2009: The year of the lean chip

The New Year will bring power-efficient browsing machines fuelled by a variety of ‘lite’ processors Intel’s atom processor, which fuelled so many mobile Internet devices in 2008, is only the beginning. 2009 should see a rash of new product releases with a new generation of processor under the hood: devices which deliver a full browsing experience and just about adequate office support: the basic combo of word processing, spread sheet and presentation, without frills. Chances are the music and video handling will match any good PC, laptop or MP3 /MP4 player, because some of the most serious competition for the Atom will come from chips which aim to bridge the gap between general purpose and graphics processing -- like NVIDIA’s Tegra. The other assault on the Atom’s space will in all likelihood, come from companies like Qualcomm, who look to address the lean-mean-browsing-machine market from the other end: their familiar stomping ground, the cellular phone business. The company’s Snapdragon platform for mobile computing devices has already found takers in the likes of LG, Toshiba, HTC, Samsung – all mobile phone makers – but also in players like Acer and Asus who are aggressively targeting the ultra mobile PC market. For notebook computers Qualcomm has created the Gobi – Global Mobile Internet -- platform, whose USP is the ability to latch on to any network, anywhere: WiFi, 3G (both streams CDMA2000/ EVDO and HSPA). Beefing up phone platforms to look like stripped down PCs means many of these offerings will be built around an ARM core, which will guarantee good power efficiencies -- less than 5 watts. Chances are the sub-1 kg Internet machines will find favour with hot shot foot loose execs who might consider jettisoning their heavy laptops for something that offers the most crucial but not all of its functionality… and is a lot easier to use than smart phones with awkward keyboards. The combo of WiFi, WiMAX and 3G cellular as alternative Internet access routes will be a big plus point for such users. Indications are, India pricing of such portable browsing platforms should be south of Rs 10,000, and mid 2009 should give us a reasonable choice.