Samsung's Via Nano-based NC20 Laptop Coming Soon

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It's a done deal. Samsung Electronics' NC20 laptop based on Via Technologies' Nano processor will be available in the U.K. on Monday, Feb. 9, according to U.K. operator BT, which is accepting preorders.

The £391 (US$564) NC20, which includes a 1.3Ghz Nano processor, 12-inch screen, 1GB of RAM, a 120GB hard disk, and Windows XP Home, will first be available in a white case, according to BT's Web site. A second version of the NC20 with a black case will be available from March 9.

The NC20 fits into Samsung's laptop product line between its Intel Atom-powered NC10 netbook and more powerful systems, which is exactly where Via wants the Nano to be positioned.

Rumors of the NC20's impending release have swirled online since December. The new laptop is a significant design win for Via, the smallest of the three x86 processor vendors, which has struggled to gain market share in the face of competition from its bigger rivals, particularly Intel.

Winning business from a top-tier vendor like Samsung gives the Nano greater credibility with users and other prospective customers. It also means the chip will be more widely available, which should translate into higher sales for Via.

Via could use the boost. The company is an unlikely rival for Intel. To get a clearer picture of just how mismatched they are, compare their revenue from 2008. Taipei-based Via earned revenue of NT$7.9 billion, (US$235 million). That's roughly equivalent to 2.5 days of revenue for Intel, which earned $37.6 billion the same year.

Despite its smaller size, Via has led Intel in key areas. Via executives anticipated the shift towards inexpensive, low-power processors at a time when Intel executives were still promising to hit clock speeds of 10GHz or more with the power-hungry Pentium 4.

With the Nano processor, Via hopes to compete against Intel in the market for more powerful systems than the low-end laptops powered by its older C7-M chip or Intel's Atom.

Intel isn't sitting by idly. On Thursday, company officials confirmed an updated version of its Atom processor is now shipping for netbooks. The Atom N280 is only marginally faster than the N270, running at 1.66GHz instead of 1.6GHz. But Intel has added a chipset that supports a faster 667MHz front-side bus and includes a hardware decoder for 720p high-definition video -- a feature that was not originally counted among the basic computing tasks Intel envisioned for netbooks.

These new features give the Atom some added muscle, filling in gaps against Via's Nano, which uses an 800MHz front-side bus and is paired with Via's VX800 chipset. Like Intel's GN40 chipset used with the Atom N280, the VX800 also includes hardware video decoders for high-definition video playback.

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