Thursday, April 02, 2009

Netbooks and the twilight of wintel dominance?

A nice piece in today's Times on the popularity of netbooks and the threat posed to the Windows-Intel alliance by Linux combined with inexpensive CPUs designed by ARM and other smaller chip companies. The latter are currently used in cellphones, but have enough power to provide basic PC functionality. I've played with a couple of netbooks and really like them. Rumor has it that a Mac netbook is already in the works.

NYTimes: ...The new breed of netbooks, built on cellphone innards, threatens to disrupt that oligopoly.

Based on an architecture called ARM, from ARM Holdings in Britain, cellphone chips consume far less power than Atom chips, and they combine many functions onto a single piece of silicon. At around $20, they cost computer makers less than an Atom chip with its associated components.

But the ARM chips come with a severe trade-off — they cannot run the major versions of Windows or its popular complementary software.

Netbook makers have turned to Linux, an open-source operating system that costs $3 instead of the $25 that Microsoft typically charges for Windows XP. They are also exploring the possibility of using the Android operating system from Google, originally designed for cellphones. (Companies like Acer, Dell and Hewlett-Packard already sell some Atom-based netbooks with Linux.)The cellphone-chip makers argue that the ARM-Linux combination is just fine for a computer meant to handle e-mail, Facebook, streaming video from sites like YouTube and Hulu, and Web-based documents.

Freescale, for example, gave free netbooks to a group of 14- to 20-year-olds and watched what happened. “They would use it for Internet access when eating breakfast or on the couch, or bring it to class for taking notes,” said Glen Burchers, the director of consumer products marketing at Freescale.

Mr. Burchers said a number of companies already making netbooks would show a new round of machines using cellphone chips at the Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, this June.


Unknown said...

Yes, a mac netbook would be nice. In fact, an internet device from Apple with the same UI as the iphone, but with a screen that is 3-4x larger would be perfect.

In regards to netbooks ending the Wintel duopoly...I would never count Intel out. They will find a way to make an SOC in the same power envelope as ARM, and at a substantially cheaper price-point. And it will be an x86. They are already mostly there with Atom.

Bob said...

When I think of Netbooks, I think of the Intel Atom processor, so no, at least the Intel dominance is not fading.

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