Netbook News: Intel Pricing Can Sway, Sony Joins the Fray

sony-vaio-w-netbookOne of the most oft-cited benefits of netbooks is how much they cost, in that they offer much of the basic computing power of a laptop or desktop for a much lower price. This week, however, the focus shifted to how the prices for these handy devices compare to one another.

It emerged back in May that Intel (s INTC) offers preferred pricing for its Atom CPU, but netbooks are just now seeing the effects of such pricing. According to Liliputing, Intel charges $45 if a netbook maker purchases just the Atom CPU, yet the Atom paired with Intel’s 945GSE chipset and GMA 950 GPU (which provides a graphics boost) costs just $25. Essentially, the CPU and GPU together are far less to buy than the CPU alone. Nvidia’s (s nvda) Ion platform, meanwhile, is a more capable combination of Atom CPU and $30-$35 GeForce 9400M GPU. Since Nvidia doesn’t quality for Intel’s preferred pricing, the CPU and graphics combo costs manufacturers $30-$35 $70-$75.

The bottom line for consumers? If they’re looking to buy a netbook and are set on one powered by Intel, they may want to look for one with the graphics-boosting GMA 950 GPU, since they’ll be getting more for less. If they’re not set on having Intel inside, however, Nvidia’s Ion platform offers a comparable solution, price-wise. they’ll pay less but suffer in the graphics department. If they’re not set on having Intel inside, however, Nvidia’s Ion platform offers better graphics performance at a $50 price premium.

With certain companies, however, a higher-than-average price is practically synonymous with the brand. A good example is Sony (s sne), which finally jumped into the netbook market this week with the $499 VAIO W. The device isn’t much different from the cookie-cutter models we’ve seen over the last year, most of which start around $300 — 10.1-inch display, 1.6GHz Intel Atom chipset, 160GB hard drive, webcam, Wi-Fi and nearly full-size keyboard. The VAIO W does offer one relatively unique quality: The display is capable of 1366×768 resolution, allowing for native 720p video. Unfortunately for consumers, that feature would be better suited with the Nvidia Ion but it isn’t an option on the VAIO W. And if it were, it would likely cost even more.