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Why HP chose Via chip over Intel for Mini-Note

Hewlett-Packard spells out reasons for going with a Via Technologies processor and not Intel.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) chose a relatively obscure processor from Via Technologies for its high-profile Mini-Note 2133. An HP marketing manager explains why.

The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC starts at $499 and weighs 2.7 pounds
The HP 2133 Mini-Note PC starts at $499 and weighs only 2.7 pounds Hewlett-Packard

The Via C7-M offered what HP needed now, according to Robert Baker, a notebook product marketing manager for HP. "Via gave us that right mix of performance and price for the type of environment that this product is going into--content consumption." And the chip's low power requirements were a plus too. "Their power (efficiency) is where we needed it to be for this platform. Web surfing, creating Power Points," Baker said.

CNET Reviews said the 2133 Mini-Note performed at "an acceptable level" when "surfing the Web and working on office documents" but "doing very much more than that, or open too many windows at once, and things will start to bog down." And CNET Reviews added this: "We won't kid you--this CPU (1.6GHz Via C7-M) did not perform well at all on our standard benchmarking tests."

Via C7-M processor Via Technologies

Timing also factored into HP's decision to go with Via's C7-M. Intel's low-cost Atom processor--which will compete directly with Via chips--is not shipping yet from Intel. Though Baker did not cite the Atom explicitly, he alluded to timing exigencies. "The other key thing was we were designing for education. We had to bring the product to the market now. A slip of a month kills you," he said. Educators need to get their hands on units "so they can make decisions for purchases they'll roll out during the summer when they're doing the vast majority of their purchases."

HP will, however, consider other processors such as the Atom when it's time to refresh the lineup. "There will be an interim refresh about six months in. If the Atom is the right processor, that's what we'll go with. We'll look at everything in the market at that time," he said. Via is slated to bring out a higher-performance "Isaiah" processor in the June time frame. HP will also look at that, he said.

The design for the 2133 was not driven by the wow factor, which is an Apple forte. "We didn't say, hey, we want something cool." The design was a result of a long process of "taking feedback from our customers. All those conversations were well over a year ago. This has been in development for a year now."

Whether ultra-compact, low-cost notebooks like the 2133 (starting at $499) and the Eee PC constitute a sea change in notebook buying habits nobody can say yet. To date, small, fully-functional notebook PCs--which the 2133 is intended to be--have carried a high premium. Look no further than the MacBook Air, said Baker. The Air starts at about $1,700 and jumps to above $3,000 with a solid state drive (SSD). The svelte, 2.8-pound HP 2510p subnotebook for corporate customers starts at about $1,500.

If this class of notebooks does take off, "you'll see more and more bang for your buck baked into these small machines," Baker said.