This morning I read a Forbes article entitled “Intel’s Not-So-Mighty Atom” and I walked away scratching my head in confusion. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not so sure that I’m the one that’s confused. Lee Gomes takes the approach of identifying how the Atom processor “isn’t up to the demands placed on it by a full-fledged Windows Vista computer doing business in today’s Web world.” I agree with Lee on that point, but it’s like making the point that a sports car isn’t up to being as fuel efficient as a hybrid vehicle. A sports car isn’t meant to save gas, it’s meant to go fast and be fun to drive. Likewise, the Atom isn’t meant to power a desktop replacement notebook.
Lee mentions that the “typical Windows Vista netbook runs from $300 to $500.” That’s an accurate statement, but I’d argue its relevance. Why? Go out and look at netbooks for sale in a retail store or online. Now out of the lot of them, how many run Windows Vista as opposed to those that run Windows XP? I’ve been watching this market since it became a market and I’d say netbooks with XP outnumber those with Vista by at least 8 to 1. So why utilize Windows Vista to draw sweeping generalizations about the Intel Atom and netbooks as a whole? It simply doesn’t make sense.
The culprit, Lee says, is bad marketing research. People want lightweight portable computers with long battery life, so that’s why netbooks are made and sold. My question to Lee would be: if that’s what people want and computer makers are willing to build them, what’s the issue? Actually, is there an issue at all? Last I checked, netbook sales were up and growing in a what’s otherwise a down market for PC makers. Surely, there are a few happy customers in the tens of millions buying netbooks, no?
I understand that Lee is pointing out how limiting an Intel Atom netbook can be when compared to full-featured desktops. That’s not in dispute. But the fact is — proven by those big sales numbers for a market that’s not yet two years old – there’s a place for low-powered computing devices in the world. No, they may not handle Windows Vista well, although they’re pretty capable with Windows 7. And Lee’s right that “games like Flight Simulator are a joke,” but the fact that he even installed such a game on a netbook tells me that his expectations of the device were flawed from the start. It’s simple once you understand what both the Atom and netbooks are for: basic computing for several hours in various locations. Once you have that expectation in mind, I think you’ll find that both the chip and the device are well suited to the task. If instead, you need heavy duty multitasking, high-definition video and 3-D gaming, you’ll have to step up to a more expensive and power hungry chip in a what’s likely a larger device.
How about it, netbook owners? Netbooks and the Intel Atom certainly don’t do everything well, but are they doing enough of what you need on the go?