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Netbooks: Just for the Internet?

Intel Corp. is indisputably the company that ignited the era of netbooks with its Atom processors aimed at ultra-mobile applications. The Atom chips failed to become popular in mobile Internet devices (MIDs), however, netbook is the fastest growing PC category.

“Netbooks are a pretty-well established category and clearly still a much sought after product. You should go talk to some of the analysts on estimated numbers, but still forecasted in the tens of millions of units over the next several years,” said Bill Calder, a spokesperson for Intel Corp.

Netbooks are popular, but netbook makers are blurring the lines between ultra-thin notebooks and netbooks by increasing screen sizes of netbooks and installing lower-end microprocessors into ultra-low voltage platforms.

 “Admittedly, consumers have more choices today, and many may choose to buy-up which is fine. Keep in mind that netbooks are really just for the Internet, mostly a companion device, and should not be confused with say, ULV machines that offer more features and better performance. So, while there is some blurring of the lines in terms of size and shape, they really are distinct categories,” said Mr. Calder.

Acer Aspire One: Intel Atom, Intel built-in graphics. Probably, the world's most popular netbook

But are netbooks just for the Internet? Nvidia says clear “no”: its well-known GeForce 9400M core-logic (also known as Ion) with an advanced graphics core can do much more than just display images, for example, it can decode high-definition video, something that Intel’s own netbook platforms lack at the moment.

“Many consumers have been disappointed with netbooks, for a variety of reasons. One of the main issues consumers have is that they expected their netbook to perform like a full-sized notebook. As we all know, they disappoint in this regard due primarily to their underpowered graphics. Nvidia and our partners have been working hard to address this with Ion graphics. The new Ion-based netbooks from manufacturers like HP have been lauded for delivering notebook-like performance at a netbook price-point, with more than 5 hours of battery life to boot,” said Matt Wuebbling, notebook product manager at Nvidia.

Asus Eee PC  1201N: Intel  dual-core Atom, Nvidia GeForce 9400M/Ion core-logic. Probably, the world's most powerful netbook

In fact, precisely selecting the right mobile computing device is very important on the first place.

“Selecting the right mobile computing device means juggling the balance of price, portability and performance. I contend that if you sacrifice too much performance for price and portability and you end can up with a solution that is not acceptable for anything other than a narrow-use Web tool for travel. But that might be what you need; if so, it's likely in addition to your regular PC or laptop uses,” said Damon Muzny, a spokesperson for AMD.

Intel’s own next-generation netbook platform based on the future Atom processor features considerably better graphics technology as well as hardware-based high-definition video decoding. So, netbooks are not just for the Internet, as Intel’s product roadmap admits.

“We believe that Ion goes a long way to address the deficiencies in the netbook category. While we understand that some consumers are not interested in netbooks, a significant percentage of respondents to your poll indicated interest in a multimedia netbook. This is a vote of interest in netbooks with greater graphics capabilities, like Nvidia Ion offers. Apparently a lot of independent parties agree, as indicated in the numerous awards the Ion earned this year,” added Mr. Wuebbling.

Acer Ferrari One: AMD Athlon Neo, ATI Radeon HD 3000 graphics. Probably, the world's most stylish netbook

Although one of the world’s most advanced – and, perhaps, the most desired – netbook, the Acer Ferrari One, is powered by an AMD microprocessor, the chipmaker still does not think that netbooks are really important as a product category. This may be a correct perception since netbooks are considered as generally underpowered devices and calling an inexpensive mobile computer with premium features a netbook may well harm its sales among target audience.

“The desire to have real computing power in smaller, lighter and less expensive notebooks was the reason for the HP dv2 ultrathin notebook and similar SKUs. They are thin, light and compact at an exciting price, but they do not make the painful sacrifices regarding PC capabilities as netbooks do. There are new AMD-based notebooks coming out this holiday season (like HP's dv3) with new hardware and better battery life,” said Mr. Muzny.

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