Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

Summary: Intel on Wednesday unveiled its Atom processors and the refrain is familiar: These chips will power a bevy of mobile Internet devices (MIDs). The larger question: What kind of future will MIDs have?


Intel on Wednesday unveiled its Atom processors and the refrain is familiar: These chips will power a bevy of mobile Internet devices (MIDs). The larger question: What kind of future will MIDs have?

mid.jpgLet's face it--MID is an acronym largely cooked up by Intel to sell more chips. Now those chips released Wednesday in Shanghai at the Intel Developer Forum are pretty damn snazzy. Intel's Atom processors (statement, overview and Techmeme), formerly known as Silverthorne, an integrated architecture that lumps in graphics capability and gives these small devices (gallery right) a PC-like experience and long battery life.

The Intel Atom processor--there's an Intel Centrino Atom version also--is small fast and operates under 3 watts, compared to the 35 watt chip you'll find in a laptop.

Anand Chandrasekher, Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Ultra Mobility Group, said:

"These forthcoming MIDs, and some incredible longer-term plans our customers are sharing with us, will show how small devices can deliver a big Internet experience."

So who will buy these MIDs, UMPCs or whatever you want to call them?

There's the rub. Will MIDs replace notebook PCs? Will they compete with something like the iPhone, which frankly is used for data than voice? Is this truly a new category? How many gadgets will we carry around?

Admittedly, I look at some of these MIDs and drool. They look great. They combine the Sony PSP with the iPhone and deliver what could be a great experience. Better yet, you're tethered to the Internet.

But I'm also at the point where the laptop bag is getting crowded. What device gets voted off the island? And at what price? I found it telling that the iPhone is squeezing out the laptop for some folks. Simply put, there is a substitution effect for these new device categories.

You can almost feel the enthusiasm from Intel when it talks about its chips--designed to be the brain of these gadgets.

To wit:

The Intel Atom processor (formerly codenamed "Silverthorne") will come in speeds up to 1.86 GHz, support Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology, and select SKUs will support Intel Hyper-Threading technology. These capabilities make it the fastest processor in the sub-3 watt space, enabling a rich user experience with fast Web page downloads and support for the latest Web technologies such as Adobe Flash and JavaScript. The Intel System Controller Hub is a ground-up, highly integrated low-power solution that features advanced low-power 3-D graphics features, hardware accelerated 720p and 1080i HD video decode capabilities, Intel High Definition Audio, and a combination of PC and handheld I/O capabilities such as PCI Express, USB Host and Client, and SDIO. Intel Centrino Atom processor technology also enables manufacturers to integrate a range of wireless connectivity options, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX and cellular data.

Sounds awesome eh? But someone has to buy these things and for Intel that means creating a new market of MIDs. My gadget lust says buy. My budget and the fact I already have more gadgets than I need says another. Are you buying?

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Intel, Mobility

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  • Over analysing what a MID is

    There seems to be so much consternation as to what a MID is and where it will fit. Frankly, a MID is where the smartphone is going - a MID is a smarter smartphone.

    As far as I'm concerned the iPHONE is a MID or will be a MID. The iPHONE will have constant broadband connection to the internet, has a large screen, will have an application loading framework and a complex UI. Is that not what a MID is?

    Why the constipated look of where a MID would fit in the mobile universe? For crying out loud it's where the Smartphone is going. Never mind what form and fit the current MID's have today.
    • Close...

      Not much room to argue with you, but there are two distinct breeds of Smartphones in the real world.
      MID is just a generic term for what MS now calls Windows Mobile Pro; a PDA+Cellphone. (An Intel-spec mid is pretty much a MPC+cellphone.)
      That is distinct from the pure phone devices ala Windows Mobile Standard or Symbian.
      For hardware examples, contrast the Cingular 3125 vs The AT&T Tilt and the Nokia 800 series. The former are true Smartphones (80% phone, 20% data, shall we say?) and the latter are clearly MID-precursors (80% data 20% phone).

      I find three significant things with these Atom devices:
      1- They are going straight to the heart of the ARM empire by bringing x86 performance and codebase into the ARM power-use design space. This is going to get nasty very, very quickly.

      2- Intel sold off *their* ARM operation to Marvell and now they are looking to poach on the same territory. I forsee squeals to the Eurocrats, especially since ARM is just about the only european CPU architecture out there.

      3- ATOM-powered devices will without question encroach or even eat up the entire low-end computing design space. Never mind MIDs, just think of the impact of Eee PC class notebooks and iMac-mini-style desktops on the market.

      Its the return of the (80's-style) Home computer! (I wonder how long until somebody builds an Atom PC into a keyboard and sells it for $199? Commodore 64-bit! ;-) )
      • --make that UMPC--

        Typo: MID= UMPC+cellphone
        • Good annalysis...

