Memo to Intel: Netbooks morphing into notebooks

Some Netbooks will look more like notebooks in the coming months.

Looking for signs that netbooks are catching on? And even morphing into notebooks? Here's a few.

Netbooks were the big end-user gadget on display at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference that ended Friday.

And all the Netbooks at a Microsoft booth were running Windows 7, Microsoft's next-generation operating system due next year.

A Microsoft person on the floor said that a lite version of Windows 7 will run on 1GB of memory and 16GB of (solid-state drive) storage. Higher-end Netbooks will have a 160GB hard disk drive, according to Microsoft "guidance."

Microsoft displayed netbooks running Windows 7 at WinHEC
Microsoft displayed Netbooks running Windows 7 at WinHEC Brooke Crothers

This person also said something surprising. Dual-core Atom processors will be used in Netbooks. I tried to disabuse him of the notion that netbooks would get dual-core Atom processors. No, I said, it was Nettops (Atom-based desktops) that would get dual-core. But he assured me that vendors were planning to bring out dual-core Netbooks.

So, I contacted Intel. There are no immediate plans for dual-core Atom chips designed specifically for Netbooks, according to Intel. But what's stopping a netbook supplier from using a dual-core Atom 330 (designed for nettops) in a Netbook? Answer: nothing.

At 8 watts, the chip has a higher power envelope than single-core Atom processors, but 8 watts is still low compared with a mainstream Core 2 Duo processor. Other specifications for the Atom 330 include a core clock speed of 1.6GHz, 1MB of level-2 cache, and support for DDR2 667MHz memory.

Beginning to sound more like a low-end notebook? I think so.

Netbook market share appears to be growing too . A little more than 5 million Atom processors shipped in the third quarter of 2008, according to Shane Rau of IDC, a market researcher. "Will it add to the total market or will it eat into the total market? Another question might be is Atom eating into another processor brand such as Celeron (Intel) or Sempron (AMD)?"

Rau says that the total market can grow while Netbooks eat into notebook market share. "The TAM (Total Available Market) can grow even as Atom eats into another brand. But we don't know how it's shaking out yet," he said.

And here's evidence of Netbooks penetrating the consumer consciousness. Best Buy now has a separate category for Netbooks on its Web site. Right under laptop computers you'll see "Netbooks". Interestingly, the Netbooks category is ranked above desktops and most other "computer" categories.

Other signs. Dell has a 12-inch laptop, the Inspiron Mini 12 based on the Atom processor. Is this a Netbook or notebook? You tell me.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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