Subnotebooks have always been overpriced and under-performing. But suddenly that niche has become a lot more interesting.
It began with low-priced laptops such as the Asus Eee PC, which has been a surprising success since its introduction last October. Then, at the opposite extreme, we got the ultra-thin Apple MacBook Air earlier this year and, coming next week, the Lenovo ThinkPad X300. (With larger displays, these are technically ultraportables, but they are becoming so small that the lines begin to blur.) Now it looks like HP, the world's largest computer company, is ready to take another stab at subnotes.
Rumors of a new model, the HP Compaq 2133, started when the CNET Asia edition of the Crave blog mentioned earlier this week that "HP is readying its first UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) which may hit the market in late spring." Engadget and others picked up on the report, and posted images and specs for the 2133:
- 2.5 pounds
- 8.9-inch WXGA (1,366x766) display
- Optional solid-state disk (SSD)
- Nearly full-size QWERTY keyboard
- Windows Vista or Linux
A news report in the Chinese-language Commercial Times that HP had contracted with Inventec to manufacture a high-end, $630 UMPC with an Intel 45nm processor and Windows XP added weight to the rumors.
But the most interesting take came from UMPC Portal, which claims the HP Compaq 2133 will actually use a Via Technologies chip. Via is a distant third in processors, but it has been getting some press recently with the announcement of its next-generation x86 processor (Isaiah), the release of the Chrome400 DX10 GPU, and the arrival (any day now) of another low-cost laptop, the Everex Cloudbook. The site's theory is that the 2133 will initially use a Via C7 processor and Unichrome DX7 graphics, and compete in the sub-$500 market. HP will later upgrade the 2133 to a 2.0GHz Isaiah processor and the new Chrome400 graphics, and challenge the likes of the Mac Book Air at the high end. UMPC Portal says a reliable 'industry insider' has confirmed the 2133 will use a Via chip.
Isaiah is "pin-compatible" with the C7 (meaning you're supposed to be able to drop it into laptops based on older Via technology), the specs look good on paper, and it is scheduled to ship in the first half of this year at speeds up to 2.0GHz. But I'm still skeptical that a subnote based on a Via processor and graphics will challenge high-end, Intel-based ultraportables anytime soon. If the 2133 does in fact use a Via processor, it is more likely gunning for the Eee PC. (Acer recently said it would jump into this emerging category as well.) But the leaked product shots of the 2133 are intriguing, and it will be interesting to see exactly what HP has in store for this new model.
One other note: At CES, HP refreshed its tx series consumer ultraportables. At 4.3 pounds, the tx2000z may be a bit bulkier than the HP Compaq 2133, and it lacks the novelty of the Eee PC. But the $1,000 base configuration gets you a 12.1-inch WXGA touchscreen (it's a convertible tablet), a 2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 processor, 1GB of memory, a 160GB hard drive, Nvidia GeForce Go 6150 graphics, and Windows Vista Premium.