New UMPCs Are What I’m Talking About

Most of the Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPCs) have been slab-designs. They’re sort of like PDAs on their side, but bigger and more powerful. Today, ASUS and VIA launched a slightly different twist on the idea, taking the UMPC idea and sticking it into a notebook form factor. ASUS sticks with the UMPC name class with their Eee PC 701 while VIA has whipped up NanoBook Ultra Mobile Device (UMD, ahhh Sony!). In either case, both manufacturers have packed a 7″ wide aspect display into a sub 2lb shell and sporting the all-important internet access through Wi-Fi. VIA’s design goes for their in-house C7-M processor along with 1GB RAM and a 30GB hard drive. ASUS has not detailed the platform that its device is running on. Based on the 512MB DDR2 reference and the fact that it was presented during an Intel keynote, I’d imagine it’s something in the McCaslin family. Battery life is targeted at about 3 hours for the ASUS and over 4 with the VIA. Prices are quite different however. The ASUS is targeted at expanding the number of users connected to the internet and is selling the Eee PC 701 at $199 and $299 price points. VIA’s NanoBook will be around $600.

These two ‘UMPCs’ sort of embody what I was talking about towards the end of a post I wrote about the Palm Foleo. While I still believe the Foleo will be a failure, I also believe there is a market for very small and less powerful laptops in the sub 3lb range mostly used for accessing the internet and word processing. Aside from the relatively small screens on the two devices launched today, they’re just about what I was talking about. The ASUS especially looks enticing. If they work on the platform a bit more and improve battery life and possibly increase the screen size a bit (or more importantly, resolution) I’d definitely be interested. When I’m on the go, I don’t need anything terribly powerful for some internet access and email. These devices fit the bill.

Intel Santa Rosa Launched

For me, the most awaited product launch of the summer occurred today. Intel released a new version of the Centrino Duo and Centrino Pro today, based on the Santa Rosa platform. The platform consists of a Core 2 Duo CPU, the Crestline Mobile Intel 965 Express chipset, Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN and optional Intel Turbo Memory (sorry about the Intel marketing…). Over the existing Napa platform, Santa Rosa brings a faster FSB (667MHz to 800MHz), draft N wireless, and the GMA X3100 integrated video (as opposed to the GMA 950). In addition, there are some extra power saving features, hopefully eeking out some more battery life.

I’m in the market for a new laptop this summer and I’m especially excited about the Turbo Memory feature (either 512MB or 1GB of NAND flash memory on a mini PCI-e slot) and possibly better battery life. Hard drives are one of the slowest components of any computer and it doesn’t help that the vast majority of notebooks come with 4200RPM or 5400RPM drives. The built in NAND flash should help things (if properly implemented). As well, despite Intel’s push to extend average battery life to 8 hours by 2009, it’s all too common to see most laptops barely breaking 3 hours these days. It’s so sad to see a nice, portable laptop, such as the ASUS W7 series barely hit the 2:30 minute mark before shutting down due to low battery. What use is a small, portable device if it requires you to either bring an extra battery or the power adapter anyways?

Initial reviews of the Santa Rosa platform have been mixed. Performance gains from the higher FSB is minimal in most applications and Turbo Memory has sort of fallen flat. (It remains to be seen whether the performance of lack thereof is just a problem with the sample that was reviewed.) On the other hand, power consumption seems to be down compared to Napa. Meanwhile, Lenovo has said that Santa Rosa actually puts out about 20% more heat than Napa, so the power consumption numbers may be a little iffy.

Whatever the case, I’ve got my eye on a solidly built, probably business-class laptop that is around 5lbs (or less) and can give me at the very least 4 hours of battery life. Currently the HP Compaq 6910P, Dell Latitude D630 and the Lenovo ThinkPad T61 are all on my list. (I only wish Lenovo and HP would make it easier to customize their laptops in Canada.)

Intel Penryn and Nehalem Details

Intel discussed some details about their future CPUs in a briefing held yesterday. First up, let me list some of the articles floating out on the web about Intel’s future chips, Penryn and Nehalem.

Just briefly, Penryn is the 45nm derivative of the 65nm Conroe/Merom that’s currently selling under the Core 2 moniker, and is slated to launch sometime late this year. Nehalem will come after Penryn in 2008-2009, when the 45nm process is mature and will be based on a new microarchitecture.

Penryn itself isn’t just a die shrink of Conroe/Merom. It will pack additional enhancements including improved low power states (more battery life is always good for laptops), more cache, SSE4, improvements for FP and Int operations, and enhanced virtualization support. Of course, you can expect a nice increase in clock and FSB speeds as well. The performance increase over the current Core 2 generation is estimated to be anywhere from 20% in games (for dual core) to over 40% in FP/bandwidth intensive applications (quad core). The numbers were comparing a 3.2GHz (1600MHz FSB) Penryn to a 3GHz (1333MHz FSB) Conroe and a 3GHz+ Penryn-based quad core to a 2.67GHz Kentsfield. The presentation was apparently run on a 3.33GHz (1333MHz FSB) Penryn, to show that it is well on its way to full production later this year.

