Major Intel chip upgrade coming to new Netbooks

Chipmaker is set to announce the biggest makeover for its Atom processor since it was introduced back in the spring of 2008.

Intel is set to announce the biggest makeover for its Atom processor since it was introduced back in the spring of 2008. And PC makers are ready with new Netbook models, some due before the mammoth Consumer Electronics Show in January.

HP has stopped selling preconfigured Mini 5101 Netbook models directly as it readies models with the new Atom processor.
HP has stopped selling preconfigured Mini 5101 Netbook models directly as it readies models with the new Atom processor. Hewlett-Packard

Netbooks--tiny laptops used for Web surfing and light production tasks--have gained in popularity as a cheap alternative to a laptop. They can be had for as little as $250--or under $100 when bought as part of a two-year contract at phone carriers such as a Verizon.

Inside new Netbooks will beat Intel's latest "Pine Trail" Atom processor technology. This watershed design will squeeze the graphics function--previously on a separate chip--into the central processing unit, or CPU, a first for Intel. And what does that mean to consumers? "Better battery life. But performance more than anything," Intel executive vice president Sean Maloney said in a recent CNET interview.

Evidence of a rejiggered Netbook lineup can already seen at Hewlett-Packard, which has stopped selling preconfigured models of its well-received Mini 5101 directly from the HP Web site in preparation for new models to come, according to the company.

And Dell is on board too. "You can expect that Dell will be offering products based on Intel's next-gen Atom platform, aka Pine Trail," said a Dell spokesperson Monday. All major vendors currently offering Netbooks--such as Acer, Asus, Toshiba, and MSI--are also expected to refresh their lineups.

Intel, which is already on the record saying that the Pine Trail Atom is shipping this quarter, has made integration one its biggest themes in 2010 and beyond. Its Arrandale Core i series of processors for mainstream laptops, due by early next year, will also combine the graphics chip (GPU) with the CPU. And future generations of the Atom processor will be even more highly integrated.

One of the first new Pine Trail Atom processors expected to appear is a 1.66GHz version (rumored to be dubbed the N450). After this, a faster 1.83GHz version, the N470, is due.

Updated at 8:00 p.m. PST: Pine Trail is the name of the technology platform; Pineview is the name of the new Atom processor.

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