More than 25 low-cost notebooks based on Intel's upcoming Atom processor are in the works, including models from multinational PC vendors, according to the chip maker's top executive in Asia.
These Atom-based notebooks will be available in the middle of this year for about $250 to $300, said Navin Shenoy, general manager of Intel's Asia-Pacific operations, in an interview. "We'll see some slightly richer configurations that get up to $350," he said.
[ Learn more about Intel's plans for the Atom chip, previously known as Diamondville. ]
The Atom processor, formerly called Diamondville, is a small, low-power chip designed for inexpensive notebooks, a class of device that Intel and others refer to as "netbooks." These machines are intended for first-time computer buyers in emerging markets as well as users in mature markets willing to trade performance for a low-cost notebook that complements their existing computers -- a market that until now has been largely dominated by Asustek's Eee PC.
Atom will offer lower performance than Intel's Core 2 Duo processors for mainstream notebooks, but the Atom's performance will be good enough for browsing the Internet and sending e-mails, Shenoy said.
Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner was more specific about the processor's capabilities last month, telling reporters that a related chip, called Silverthorne, offers performance similar to Banias, the first version of Intel's Pentium M processor released in 2003. Silverthorne is designed for small, handheld computers that Intel calls Mobile Internet Devices, and will be available as part of the Centrino Atom chip package set for release during the second quarter.
The introduction of the Atom and the rush of vendors to build the chip into low-cost notebooks could mark the emergence of a new type of device, expanding on the early success of Asustek's Eee PC. But not everyone is convinced there is much demand for low-cost notebooks, either as a secondary computing device or a substitute for a more capable, and more expensive, notebook PC.
Bryan Ma, the director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific, is a self-described skeptic and doubts that low-cost notebooks will have more than a limited impact on the market for portable computing devices so long as performance and features are traded for lower prices. "I was never convinced that price was the best way to sell these products," he said.
But the marketing clout of Intel and top-tier PC vendors could alter this equation by creating additional demand among customers in both emerging markets and developing countries. "Intel, pushing this, gives it more legs," Ma said.
"There's going to be some experimentation," Shenoy said.