform bells and whistles—including 64-bit processing, the full alphabet soup of Intel SIMD extensions, hyperthreading, and Active Management Technology—in a very low-power package. Depending on how you evaluate those features, they could close the relative price/performance gap.

For instance, hyperthreading's main use is to increase performance by hiding memory latency, and its success in this area is workload-dependent (in some cases it makes performance worse). I will be very interested to see how hyperthreading interacts with a sample Chrome browser workload—multiple tabs, multiple threads, branchy Javascript code, and other elements that may make hyperthreading shine.

AMT is another place where Atom has an edge, at least in the corporate market. If you outfit a fleet with Pine Trail, then you can do the kinds of remote management tricks that Intel likes to tout. If this sort of thing matters to you, then you'll be quite happy to trade 30 minutes or so of battery life for it.

In the end, I would expect smartbooks to do to netbooks what netbooks are doing to notebooks, i.e., they'll cannibalize parts of the market, but they'll also create new niches. If the ARM-based smartbooks really do deliver on all-day battery life with acceptable performance at a lower price, then Intel will be left scrambling at 32nm for whatever new niches they open up.