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Chipmakers have long raced to churn out more powerful microprocessors. They didn't pay much heed to heat or battery drain, natural side effects of increased processing power—until Intel released its new Atom this past summer.


No faster than previous chips, the teensy Atom instead uses a fraction of the usual battery power—one-tenth, according to Intel. Therein lies the seed of a revolution. BlackBerrys and iPhones don't need chips powerful enough to crack the human genome.

They just need to send and receive email, surf the Web, and snap and store photos without burning through the battery. And because the Atom was designed to digest Flash (unlike the iPhone), it delivers the entire Internet experience. It also opened a new market for the mini PCs dubbed netbooks, which could pave the way to a billion-dollar revenue stream.