Is end of the golden age of Netbooks already near?

Netbooks are everywhere. Coffeeshops, libraries -- you name it, netbooks are in it.

Netbooks are everywhere. Coffeeshops, libraries -- you name it, netbooks are in it.

And why wouldn't they be? For as low as $250, you can buy a fully-operational portable PC that fits in a woman's bag purse or a man's briefcase.

But will that $250 price tag soon be a thing of the past?

Intel is considering increasing the price of its Atom N270 processor in China because of recent upstream component shortages "caused by a significant increase in the number of China makers entering the white-box netbook market," according to PC manufacturers via DigiTimes.

Intel is currently evaluating the possibility of increasing N270 pricing to the same as that of N280, or else N270 CPUs may start seeing a shortage in the China market in April, according to the article.

Why does this matter? For one, it shows just how hot netbooks -- and the low-power components that run them -- really are. So much so, in fact, that Intel can raise component prices on this segment while the rest of the laptop market is seeing falling sales, narrow profit margins and oversupply thanks to a global downturn (though the trend is supposed to eventually reverse, that hasn't quite happened yet).

Moreover, it shows how popular the Atom N270 processor has become, found in products such as the Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 9, Samsung NC10, Asus N10J and Eee PC 1000, Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and MSI Wind netbooks as well as the Asus Eee Top, Asus Eee Box and Averatec All-in-one desktop computers.

When a segment of the industry is so clearly dependent on a processor, it's a no-brainer that the maker of that chip can raise prices without seeing much backlash. It's a captive market.

It remains to be seen, however, how this will affect consumer prices for netbooks. Will netbooks stay the same price, and OEMs absorb the cost? Or is the golden age of netbooks over?

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