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Summary:

Last year was arguably “The Year of the Netbook.” Unfortunately for AMD and NVIDIA, they were left on the sidelines as the netbook market picked up steam in 2008. The vast majority of these devices run on Intel’s Atom chip using the company’s integrated GMA 950 […]

hp-dv2.jpgLast year was arguably “The Year of the Netbook.” Unfortunately for AMD and NVIDIA, they were left on the sidelines as the netbook market picked up steam in 2008. The vast majority of these devices run on Intel’s Atom chip using the company’s integrated GMA 950 for the graphics component. With the imminent release of Microsoft’s Windows 7 later this year, there are already reports of Microsoft and Intel jointly agreeing on exactly what constitutes a netbook for Windows 7: Screen sizes of 10.2 inches is the killer for both chip competitors.

Earlier this year, both AMD and NVIDIA announced their strategies to get in the netbook game. AMD purchased graphics company ATI back in 2006 and created Neo, a platform comparable to Intel’s Atom. In some respects, AMD’s Neo trumps Intel’s Atom. By pairing an ATI GPU with an AMD Athlon CPU, Neo can easily handle decoding an 1080p Blu-ray disc. By comparison, an Intel Atom netbook drops frames on a 480p Hulu stream, making the experience choppier than whitewater rafting on a windy day. It’s not all smooth sailing for Neo, though. My testing of an HP dv2 powered by the first consumer Neo platform shows that battery life suffers greatly. I could barely get half of the runtime on the Neo device as I can with a comparable Atom netbook. I suspect that, coupled with the larger 12-inch display, is why AMD is positioning this $700 device as an ultra-portable notebook and not a netbook.

Like AMD, NVIDIA is attempting to boost the graphic prowess of netbooks with its Ion platform. As with AMD’s Neo, NDVIDIA’s Ion can tame 1080p video. That’s no surprise, since Ion is composed of a GeForce 9400 GPU. The 9400 is the same graphics chip that Apple adopted with its latest generation of notebooks. It’s too early to tell how hard Ion will hit the battery life of a netbook, but it’s likely going to cost consumers more than Intel’s integrated approach. Lenovo just announced its new 12-inch S12 netbook at $449, but adding Ion is a $50 option.

While both companies offer a compelling graphics boost, neither is likely to make a huge dent in the traditional netbook market. For most consumers, it’s an either/or market right now: Either they get a small, low-priced netbook, or they spend a little more for a standard notebook. Both of the Atom alternatives are in the current no-man’s land of an ultra-portable between the either and the or. I have little doubt that AMD and NVIDIA exceed Intel in the graphics department, but at the end of the day, how many consumers crave mobile high-definition video on a small screen?

  1. Doug Mohney Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    I thought Blu-ray was Japanese for “Hell on battery life.”

    Seriously, isn’t this techo-overkill in some respects, since you should really really watch a Blu-ray disk on your 50″ (or larger) 240Hz LCD screen in order to get the visual benefits….

    Don’t mind the improvements on streaming video mind you, but Blu-ray + Netbook = Not good mojo…

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  2. [...] The Year of the Netbook. Unfortunately for AMD (s AMD) and NVIDIA (s NVDA), they were … Netbooks and HD Video: Hot or Not? AMD and NVIDIA Hope for Hot VN:F [1.3.2_665]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast) Leave a comment | Trackback [...]

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  3. Ian Morison Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Bzzz.

    Comparing Blu-Ray decoding to Hulu decoding is very misleading. You’re comparing the glacially slow Flash player to the MPEG-4/H.264 codec used by the Blu-Ray player. Flash video playback taxes even more powerful CPUs. Adobe and its codec licensors have done a half-assed job of optimizing their code. Par for the course for Adobe and Flash (AKA Adobe Trash).

    And why on Earth would I want to watch 1080p Blu-Ray on a screen that’s 1024×600? Standard def DVD can be scaled to fill a screen that small pretty well.

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  4. I guess it can be hot but whats the point? the screen is still small. =/

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  5. [...] Jump to Comments One of my heroes at jkOnTheRun posted about efforts to shoehorn in Blu-ray decoding into a netbook.   And it looks like Microsoft wants to tie netbook pricing for Windows 7 based upon screen [...]

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  6. While I do have some issues with Hulu on my Atom-powered netbook (particularly when I try to connect it to my big screen), I had no problem at all viewing the stunningly high-quality broadcast of the inauguration on CBS websites earlier this year. And that was using a public hotspot at a local moonbounce place. Seriously, it was beautiful. I had one of those “the Internet is magic” moments.

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  7. The big money question here is, how do you get Hulu 720p to play on your HDTV? Answer: a next-gen netbook or iPhone (or Zune HD, Archos, etc.). Once you’ve got your 720p device picked out, you might as well wish for 1080p, because even if the streaming content isn’t there yet, everyone’s buying 1080p TVs, and you might as well avoid buying hardware twice if you can.

    So no, it doesn’t make sense to downscale 1080p to a small internal screen. But it makes plenty of sense to have that decode capacity when connecting an external screen. As 1080p decode is by far the most silicon-intensive thing any device will have to do, short of gaming or transcoding movies, any device that can do it can replace your computer for most purposes IF it can drive a bigger screen. Even the cheapest netbooks can drive a 1920 x 1200 monitor, they just need h.264 1080p decode capacity to drive it with video. When will smartphones be able to do the same?

    A next-gen iPhone with DisplayPort dock connected to flat panel monitor and USB keyboard/mouse could probably work as well as a netbook for many people. The rumored Apple tablet is basically an affirmation by Apple that yes, if you put enough silicon in your phone, the only difference between that and a netbook is the internal screen size. It’s easy enough to throw a range of screen sizes at the market and see what gets bought.

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  8. So no, it doesn’t make sense to downscale 1080p to a small internal screen. But it makes plenty of sense to have that decode capacity when connecting an external screen. As 1080p decode is by far the most silicon-intensive thing any device will have to do, short of gaming or transcoding movies, any device that can do it can replace your computer for most purposes IF it can drive a bigger screen. Even the cheapest netbooks can drive a 1920 x 1200 monitor, they just need h.264 1080p decode capacity to drive it with video. When will smartphones be able to do the same?

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