Intel didn't create netbook platform, but the company launched a consumer platform beyond their education-oriented Classmate PC, unlike OLPC and AMD, the creators of today's "netbook" platform. Given the expansion of netbook into higher spaces, we felt inclined it is time to discuss where netbooks belong, according to the manufacturer that has its chips in majority of netbooks on the market.
Last week, we spent some time on the phone with Bill Calder, one of Intel’s netbook experts. Bill had a good deal to say about where netbooks should and should not be.
One of the things that stood out during our conversation was Bill's reference to usage models. When we spoke about nVidia's ION platform, Bill stated that in his opinion "nVidia is attempting to change the direction of the netbook market with a different usage model by adding the ability for gaming and HD Playback. Since nVidia is a manufacturer of graphics processors and most of these are aimed squarely at the gaming and enthusiast crowd; it is not surprising to see nVidia want to push gaming onto the netbook world."
Bill was also quick to tell me what Intel felt defined a netbook;
- Typically runs Atom CPU
- Low Power
- Low Price
- Basic Internet use
We would agree with this definition but in our view, netbook could also run Via’s Nano or another low power CPU, even SoC such as Tegra or ARM. Intel, according to Bill, looks at the netbook as more of a companion product. It is not meant as a front line unit, and is also not meant to replace a laptop or notebook but to complement it. They are not meant for content creation, but rather for content viewing or [forgive the marketing term] content consumption. Netbooks are great at single and very limited multi-tasking for the viewing of content, however as Bill pointed out they can quickly become saturated and bog down if given too much to do. The netbook was never meant for gaming and HD playback [Bill says those belong on a larger screen at least 15-inches, while we feel that 17” is the minimum for true HD playback experience] both of these functions require too much from the system.
The origins of netbooks: AMD helped OLPC to create XO-1, Intel created Classmate PC to cash in on the idea. That idea became beloved theme in Taiwan, EEE PC came out and the rest is history...
One of the problems with the market [as we have shown in part III of this series] is that there is no defined space for netbooks. The platform wasn't created to be a commercial project, and as it happens with sandbox ideas, such as the Internet, GUI [Graphical User Interface], things tend to get out of hand. Netbooks started to gain more and more features, bringing higher prices and the lines started to blur and the distinction between the netbook and the lower powered thin notebooks faded. Today, Samsung is even selling a netbook [NC20] in a case that belongs to legendary Q30/Q35 series thin notebook.
But there is a clear difference between the thin notebooks and netbooks - hardware platform either can or cannot provide additional functionality to the netbook/notebook manufacturer. Most consumers do not know the difference between the two classes which is further complicated by the nettop, despite sharing the “net” name these devices will usually have significantly different hardware designs with more CPU power [and in some cases dual core CPUs] so they can indeed handle limited content creation. Also as they are usually display independent so the ability to playback higher quality video is a concern. Companies looking to cash in on the netbook craze are not exactly forth coming with a great deal of consumer information which adds more confusion to the market and muddles the consumer’s ability to make informed choices when it comes to netbooks.
nVidia, for their part, would appear to want to give you those things, even if you do not want them or never knew you needed them in such a small package. Unfortunately we cannot truly speak for nVidia at this time as we do not have their reply to our questions. We hope they will respond soon so that we can get an idea about which direction they are taking and why. *** Update 07 April 2009 01:41 GMT*** we have heard from nVidia they will reply to our questions shortly, we will publish their reply in our next article in the series.
To us, it looks like Intel started with a good concept: the company saw what AMD did with their own OLPC netbook and merely executed its strategy while AMD kept their typical stance and waited until the train left the station. Intel started to promote a low-cost platform, but forgot that history has a tendency to repeat itself and that Atom could [and will] cannibalize sales of low-end Celeron and Pentium processors as the netbooks started to gain features. Netbooks were intended to open up a whole new market, but the platform designers and manufacturers failed to position the netbook platform and ultimately, dragged their higher-end line-up ASPs to the ground.
Intel has solid plans with its SoC line-up [System-on-Chip] in 2010, but can the company raise ASP or will the expensive factories start to be used as SSD flash manufacturing ground?
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