Chip vendors bring Windows 7 closer to netbooks

Chip vendors Qualcomm and Nvidia are throwing their support behind Windows 7 OS with hardware and drivers.

Chip vendors Qualcomm and Nvidia have thrown their support behind the Windows 7 OS for netbooks, announcing efforts to bring better graphics and continuous 3G connectivity to the devices.

Qualcomm on Wednesday announced it was sampling chips that enable Windows 7 netbook connectivity to multiple 3G networks. Separately, Nvidia announced beta drivers for its netbook platform that could bring full high-definition video to Windows 7.

Qualcomm said it had updated its Gobi2000 3G embedded chip, designed to let netbooks and laptops access multiple 3G networks like HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) or EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized). The chip supports Windows 7 and improves data speeds and frequencies at which devices can connect to 3G networks.

The module is in sampling and should reach netbooks and laptops in the second half of this year, Qualcomm said.

"We believe Gobi notebook and netbook customers will experience the long-sought desire for ubiquitous connectivity," said Gary

Greenbaum, director of business development for Windows Networking at Microsoft, in a statement.

Separately, graphics vendor Nvidia on Wednesday said it has released beta drivers that make its Ion netbook platform compatible with Windows 7. Nvidia's release of beta drivers could bring full high-definition 1080p video capabilities to Windows 7. It could also enable better multimedia capabilities, like photo editing and gaming, than what is usually found on netbooks.

"We have released beta drivers for Windows 7 to our customers for them to begin design/development of Ion-based systems now," said Ken Brown, an Nvidia spokesman, in an e-mail.

Nvidia and Microsoft demonstrated several applications running on the Ion netbook with Windows 7 at an event in Taiwan on Wednesday. The officials showed 1080p high-definition video while simultaneously transcoding another HD video clip.

Nvidia did not comment on specifics related to the driver. Microsoft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Graphics vendor Nvidia is trying to get a piece of the emerging netbook market with Ion. No Ion-based netbooks are available yet, but Nvidia says it is working with PC makers to bring "mini-notebooks" to users at prices as low as US$299.

By extending Windows 7 drivers early, Nvidia is trying to entice PC makers to adopt the Ion platform over rivals like Intel, said Jon Peddie, president of market research firm Jon Peddie Research. The company's early jump in extending drivers is also showing its seriousness in entering the netbook space.

The Ion platform pairs Nvidia's GeForce 9400M GPU with Intel's Atom CPU. Nvidia claims Ion gives better graphics to netbooks while drawing less power. That benefits netbook buyers who get more powerful graphics at a lower price, Peddie said.

However, Intel officials argue the battery life and small-form factor of netbooks are not designed to run high-definition movies, which are better suited for mainstream laptops. Intel recently started shipping the Atom N280 processor and GN40 chipset that can decode 720p video.

Using Intel's netbook processor, the Ion platform can make a puny netbook into an "honest-to-god notebook," Peddie said.

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