You probably haven't heard of Freescale—the company doesn't grab many headlines in the CPU world dominated by Intel. But the U.S. company recently announced big plans for netbooks: It wants to put its CPUs inside more of them, and bring their prices down to $200.
The netbook explosion was largely driven by one product: the Atom processor from Intel. Unlike many CPUs created by the chip-giant, Atom was innovative for two reasons: Its tiny size and low manufacturing costs, and its low-power consumption design. This combination enabled PC manufacturers to rethink notebook PCs.
Now Freescale wants a slice of the pie, so it's announcing a new line of chips and a series of tie-ins with companies to support the hardware with operating systems. And instead of going head-to-head with the Atom, Freescale's chips are aiming at a new section of the netbook market: Ultra-long life, ultra-cheap machines. As the company's marketing manager Glen Burcher puts it, "The value proposition that Freescale brings is dramatically lower power consumption and even lower prices."
The intention is to get CPUs like the new iMX515 into netbooks by the middle of the year. And Freescale's differentiating technology is a combination of licensed ARM chip designs, and tight multi-purpose integration—multimedia, memory-handling and 3G connection processing is all done on-chip. That drops the number of external components required to put together a full-functioning computer, and it reduces the size constraints and the price of the final machine.
Better still, Freescale is promising its CPUs will consume less power than Intel's which means the final products will have a battery life far superior to the three-four hours that netbooks typically possess now.
Can Freescale make a success of this? Actually, very possibly. The company's heritage as the world's number one producer of embedded processors when it was Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector places it in an excellent position to design the chip technology, and the use of ARM designs promises simple and powerful chips. Partnering with OS makers like Android, Linux and Xandros right from the get-go should also optimize the performance of any resulting netbooks. And though the company hasn't made any deals with netbook makers yet, that can only be a matter of time considering how quickly the market is blooming.
Would you buy a $200 fully-capable multimedia long-battery-life netbook? Of course you might—the price alone is the attraction in these economically testing times, and the maker of the chip that's purring away inside will be a secondary concern for many. Looks like a whole new low-end netbook revolution may be about to kick off.