Freescale chip aims at 1GHz, $199 Netbook

While Freescale, like Intel, sees Netbooks as companion devices to the PC, it also envisions devices that are more frugal with power and that run Linux.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
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.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Freescale Semiconductor is expected to launch new silicon for Netbooks--devices that it believes will come in below $200--at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.

The ARM chip architecture-based i.MX51 processor is designed to enable "low-power, gigahertz performance netbooks at sub-$200 price points," according to Freescale, formerly Motorola's chipmaking arm.

Freescale envisions sub-$200 Netbooks
Freescale envisions sub-$200 Netbooks Freescale Semiconductor

The definition of a Netbook seems to get redefined every month, as different companies push their distinct vision of the device. And Freescale is no different. While Freescale, like Intel, believes the Netbook is a companion device to the PC, it envisions devices that are more frugal with power consumption and run the Linux operating system. Intel-based Netbooks using the Atom processor typically offer better performance than ARM-based devices and run the Windows XP operating system.

"Because the primary function (of a Netbook) is accessing the Internet, Linux and Firefox are a good operating system and application for that purpose," Glen Burchers, director global marketing for Freescale's consumer products group, said in an interview.

He doesn't see ARM competing directly with Intel Atom processors, which target a higher-end Netbook segment. "ARM based processors can have a play, in addition to x86 (Intel)," Burchers said. 'We don't believe ARM processor will replace x86, but will augment them for a certain segment of the market." Ideally, the Freescale chip would be used in Netbooks that get about eight hours of battery life and sport an 8.9-inch screen.

And ABI Research, a market research firm, forecasts that there should be plenty of space for competing visions of the Netbook over the next several years. ABI expects consumers to purchase 60 million netbooks in 2013, compared with only 182,000 sold in 2007.

Freescale has been working with Pegatron, a wholly owned Asus subsidiary, to develop a reference design that features the 1GHz ARM Cortex A8-based i.MX51 processor, Canonical's Ubuntu operating system, Adobe's Flash Player software, a new power management chip, and the SGTL5000 ultra low-power audio codec.

Freescale's netbook reference design is available now. The company says it is currently sampling the i.MX51 processor and MC13982 power management device to tier-one Netbook customers. Volume production for the i.MX51 device is planned for Q2 2009 to power netbooks designed for the 2009 holiday shopping season, Freescale said.

(Note about Apple Netbook speculation: Freescale says that the "speculation is inaccurate" that its i.MX51 chip will be used in an Apple Netbook, as some reports have stated. "Freescale's netbook approach is unambiguously an ARM/Linux play, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate," a Freescale spokesman said Sunday night.)