Freescale and Pegatron are ushering a new generation of netbooks that will combine excellent battery life, good looks and low cost. The two partners are hoping to bring the ARM-based netbook to market within the next few months under the flagship of a major OEM at a retail price of $199 to $299.
When I was invited to this private meeting and told the netbooks would be priced at $199 and $299 I expected to find flimsy plastic prototypes. I was pleasantly surprised by how good they looked and they felt extremely well built. The prototypes have 8.9-inch displays, but they may end up with 10-inch displays. This change could mean an even thinner profile.
They run on Linux, are designed purely as Web devices and will deliver up to eight hours of battery life. These prototypes were much thinner than other netbooks I’ve used, but still manage to have a full compliment of ports.
Details may change by the time this netbook reaches the marketplace, but I’m hoping its overall design stays intact.
I talked to Alain-De Lee, the industrial designer behind this product and he calls his design concept “Mass-tige,” or the idea of bringing prestigous-looking products to the mass market. He previously led design projects for Asus and came up with the look and feel of the Lamborghini special edition notebook.
Low-cost netbooks like these are going to put price pressure on other platforms, such as Intel Atom.
Here’s the official press release from Freescale:
Freescale Semiconductor targets the netbook market
Comprehensive solution based on ARM® technology designed to enable low-power, gigahertz performance netbooks at sub-$200 price points
AUSTIN, Texas Jan. 5, 2009 Freescale Semiconductor enters the fast-growing netbook market with a comprehensive solution designed to enable netbooks that feature 8.9 inch displays, deliver eight hours of battery life between charges and retail at sub-$200 price points.
Based on the new i.MX515 processor featuring ARM Cortexâ„¢-A8 technology, Freescale’s solution includes an impressive lineup of software, components and resources to help OEMs quickly develop and deploy compelling netbook products.
A comprehensive netbook reference design based on the i.MX515 processor is available now. Created in concert with Pegatron, the reference design features the i.MX515 processor, Canonical’s Ubuntu® operating system, a new power management IC from Freescale, the SGTL5000 ultra low-power audio codec and Adobe® Flash® Liteâ„¢ software, Adobe’s Flash Player for mobile phones and devices.
We see a huge opportunity in the netbook market as consumers demand more cost-effective and higher performing solutions,â€ said Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale’s Networking and Multimedia Group. Our solution for netbooks will enable OEMs to develop compelling products that feature cell phone-like battery life at extremely aggressive price points. We believe the combination of the i.MX515 processor and related enablement solutions will dramatically accelerate the evolution of this exciting new space.â€
According to analyst firm ABI Research, consumers are expected to purchase 140 million netbooks in 2013, compared with only 15 million sold in 2008. Often priced between $300 and $400 (USD), netbooks are streamlined, embedded devices that provide more than enough performance for a host of Internet-based activities such as social networking, surfing the Web, using e-mail and other common tasks.
As was evident in the 2008 holiday season, the netbook market has exploded due to consumer demand for affordable and compact devices that allow users to conduct routine tasks like social networking or shopping on the Web,â€ said Philip Solis, principal analyst at ABI Research. The netbook market is still in its infancy, and it represents a huge market opportunity for companies like Freescale. As advanced platforms for netbooks become increasingly available, price points will drop and the market will expand.â€
Unleashing ARM technology for netbook markets
Integrating an ARM Cortex-A8 core and manufactured using 65-nm process technology, Freescale’s new i.MX515 provides up to 2100 Dhrystone MIPS and can scale in performance from 600MHz to 1GHz. Advanced power management features included in the i.MX515 processor, such as a dedicated, hardware-based video acceleration block, allow for extended battery life and eliminate the need for fans or heat sinks.
By incorporating highly integrated devices and low-cost printed circuit boards, the Freescale solution is engineered to keep bill of materials low. In addition, the i.MX515 supports cost efficiency by featuring a memory interface supporting both DDR2 and mobile DDR1. While mobile DDR1 is ideal for the most power sensitive mobile Internet devices, DDR2 is better suited for netbooks as it provides low power at significantly less cost. Although the i.MX515 offers support for both, many competing Cortex-A8 platform options available today only offer mobile DDR1, limiting designers’ options to maximize cost savings.
The i.MX51 is one of the only processors to offer both OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores, thereby enabling 2D and 3D graphics as well as Flash and SVG for enhanced user experiences. Video created for the Adobe Player is one of the leading video formats on the Internet today. Working with Adobe, Freescale plans to enable the Adobe software to run on the processor’s dedicated OpenVG graphics block, thereby extending battery life and enabling netbook web browsing experiences as rich and responsive as those on traditional PCs.
New netbook power management technology from Freescale
A key component of Freescale’s netbook solution is the new MC13982 power management IC. Integrating a variety of discrete functions into a single device, the MC13982 contributes to reduced size and weight of end products while extending their battery life through innovative power management and control features. The device incorporates a battery charging system, four adjustable buck converters for powering the processor core and memory, two boost converters for LCD backlighting, and RGB LED displays along with serial backlighting drivers for display and keypad.
About Adobe Flash Platform
The Adobe Flash Platform is the de facto standard for delivering breakthrough applications, content and video on the Web. Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Flash Liteâ„¢ are on over 98 percent of connected computers and more than 800 million devices, and deliver more than 80 percent of Web video worldwide, ensuring that content and applications are presented consistently in the format users want. For more information on the Adobe Flash Platform, visit www.adobe.com/flashplatform.
Freescale’s netbook reference design is available now. The company is currently sampling the i.MX515 processor and MC13982 power management device to tier one netbook customers. Volume production for the i.MX515 device is planned for Q2 2009 to power netbooks designed for the 2009 holiday shopping season.
About Freescale Semiconductor
Freescale Semiconductor is a global leader in the design and manufacture of embedded semiconductors for the automotive, consumer, industrial, networking and wireless markets. The privately held company is based in Austin, Texas, and has design, research and development, manufacturing or sales operations in more than 30 countries. Freescale is one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies with 2007 sales of $5.7 billion (USD). www.freescale.com
Supporting comments from Freescale partners follow
Adobe: “Freescale’s netbook solution based on the new i.MX51 applications processor is an ideal platform for showcasing the rich graphics and video capabilities that Adobe Flash Platform enables with Flash Lite,” said Danny Winokur, senior director for business development, Platform Business Unit at Adobe. “With the combination of advanced processing intelligence from Freescale and rich Internet experiences delivered by Adobe software, consumers can look forward to compelling new netbook products in 2009 and beyond.”
ARM: Consumer demand for all-day, always-on Internet experiences requires the power-efficiency and performance of the 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor,â€ said Mike Inglis, executive vice president and general manager for the Processor Division of ARM Limited. With leading edge ARM technology onboard, Freescale’s i.MX515 system-on-chip is an outstanding device that will play a key role in the evolution of the dynamic and fast-growing netbook space.â€
Canonical: The increasing uptake of Ubuntu by computer manufacturers demonstrates how it is ideally suited to meet customer expectations for netbooks,â€ said Canonical’s director of OEM Services, Chris Kenyon. Netbook buyers want small form factor, lightweight devices that offer all day computing, fast access to Web, email and entertainment, and a mobile-oriented user interface. The i.MX515 processor’s onboard graphics and performance and power consumption characteristics make it a great platform to run Ubuntu.â€