Windows netbooks clouded by armies of ARM-based Linux gadgets

While new Atom-based Windows netbooks appeared at CES 2010, the Wintel mobile PC platform, so ubiquitous just a year ago, was largely overshadowed this time around in a series of smartbook announcements, Linux-based e-readers and tablets. on ARM processors.

Some of the ARM-compatible netbooks on display, such as Lenovo’s Skylight (pictured above), feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips. Plastic Logic’s Que eReader uses Marvell’s ARM processors. Freescale, another ARM chipmaker, rolled out a benchmark platform for sub-$200 tablets, also at the 2010 show.

Additionally, Nvidia showed off five tablets based on its ARM-based Tegra chips, which vary in form factor and operating system among vendors. ICD Vega’s Tegra tablet runs Android, while Foxconn runs a custom Linux distribution, for example.

But in the meantime, LG has unveiled its very first netbook, choosing Intel’s Atom and Microsoft’s Windows XP as its foundation.

LG is also thinking a lot about smartbooks and mobile gadgets in other shapes and sizes, said LG Vice President John Taylor, speaking to Betanews at CES 2010. “There are going to be a lot of different mobile devices , and they will differ in size as well as [level of] internet access,” he predicted.

“But right now, Windows netbooks are where the customers are, and netbooks are a great launch pad for LG,” Betanews said.

Fujitsu also continued the Windows tradition with its third-generation netbook and fourth-generation ultra-mobile PC (UMPC). Both represent a move from XP to Windows 7, and both run on Intel’s Atom, said Paul Moore, senior director of product management for laptops and tablet PCs, in an interview at CES.

Atom has also appeared in places other than netbooks. AOC, a major computer monitor OEM now expanding into the PC and e-reader spaces, showed off an Atom-powered all-in-one PC (below).

But with its second all-in-one PC, the M222T, AOC will replace Atom with Intel’s faster dual-core Core 2 processor using the new Socket P, initially aimed at mobile form factors, noted Jimmy Shih, director of the business development for AOC. CE division.

On the ARM side, Plastic Logic’s entry into the suddenly crowded e-reader market is expensive up to around $800. But the Que uses a plastic rather than a glass screen for “shatterproofness,” Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta claimed, speaking to Betanews at the Showstoppers press event. Plastic Logic’s e-reader is also specifically designed as a “professional e-reader,” with support for formats like Windows PowerPoint, he explained.

A total of 40 devices are already using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon. Still, only some of them are already commercially available, while others are still under development, a Qualcomm representative noted during Pepcom’s digital experience.

Moreover, out of these 40, only two Snapdragon gadgets are smartbooks, while the rest are smartphones, he admitted.

Despite making appearances at the show all week, including during Qualcomm’s keynote on Thursday afternoon, an HP booth executive denied any real product plans along the lines of smartbooks from HP. Instead, an agreement signed between HP and Qualcomm was limited to the creation of a Snapdragon demo unit, he said.

In fact, HP’s smartbook demo unit looks more like the Windows 7 “slate” tablet PC, also designed by HP, which was announced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during his keynote at the event. . But the demo unit developed by HP and Qualcomm uses Android instead.

In contrast, Lenovo’s Snapdragon-based Skylight smartbook runs a custom Linux distribution from Thundersoft.

The Qualcomm representative described the Skylight as “the ultimate internet connectivity multimedia device”. Still, Lenovo – a maker of Windows and Linux netbooks – and Qualcomm are clearly hedging their bets. Unlike Windows netbooks, which run Windows apps, smartbooks are primarily for people who just want rock-solid internet connectivity for browsing, email, and web apps.

But at the same time, the Skylight offers far more media storage than current smartphones – and unlike a smartphone, Lenovo’s smartbook comes with a full QWERTY keyboard for easy texting and data access, a said Betanews.

Going further into 2010, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if ARM started showing up on more smartbooks and other PC devices – as well as more smartphones – especially given Marvell’s announcement at CES of a new quad-core ARM processor.

But given Microsoft’s dominant lead in the netbook market – and its more recent interest in Windows 7’s “slate” form factors – it remains to be seen how much traction the still highly fragmented Linux/ARM contingent can gain against Windows. in gadgets larger than smartphones, a segment where Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system continues to lag.

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