Not built for speed
Join Date: Mar 2004
New Atom platform meets surging netbook market
With ‘Pine Trail’-blazing design…
On the eve of the winter holidays and the highly anticipated Consumer Electronics Show in early January, Intel is letting loose a trailblazing Intel® Atom™ platform for netbooks and entry-level desktops.
The platform, previously known as “Pine Trail,” integrates the memory controller and graphics into the CPU—a first for Intel. That means two chips (CPU and chipset) instead of the previous three (CPU, chipset, and input/output controller hub). This change brings with it substantial reductions in cost, overall footprint, and power in addition to a lower thermal design point (TDP), which cuts system cooling requirements.
The graphics core, previously built using 130nm process technology, now gets the same 45nm hi-k treatment that’s key to the Atom processor’s success. As a result, “You get better graphics performance, while at the same time getting the low power benefits of our 45nm hi-k,” says Anil Nanduri, netbook marketing manager in the PC Client Group.
Over 10 mainstream OEMs are expected to release new netbooks and desktops powered by the new Atom platform early in 2010, with more of the over 80 design wins to follow.
New platforms promise novel designs“Netbooks are a lot like specialty cocktails,” wrote Wired in a recent netbook review. “Only so many ingredients can be mixed before the result is either weak, overdone, or simply makes you want to barf.”
The new Atom platforms, however, promise to give system builders more flexibility for novel design. The netbook platform sheds 20% in average power, extending battery life in some systems to over 10 hours, confirms Nanduri.
The total processor and chipset footprint shrunk by an impressive 64%. For netbooks, says Nanduri, that means fan-less, sleeker form factors and extra room to provide “the ability to integrate more capabilities into the design.”
For entry-level desktop PCs, the platform drops nearly 70% in footprint and about 50% lower TDP than the previous generation. According to research firm IDC, small-form-factor and all-in-one desktops will account for the majority of desktop growth in the next few years—exactly the kind of machines the new Atom makes possible.
Netbooks go go grow at over 40% per year
At the beginning of 2009, CEO Paul Otellini laid out a blueprint to reach 1 billion units shipped per year within five years, 200 million of which would be netbooks. In just six quarters since their spring 2008 launch, Atom processor-based netbooks appear on track to meet our aggressive expectations.
After topping 10 million units last year, ABI Research predicts well over 30 million netbooks shipped in 2009 and 47% compound annual growth through at least 2013. Last quarter, reports credited netbooks with the record jumps in sales of processors and graphics chips.
“Netbooks are a fast-moving a consumer device,” says Nanduri, ramping faster and at higher volumes than both the Nintendo Wii and Apple’s iPhone (see chart below).
New builders, business models, software choices
What Intel did differently with netbooks versus PCs, notes Nanduri, is focus on helping original design manufacturers (ODMs) build netbooks, which tend to be easier to design than notebooks. With more netbook-capable ODMs available, companies that had never sold PCs before—Sylvania, Viewsonic, and Nokia, for instance—were quickly able to offer their own branded netbooks.
In addition, several telecommunication companies—T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange, AT&T, and more—offer netbooks with 3G data plans. This creates more choice for consumers and more sales avenues for OEMs.
The other choice available to consumers is software. Unlike ARM-based devices, Atom-based netbooks can run flavors of Windows 7 and the full complement of Windows software. Or they can opt for Moblin Linux v2, built from the ground up for Atom-based devices.
On top of the operating system, consumers will soon have netbook app stores—much like those used today with popular smart phones—to download and purchase software built for netbooks. And Intel is making it happen. As announced at this year’s Intel Developer Forum, the Intel Atom Developer Program includes extensive developer outreach, software tools and code, and soon a marketplace for developers to sell code to other developers and to sell applications to consumers. The app stores, from companies including ASUS, Acer, and Dell, will launch in 2010.
Right now, the Software and Services Group is running a developer contest to help stock the stores with apps, from games and entertainment to personal productivity.
Netbooks: a passing fad?
No way, says Nanduri. By making both sleeker designs and lower costs possible, OEMs will be able to meet the needs of swift mature markets—and emerging markets new to PCs—thanks to the Pine Trail platform.
In mature markets, Nanduri notes, “the number one reason people buy netbooks isn’t because they’re affordable—it’s because they’re compact and portable.” The new platform’s tiny footprint and lowered power and cooling needs ensure that the next generation of netbooks will only get better.
In emerging markets, however, cost matters. “There is great opportunity,” Nanduri adds, “to target the first time buyer in emerging markets with more affordable systems.”
No so patiently waiting for Everquest: Landmark