Intel's Atom to enable £100 PCs?

Mobile internet devices are the buzz topic at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Shanghai. But the first generation Atom processor might actually end up seeing more success as a low-cost desktop and notebook CPU.

Intel's main Atom announcement at IDF yesterday involved five MID-orientated iterations of the new uber-tiny chip. However, Intel's Dadi Perlmutter also revealed that the Atom chip will be sold as a cut-priced processor for a new generation of affordable "nettop" and "netbook" systems.

Pricing and detailed specifications for these further variants of Atom have yet to be released. However Perlmutter said that the Atom platform will reduce the bill of materials for a bargain basement desktop PC by 20 to 25 per cent.

The £100 barrier

That could be enough to push a simple desktop system very close to the £100 barrier. As well as doing duties as second or third PCs in developed-market households, super-cheap nettops and netbooks are designed to help push PC technology into emerging markets.

All very intriguing. But what kind of computing experience can you expect from an Atom powered PC?

Intel had several Atom-powered nettops on display at IDF, running both Windows XP and Windows Vista. While the XP box feels zippy and highly responsive, the Vista machine is notably laggier. That said, the 1.6GHz system was managing to smoothly decode full DVD video for the cost of approximately 40 to 60 per cent CPU. Not too shabby, then, and approximately on a par with a something like a 1GHz Pentium III.

Dual-core will follow

These early machines, of course, are running the initial single-core, dual-threaded version of Atom. Intel says a dual-core will follow in 2009.

As for the netbook implementation of Atom, think Asus Eee PC and you'll get an idea of the sort of cut-down laptop to expect. But with Intel weighing into the market, both volumes and competition will be on the up. And that in turn will mean even lower prices.

Expect Intel to deliver further nettop and netbook revelations in coming months, with products shipping later this year.


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