Netbooks to get longer battery life with new Atom chips

Netbooks will also become faster with new Pineview chips

Netbooks could offer longer battery life and better system performance when Intel launches its second generation of Atom processors, which are due to start shipping soon.

The new netbook chips, code-named Pineview, will draw less power and deliver faster performance, an Intel spokesman said. Pineview chips are part of the Pine Trail platform, aimed at netbooks and low-cost desktops.

Intel declined to comment on the release date for Pineview processors. But company officials have said that netbooks using the chip could start shipping as early as January. Pineview chips are already being manufactured, and samples have shipped out to PC makers.

Intel is integrating a graphics and memory controller into the CPU, which will enable reduced power consumption and improved performance in desktops and netbooks, said Bill Calder, an Intel spokesman.

Atom processors were first launched in 2008 for netbooks, which are low-cost laptops that are typically characterized by small screens and keyboards. The devices are designed to surf the Web and run basic applications like word processing. Atom chips go into most netbooks today.

The chip maker showed some prototypes of netbooks and nettops, which are low-cost desktops, at the Intel Developer Forum in September. The company has not shared specifics about the clock speeds or cache inside the processor. However, some specifications were posted in information about Lenovo and Fujitsu computers on the U.S. Federal Communications Communication's Web site, including mentioning a Pineview processor running at the speed of 1.66GHz. That information has since been removed from the FCC site.

The reduction of components could also allow PC makers to design thinner netbooks, said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. The reduction of chips in the platform also will lead to lower prices, which could lead to cheaper and more affordable netbooks, Olds said.

Intel is embracing the trend of creating smaller and cheaper netbooks for people to buy its products, Olds said. "The price point brings a lot more people into the market, where the computer gets down to a point where it's almost an impulse purchase," Olds said.

Pineview integrates a graphics processor inside a CPU, which is a big change from existing Atom processors where the graphics accelerator resides externally. An integrated graphics processor will process multimedia faster and give more bandwidth for the processor to communicate with other components.

Graphics are one thing Intel is looking to improve on with the Pineview processor. Netbook users have criticized the 945GSE chipset in current Atom netbooks for its limited graphics capabilities compared to Nvidia's Ion platform, which pairs the Atom chip with a GeForce graphics core to deliver full 1080p graphics.

Intel's main focus in developing Pineview was more integration than performance, but there is room for improvement, Olds said. A big part of Intel's continued development of the Atom processor may depend on how people use such devices, which may partly depend on the operating system, he said.

Most netbooks come with Microsoft's Windows XP, but Google recently released the Linux-based Chrome OS, which is for users who mostly rely on the Internet for computing. For Chrome users, Internet connectivity matters more, while for users of Windows-based netbooks, processor speed and hard-drive space matters more, Olds said.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service

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