Freescale Says ARM Will Power Half the Netbook Market

freescale_logoEarlier this week, Freescale expanded their young netbook ecosystem with more OS and connectivity choices. Their i.MX515 processor is based on the ARM Cortex-8, which they feel can bring an enjoyable portable computing experience for under $200. The chip is sampling now in a reference design, but volume production isn’t slated until the second quarter of the year.

Freescale says they’re currently supporting Ubuntu with their reference design, but the chip is currently capable of more: Android, Xandros Linux and Phoenix Technology’s HyperSpace are all supported as well. Components from Option and Wavecom round out 3G and other connectivity methods.

Is a $199 or less netbook possible out of all this? I think so, but it will obviously require an OEM to contract with Freescale. All of the upper tier companies in this space have already latched on to the Intel Atom, so it’s a tough sell. Why would a Dell, HP, Lenovo, or ASUS even think about offering a cheaper competitor to their existing netbook lines?

Freescale seems undaunted by the x86 netbook market, however. OSnews offers this quote from Glen Burchers, the marketing director for Freescale’s consumer business:

I think for developed countries you’ll see good, better and best. I believe the good and better will be based on ARM. I believe the best will be Atom-based and will still run Windows, because you can do more with it.”

Based on that notion, Freescale believes that half of the netbook market could be ARM powered. Again, a tough sell, although Intel’s Atom seems to be reaching downward into what was traditionally ARM-territory: acceptable performance with long battery life. The challenge to ARM is combating the consumer notion that a computer at any price needs to look and feel familiar: x86 supports the operating systems that folks were raised on. People will give up battery life in order to use the environment and applications they know and love.

What do you think: is there room for the “good, better and best” approach in the growing netbook market? Or is this all a pipe dream and there’s simply no room for two different processor platforms?

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