Next up after Penryn on the Intel roadmap is Nehalem. Nehalem is a much larger architectural change from Conroe than Penryn. Nehalem will have an integrated memory controller (IMC) as well as bring the Common System Interface (CSI). All Athlon64s have IMC’s and CSI is extremely similar to AMD’s HyperTransport. Intel may be playing a little catch-up in these areas, but when Conroe is already performing so well in comparison to the AMD’s K8, it’s not a huge leap of faith to think that Nehalem will be good competition for whatever AMD has in the pipe. Additionally, in response to AMD’s widely publicized plans to integrate graphics with the CPU (AMD’s Fusion project), Intel stated that Nehalem can have an optional graphics core bolted on.

Whatever the match up between Penryn/Nehalem and AMD’s future products, I’m really liking Intel’s new open attitude. When AMD was putting the hurt on Intel in the NetBurst days, they were very closed. But ever since those pre-announced Conroe performance numbers, Intel has been on the upswing, not afraid to put information out there in the hands of partners and potential customers. AMD has also shared some information, but so far, nothing to this degree. I’d love to see what Barcelona’s packing. I can hardly wait for 2008!

Conroe Lands!

Call me sad or call me a geek, but I’m awfully excited tonight. Conroe NDAs lift! Okay, so I know what you’re asking yourself: “What the hell is this Conroe Charlie speaks of and what is a NDA?” Well, I’ll tell you; it’s the ‘codename’ for Intel’s new desktop CPUs which will be launched under the Core 2 Duo brand, destined to replace the age-long Pentium name and NDA is a non-disclosure agreement which many tech sites sign in order to get these items to review before they’re officially released. Just think back to the good old days when we were rocking top of line Pentium 133 processors. Conroe is actually based on the mobile variant, called Merom, which is supposed to launch next month. It’s a huge departure from Intel’s marketing scheme of the late 90s and early 2000s when everything was about higher clock frequencies. Now it’s all about efficiency. More instructions per clock can easily offset a slower overall clock speed. The end result is a very well designed CPU that is significantly faster than previous Intel offerings (at least in the desktop space) and is finally able to compete with AMD’s Athlon64 chips. And to think, all this stemmed from that little Pentium M processor designed for ‘low powered’ notebooks back in the day.

Okay so performance is good, or maybe even great. However, that’s not the only reason I’m excited. Conroe is also going to be coming to retail at very reasonable prices. Of course this has a lot to do with AMD’s gains on Intel in recent years but nonetheless, I’m happy to see some very sweet price-performance levels for these chips. Add on top of that the fact that they consume less power than most competing CPUs and overclock very well just makes me want to impulse buy. Chances are, I’m going to try and pick up a new desktop with a Conroe. I’ve been itching to get a smallish system for a media center and this would be the perfect CPU to do that with. Power in a small form factor. What else could you ask for? Pair it with a 20″ widescreen LCD and I’m in computing heaven.

Well, I did my CDT again today so I can blast off for home at noon tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the weekend. It’ll probably be the last sane one. After this it’s going to be study time for exams. Definitely not looking forward to that…

Core 2 Duo copyright Intel Corp

Trademarked, copyrighted, patented, whatever-ed by Intel Corp.

Morning Tech Reading April 19

One of the biggest pieces of news from yesterday and will spill over to today was the huge run up in the North American stock markets. The Dow gained nearly 200 points and the tech-laden NASDAQ put on a good showing up around 2% as well. After the bell, a good number of tech earnings came in with good numbers from Texas Instruments, IBM, and Yahoo to name a few. Today, the big news will be Intel’s earning after the bell. We’ll be able to see, shortly, just how much market share it lost to rival AMD. AMD has already reported earnings for the 1Q 2006, and they were fairly strong. However their outlook for 2Q06 wasn’t as rosy as analysts had been expecting. One note mentioned by many analysts was the possible deceleration of market share gains from Intel by AMD. However, that most likely came as a result of Intel’s aggressive pricing over the past quarter to stem the loss in share to AMD. The main focus will probably be on the outlook as we know the 1Q earnings aren’t going to be very good (Intel has already lowered their earnings estimates for the quarter).

Intel to Provide Clues About Share Loss

NVidia has announced the launch of their new high-end mobile graphics processors, based on the Geforce 7900 line. Currently only Dell is offering the new top grade Go 7900GTX in their new XPS M1710 laptops, which will run you around $2600 for a base model (which only has the Go 7900GS). In either case, these laptops have gotten so powerful you can easily play any game at high settings. That’s more than I can say for my desktop even…

NVidia Geforce Go 7900

[tags]Intel, business, nVidia[/tags]