Chip battle to go small?

Even as new ultra-mobile PCs make their debut, chipmakers are gearing themselves for a share of the UMPC market with targeted processors.

The battle of the chips appears to be heading toward another front--ultra-portable PCs (UMPCs) or small-form factor notebooks.

Chipmakers in recent weeks have stepped up momentum in the mobile processor space. Earlier this month, Intel announced two new Atom processors, tweaked for its "Netbooks" and "Nettops".

Taiwanese chip manufacturer Via Technologies also released details of its Nano processor, which it says will power small-form factor notebooks.

Also wanting a piece of the pie is Nvidia, which announced chipsets that include processors targeted at mobile Internet devices including sub-notebooks such as the Asus Eee PC.

According to ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet, AMD's notebook division brand manager Scott Shutter said during the recent Computex show in Taipei that the UMPC market does not have the demand yet to warrant the company's attention.

However, several tech sites and blog postings reported that AMD is preparing for a sub-notebook competitor to the likes of the Eee PC and Netbooks. The Ultra Mobile Blog reported two versions powered by the new Turion mobile processor, while Small-Laptops.com quoted AMD's Shutter as saying that the small notebooks are actual Raon Digital products and will be powered by both the Turion and Sempron processors.

An AMD spokesperson told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that the Geode processors which AMD bought in 2003, have been used to power a number of mobile Internet devices, "including the Redfox Wizbook, Pepper Pad, Kohjinsha E8, Raon Everun, Data Evolution’s Cathena CX, and the [One Laptop Per Child initiative's] XO Laptop".

"Based on past experiences AMD has with its ultra low-power AMD Geode processor, AMD believes there is a greater opportunity in the eight to 12-inch category of new and unique mobile solutions as well as new unique desktop form factors," the Singapore-based spokesperson said.

There is no lack of enthusiasm from vendors--apart from Asus, UMPC makers have expanded to include Hewlett-Packard, Kohjinsha and more recently Acer with the Aspire One. Dell and Sony are also rumored to be launching low-cost UMPCs.

Research analyst IDC also points to a positive trend in the market for ultra low cost PCs (ULCPCs)--defined as a "sub-US$500 clamshell form factor mobile PC" with a screen measuring between seven and 10 inches. IDC includes in this category, the Asus Eee PC, HP 2133 Mini-Note and Acer Aspire One.

Shipments of ultra low cost PCs in the Asia-Pacific excluding Japan region reached 150,000 during the first quarter of the year, compared to 112,000 in the fourth quarter of 2007, said Kathy Sin, IDC Asia-Pacific's research manager for personal systems.

Hong Kong-based Sin added: "We expect the strong momentum of the ULCPC will be sustained in 2008. Due to affordable price strategy and long battery life, it attracts a lot of people to buy it as a second PC or as a study tool for their kids."

While low-end UMPCs have a firm market for now, it is not clear yet how makers of these devices will take to the new mobile processors. When queried by ZDNet Asia, HP was unable to say if it will introduce other processors to its Mini-Note, nor if it would upgrade the processor from the current Via C7-M to the Nano.

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