Can Intel Cedar Trail Atom processors, along with Google Chromebooks, resurrect the netbook?

Summary:Pity the poor netbook. Once tech's darling, it's been the primary casualty in the industry's tablet PC mania.

Pity the poor netbook. Once tech's darling, it's been the primary casualty in the industry's tablet PC mania. But can Intel's newest Atom CPUs, along with the roll-out of Google Chromebooks, give the category a second wind?

You probably already know about new Chromebooks coming from Acer and Samsung, which will run Google's Chrome OS and be available from $349 or in a new $28-per-month rental pricing scheme. These run using Intel's current dual-core Atom CPUs.

But Intel also has a new Atom platform coming in the fourth quarter, Cedar Trail, that boasts improved specs to meet the challenge of AMD's low-end, low-power Fusion processors. The most notable spec change is that the Cedar Trail Atom N2800 dual-core processor will be able to handle up to 4GB of RAM instead of the 2GB that current Atoms can manage. Both the Atom N2600 and N2800 will include support for Intel's WiDi wireless display tech, which allows streaming from your netbook to a TV without cables. (Unfortunately, resolution of the streamed content maxes out at 600p instead of 1080p HD.)

The chip giant is also moving away from its own integrated graphics for Cedar Trail, apparently choosing to go with PowerVR's SGX545 GPU instead. Intel's previous GMA 500 and GMA 600 were based of the SGX535, but the clock speed of the new graphics chip will be doubled to 400GHz for netbooks (600GHz for Atom-based desktops) and support DirectX 10.1. That should help to address one netbook weakness: lackluster (at best) graphics performance.

Will a better-performing netbook at the same sub-$400 price point entice you to buy one? Can netbooks do anything else to compete in the new tablet PC world? Let us know in the Comments section.

[Image: VR-Zone]

Topics: Hardware, Google, Intel, Mobility, Processors


Sean Portnoy started his tech writing career at ZDNet nearly a decade ago. He then spent several years as an editor at Computer Shopper magazine, most recently serving as online executive editor. He received a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from the University of Southern California.

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