Channel Vendors Prepare to Introduce More Ultra-Small Notebooks

Asus will continue to sell the original, Intel Celeron-powered Eee 701, but has for all practical purposes spiked the Celeron-based, 8.9-inch-screened Eee 900 it introduced barely two months ago in favor of two Atom-based portables called the Eee 901 (with the 8.9-inch display) and Eee 1000 (with a 10-inch screen). The name, by the way, now stands for "Easy, Excellent, and Exciting" instead of the 701's "Easy to work, Easy to learn, Easy to play."

Unlike their finger-cramping predecessor, all the new models boast larger keyboards -- 92 percent of full size for the 1000 -- as well as Super Hybrid Engine technology, a fancy name for different CPU speed/voltage and LCD brightness settings when on battery power. Asus claims battery life of up to 7.8 hours for the 901 and 7 hours for the 1000, with Bluetooth as well as 802.11n wireless for all three.

Like the 900, the 901 will be available with Linux and a 12GB solid-state drive or Windows XP and (thanks to the difference in operating system cost) an 8GB SSD. The Eee 1000 comes with Linux and a 40GB solid-state drive, while the Win XP model 1000H carries an 80GB hard disk. Prices have not yet been announced, though rumor has them climbing as high as $650 for the 10-inch system. That could move the Eee brand from a near-impulse-buy bargain into direct competition with larger, better-equipped notebooks.

These new portables join a growing crop of under-four-pound, under-$1,000 alternatives to familiar, more-briefcase-ballast laptops. HP is already in the arena with its 2133 Mini-Note. And Michael Dell was recently spotted at an industry conference toting a reportedly under-$500,  Atom-based, Win XP or Ubuntu Linux-equipped mini Inspiron which Dell referred to as a product for "the next billion Internet users".

While pretty much everybody expects HP to upgrade the 2133 with an Atom processor, the current model uses VIA's sluggish, antique C7-M chip -- that's "antique" as in Computex 2005. The C7-M also powers the OpenBook reference design that VIA made available to would-be mini-note manufacturers last month -- that's "made available" as in open source, with VIA releasing the CAD files of the OpenBook's external design under a free Creative Commons license.

But VIA has a brand-new CPU now making the rounds of netbook and motherboard OEMs, whom it expects to ship systems in the third quarter of this year. The VIA Nano is a 64-bit superscalar processor with speculative out-of-order microarchitecture for sophisticated branch prediction and what VIA calls the lowest floating-point add and multiply latencies of any x86 processor

Built with Fujitsu's 65-nanometer-process technology, the Nano features an 800MHz front-side bus; two 64K Level 1 caches and a 1MB Level 2 cache; and VIA's PadLock on-die security engine for AES cryptographic acceleration in hardware. It's available in three mobile-focused models with idle power as low as 0.1 watt: the Nano U2300 (1.0GHz, 5 watt TDP), U2500 (1.2GHz, 6.8 watt TDP), and U2400 (1.3GHz, 8 watt TDP).

Space-saving and silent desktop or media-center PC manufacturers can choose between a 17-watt Nano L2200 (1.6GHz) and 25-watt model L2100 (1.8GHz). By the way, the Nano is a plug-in, pin-for-pin compatible replacement for the C7 in OpenBook and other designs.

PC graphics heavyweight Nvidia Corp. made a splash Monday with the announcement of a mobile platform named Tegra, which is not just a CPU but a single-chip computer smaller than a dime, designed to deliver up to 10 times the power efficiency of current battery-powered platforms for visual computing applications.

Instead of shrinking down PC technology, Nvidia brags, Tegra was designed from the ground up for tiny Internet and computing devices that company president and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang says "are going to be magical."

The Tegra 650 combines an 800MHz processor from embedded-CPU specialist ARM with graphics and video silicon from Nvidia, including a high-definition video processor with 1080p HDMI output (as well as NTSC/PAL TV-out and WSXGA+ LCD or CRT support); an ultra-low power GeForce graphical processing unit; and imaging and audio processors, plus tidbits such as WiFi, disk drive, and keyboard and mouse support.

Products based on the Tegra 650 -- as well as the Tegra APX 2500, a processor designed for Windows Mobile smartphones -- are scheduled to reach consumers toward the end of this year.

Finally, entry-level PCs like the Eee 701,  and ritzy PCs like the Lenovo ThinkPad X300, have made no-moving-parts, solid-state storage an increasingly familiar part of computing performance, and Computex is crowded with examples.

Super Talent Technology has unveiled a new line of 1.8-inch SSDs based on the Serial ATA interface, with claimed maximum read and write speeds of 120MB/sec and 40GB/sec, respectively. Just 5mm thick, the MasterDrive KX drives are available in 30GB ($299), 60GB ($449), and 120GB ($679) capacities.

Focusing on the more affordable ULCPC segment, familiar flash-drive vendor SanDisk hit the show with a line of Parallel ATA (a.k.a. IDE) drives with 39MB/sec streaming read and 17MB/sec streaming write performance. The SanDisk pSSD drives will be available in August in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB sizes.

That well-known disk manufacturer Intel is showing off a Parallel ATA solid-state drive that's four times smaller and lighter than a conventional 1.8-inch hard disk. Weighing in at 10 grams, the Z-P230 is offered with 4GB or 8GB of capacity (with a 16GB version promised for the fourth quarter). Its max read throughput is 35MB/sec and its max write throughput is 7MB/sec.

(This article was adapted from Internetnews.com and written by Eric Grevstad.)

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