          Even if it turns some other direction; I think you're seeing very clearly here.
    • MID is already here

      What I hear is everyone complaining that their current mobile devices have to small screens, my problem has been input, not output.
      With the current set of PockPCs (Windows Mobile) you do jhave two choices, the phone with added on PPC (Smart Phone) or the PPC with added on cell phone (Windows Mobile Device)
      I have the later and although it has a slide out thumb keyboard it is not as easy to type on as it could be but is very nice to use while walking or standing on the bus or subway.
      But if I can get a place to sit with a surface to put it on I use my wireless folding keyboard now and my input troubles are gone.
      If I need a bigger display I use a wifi or bluetooth enabled projector. For me the pocket sized PPC is perfect when not sitting in front of my desktop or laptop. And with EVDO access being pushed out speed to the internet from anywhere is no longer an issue.
      And if you have battery issues (the batteries last for 4 to 6 hours but then ...) I carry a crank flashlight that has a usb port and can easily recharge the batteries to full in 20 minutes while I sit and chat with someone or watching the sun set or something. Gives me some time to relax and not focused on a screen.
  • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

    I was hoping for Quantum Mechanics in a processor maybe next year.
    • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

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  • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

    Maybe I am missing something but Freescale and bunch of other chip manufacturers have a 32 ARM9-based computer available for less than $10 quantity one.

    These cheap chips will run anything from Windows CE to Linux. And they support SVGA, touchscreen and Ethernet on board.
  • Hardly a laptop replacement

    Nor is the iPhone. There is no way I could replace my laptop with anything like a smartphone. No matter how powerful, you're still dealing with limited screen size, resolution, input methods, and comfort over time.

    Smartphones/MIDs are great for extra functionality when you're out and about, not for replacing a laptop for real work, other than maybe instant messaging, quick-viewing of documents, or emails.
  • Cooked up by Intel??

    Where have you been?? Several years now, PIMs have been trying to cram "mobile internet" features in. Followed shortly thereafter by phones, which absorbed PIM functionality along with email, and then web browsing, albeit a limited version of the web. This is *hardly* a contrivance by Intel to sell a new chip. If anything it is a few years late to the party!! Or...I suppose...maybe the chip and device makers have all been waiting for the networks to become compatible and "open"? Anyway...Intel is on the scene, and these look good. But are not a hammer in search of a nail, in the least!
  • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

    If buying means that I don't have to carry a laptop on the road, to get full-functionality, then sure!

    There is always a trade-off between functionality and convenience. I'd love to have a handheld browser that let's me visit ever more complex web sites but the small screen and low-resolutions make this pretty much impossible. The largest handheld screen I've seen is 480x320 -- iPhone, iTouch, and Palm TX -- but 320x320 (Palm Treo) and 320x240 (BlackBerry) is far more typical.

    This problem could be addressed by content providers if they tailored the content to work well on the small screens as well as larger screens but many such providers still ignore mobile devices.

    The iPhone statistics demonstrate that people want a handheld replacement to the laptop more than they want a smartphone!
    M Wagner
  • Atom chip, Eee PC and larger display

    If Asus can get the Atom chip in the Eee PC with a larger display in time for the end of year holidays, they could have a potent seller. I would get one with Linux on it.
  • Low Power PCs

    I'd like to see somebody make a motherboard for these things. Would be fantastic to have 4+ on a single board to play with very parallel applications with a low power footprint
    • I agree, low power laptops with huge battery life

      This chip seems to open the door for laptops which can handle XP and office tasks with a battery life of 8 to 12 hours.
      • iPhone

        I would like to see a sony e-book reader size with iphone 3G capability x 2 performance. Browsing with iPhone safari is truly a new experience. PocketPC sucks! Bought two PocketPC devices and decided to re-sell or return it after 3 weeks of use. Been using iPhone for more than 6 months now. It is a great device.
  • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

    it will be perfect if someone created a mini mobo for home entertainment pc. pair it with some large flash disks, and we can have a very silent and low power Media Center!!
  • Mids need detachable keyboards and wireless mouse support

    to be successful

    ive seen a few cool key boards that fold up and type fairly well.. (but they need to make them better)


    sitting in wireless coffee shop...

    i want to check my outlook work email
    i want to read up on a few news sites
    i want to be able to run skpe or messenger
    i want to edit excel spreadsheet too
  • RE: Intel's Atom chips to fuel Mobile Internet Devices; Who's buying?

    If voice recognition is ever perfected this should replace all but the heavy duty uses of a computer.
    • And/or virtual..

  • latest Web technologies

    "the latest Web technologies such as Adobe Flash and JavaScript"

    Uhhh, is it just me or are they most definately NOT the latest Web technologies?