Netbooks, Phase II
Intel Atom processors power many netbooks, and the chipmaker predicts that a netbook renaissance will occur in the first half of 2011.
A new crop of netbooks will add wireless syncing capabilities that allow users to sync data easily among multiple devices, such as their smartphone, laptop, and desktop. Intel's new dual-core Atoms are more powerful and allow netbook makers to build sleeker, slimmer devices that are "potentially as thin or comparable to the new MacBook Air," says Ng. Another as-yet-unnamed feature would make it easier for netbooks to stream music to a home stereo or speaker system.
AMD's upcoming Brazos-platform processors will combine low-power dual-core and single-core CPUs together with a DirectX 11-capable GPU on the same chip. If it ends up as good as it looks on paper, it should provide better performance than today's Atom-powered netbooks do, while still preserving battery life and allowing for small and thin laptops. We should see premium netbooks and inexpensive ultraportable laptops in early 2011 with the new chips.
Few computer makers in the United States are more closely associated with the netbook than Acer, which helped define the genre with its Aspire One netbooks in 2008. Not surprisingly, the company believes that the tiny portables will thrive even as tablets take hold.
"While the netbook market has matured and is no longer experiencing the explosive growth we saw initially, it is still a key product category that will generate significant sales for consumers looking for both productivity and entertainment in a mobile device," wrote an Acer spokesperson in an e-mail to PCWorld.
Acer, which in November announced plans to enter the tablet market, sees a clear distinction between slates and netbooks. "Tablets...represent a different product segment that caters primarily to gaming and content consumption in the $400-$600 range," the Acer representative wrote.
But netbooks typically sell for less. Most cost between $300 and $350, says Intel's Ng, though new features and innovations may cause prices to inch closer to $400.
In the coming years, tablets and netbooks will take divergent paths--the former focusing on entertainment, communications, and convenience, and the latter adopting a more work-friendly role. Each will carve out a niche in the personal computing landscape. One will not kill off the other, however. After netbooks succeed in boosting their processing power and adding new capabilities, they'll appeal to users who want a lighter and smaller version of a full-size laptop.