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Feature Articles
Intel's Atom and the Rise of the Netbook
By Vijay Anand - 5 Mar 2008,12:00am

The Coming of Netbooks?

The Coming of Netbooks?

Many years back, numbed down notebooks were referred as a sub-notebooks, but as Intel's Centrino Mobile Technology gained ground, it effectively put this class of notebook to rest for good. At least that's what we thought until the one-laptop-per-child (OLPC) initiative and the ASUS Eee PC took off in a big way at the right timing. These notebooks are not quite the category of ultra portable notebooks and yet they weren't akin to sub-notebooks of the past. With this categorization dilemma, Intel moved in to make their own stand and classified them as the Netbooks.

Simply put, a netbook is a much leaner notebook that's optimized for simplicity, affordability and is a very Internet-centric device. That aptly describes what the ASUS Eee PC and OLPC devices are designed for and as such, they can be categorized as first generation netbooks. The next generation netbooks however will be powered by the Intel Atom processor, more specifically the Diamondville. At 1.6GHz core clock (with 512KB L2 cache) and running off a 533MHz FSB, it is quite similar to a Pentium M (Banias) processor in performance as per Intel's findings. The Diamondville will be paired with a mobile 945GM (Calistoga) chipset with an ICH-7M Southbridge and together, these will be the core components for the next generation netbooks. With a far lower powered processor and lower thermal profile, cooling mechanisms of the netbook can be simpler, cheaper and perhaps allow even slimmer and lighter netbooks than the current generation since the battery pack needn't be as powerful too. Think Macbook Air (mini) and that should strike an idea of where and how netbooks can stand to gain in physical evolution with the Intel Atom inside. Either that, or netbooks can become even more functional with more integrated features, better speakers, etc.

To get a better understanding how netbooks fit into the existing mix of mobility solutions, here's a table to better align yourselves on MID, UMPC, netbooks and notebooks:-

MID, UMPC, Netbooks and Notebooks Compared
Categorization / Key Identifiers MID / UMPC Netbook Mainstream Notebook
Requirements Full Internet Experience in Your Pocket A Platform at New Affordable Price Points More than Basic Usage
Key Usage Models MID: Infotainment
UMPC: Work on-the-go
Internet-centric Office Productivity & Multitasking
Screen Size MID: 4.5" - 6"
UMPC: 5" - 7"
Below 10 inches 12-inch or Larger
Operating System MID: Win XP, Linux
UMPC: Win Vista, Win XP, Linux
Linux, Windows-based Windows-based
Hardware Platform MID: Intel Centrino Atom UMPC: Intel Atom processors Intel Atom / Celeron / Core 2 Duo processors Intel Core 2 Duo processor
Price-point US$450 - US$600 US$250 - US$350 US$500 and above

As noted in the key usage model scenario, the traditional notebook is best suited for no compromise usage experience and content creation whilst the netbook is designed more towards a content consumption model off the Internet and your local devices. The following slide from Intel better iterates this difference:-

Netbook usage model on the left versus a notebook's usage model on the right.

While in the current day's usage context, the netbook made popular by ASUS Eee PC and others in the same segment like Kohjinsha still seem limited due to these devices not being either pocketable like a smartphone nor a full fledged powerhouse notebook. However, they are great companions in terms of travel and on-the-go usage for a full keyboard equipped Internet experience. With the next generation netbooks using Intel Atom, they are probably going to be even more appealing in physical attributes and spur even more adopters and thus drive the price down further in future. In mature markets of the developed word, the netbook could lend itself as a secondary or tertiary PC for some members of the family. In the emerging markets of the developing world, the netbook could in fact be the first system adopted by families thanks to the low cost and simplicity of use. Similar to the netbook, a more niche market could be the nettop, which is a desktop equivalent of the netbook.

As Navin Shenoy, Asia Pacific General Manager mentioned, the world has crossed the milestone of a billion connected computers, but to reach the next billion, that would greatly rely on tapping on to the emerging markets and the netbook could just be the stepping stone to achieve that. The Intel Atom (Diamondville) processor is expected to be available in June this year and should see system vendor offerings by Q3-2008.

Intel's vision of Netbooks.

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