Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft push back

Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft push back

Summary: The battle over the role of netbooks appears to be escalating. Computer makers, aided by Nvidia, are broadening the features and performance of netbooks--adding larger displays and more-capable graphics.

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The battle over the role of netbooks appears to be escalating. Computer makers, aided by Nvidia, are broadening the features and performance of netbooks--adding larger displays and more-capable graphics. The latest example is Lenovo, which just announced a 12-inch netbook--the first from a major computer maker with Nvidia's Ion platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Intel seem to be doing their best to keep netbooks in their place.

The IdeaPad S12, which Lenovo announced today, has a 12.1-inch WXGA (1366x768) display and a full-size keyboard. Though it isn't the first 12-inch netbook--Acer and Dell already sell them--the IdeaPad S12 is the first to use Ion. (There are several nettops that use Ion.) This platform uses the same processor, the Intel Atom N270, but swaps the Intel 945GSE chipset with an Nvidia chipset including the GeForce 9400M GPU.

The GeForce 9400M is obviously a significant upgrade over Intel's GMA950 integrated graphics--in its release Nvidia claims it will offer 10X better performance. Both Nvidia and Lenovo state that the IdeaPad S12 will be able to handle the Aero interface in Vista and Windows 7, HD video including 1080p and Blu-ray, and some 3D games. There's no doubt that laptops equipped with the GeForce 9400M can handle those sorts of tasks, but since I've never seen tests with an Atom N270 and 1GB of memory, we'll have to wait and see what this combination really delivers. Having tested many netbooks with the Atom N270 and 945GSE, I can say that current models struggle even with 720p video playback, so enhanced video playback on 1366x768 displays--either at 10- or 12-inches--should be a desirable feature.

The other question mark with Nvidia's Ion is battery life. Lenovo states that the IdeaPad S12 will have a running time of up to six hours with a six-cell battery, which sounds better than I expected. But again, we'll have to wait and see.

The IdeaPad S12 won't be available until June, so the company hasn't announced specific configurations. Lenovo said it will start at $449, and will have 1GB of memory, up to a 160GB hard drive and an ExpressCard slot for a 3G data card. The IdeaPad S10 also has an ExpressCard slot, but an upcoming model, the IdeaPad S10-2, will instead have an optional internal 3G radio. This 10.1-inch model will eventually have the higher-resolution (1366x768) display as well, though the first ones available later this month will max out at 1024x600.

Ion has reportedly been the source of much friction between Intel and Nvidia. At a tech conference last week, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang complained that Intel was selling Atom a la carte for $45, but offering OEMs both the processor and chipset for only $25, presumably to discourage its customers from using Ion--a charge that Intel denies. Around the same time, Intel revealed plans for an updated netbook and nettop platform, known as Pine Trail, with both better processor and graphics performance. Rather than using a separate chipset with graphics, the new platform includes a processor (Pineview) with an integrated GPU and memory controller. In addition, Broadcom is reportedly working with Intel on an optional chip for Pine Trail that will offload 720p and 1080p playback.

Conspiracy theorists view all of this as a plot to kill Ion: If you want Atom, you'll have to buy Intel's graphics as well, even if you plan to use someone else's chipset. But Intel is planning to do the same thing with its mainstream desktop and notebook platforms at 32nm, so there are both technology and business reasons behind this product roadmap. In addition, Intel will soon offer an alternative for 12-inch laptops: a line of CULV (Consumer Ultra Low-Voltage) chips. Laptops based on these should offer better performance than netbooks, but cost significantly less than premium ultraportables--well under $1,000. I expect to see several of these CULV notebooks at Computex in Taiwan next week. (AMD already has a similar product, the Athlon Neo, which is used in HP's Pavilion dv2z.)

What seems certain is that both Intel and Microsoft prefer to draw a clearer line between notebook and netbook based in part on screen size. Microsoft already has a set of maximum specs for netbooks--including a display that is 12.1 inches or smaller--in order to qualify for a version of Windows XP that sells for as little as $15. ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley thinks Microsoft is preparing a similar set of maximum specs for Windows 7 netbooks, which could cut the screen size to 10.1 inches or smaller, in order to get the low-cost license. As widely reported, Windows 7 Starter Edition will also support only three concurrent applications. Strictly speaking, computer makers can put any version of Windows 7 that they'd like on a netbook, but from a practical standpoint, to remain competitive on price, they will have to meet Microsoft's requirements.

Topics: Intel, Hardware, Lenovo, Microsoft, Mobility, Processors

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15 comments
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  • Netbook with a large screen and powerful graphics ...

    ... is called a notebook, I think ;-)

    "Meanwhile, Microsoft and Intel seem to be doing their best to keep netbooks in their place."

    The usual anti-trust, monopolistic, consumer-value-defeating, excuse-for-a-computer tactics. And you seem to be quite happy just to let it pass with a mild comment instead of railing against it.

    Could be worse, some ZDNET bloggers actually WANT Windows 7 Starter on a netbook. Crippled OS on a crippled, small computer ... hey, knock yourself out!

    Others WANT OSX on a netbook. Knock yourself out whilst breaking the EULA!

    " ... Intel was selling Atom a la carte for $45, but offering OEMs both the processor and chipset for only $25."
    Good job for Otellini I am not Kroes, or I would levy a fine that would shake his company to the core (to the CORE, get it?).

    "What seems certain is that both Intel and Microsoft prefer to draw a clearer line between notebook and netbook based in part on screen size."
    Despite all your pussyfooting about at least you manage to note the damaging effects of the WINTEL cartel.

    Yours,
    conspiracy party member.
    -1
    jacksonjohn
    • Agreed! The EU will have something to say

      Intel will have to be careful, or they will get nailed again.
      jorjitop
      • Assuming they start now it will still be years for a fine to be levied.

        That's years for Intel to grab / retain market share using monopolistic practices. Why can't the US government do what's right now, instead of waiting on the EU to do it years later.
        softwareFlunky
    • Chill out and get this...

      Who do you think is going to get hurt if MS artificially reduces standards for netbooks?? Seriously, if MS decides to keep with this policy despite rapidly rising hardware capabilities, such as the system will not be able to run most 3D games with any stability or good resolution, only running three apps, where is the incentive to stick with Windows?

      One might just as well go with Linux and at least get a free OS and all the additional benefits that come with Linux. Microsoft will get such a kick in the crotch with netbooks if they don't wise up quick it will make netbooks the Linux introductory point for most people.

      If Microsoft is going to maintain this line for much of a long term I wish them luck because it is, in all sense of the term, stupid.
      Cayble
    • What do you expect from sheep

      ...who will accept and take anything shoved at them.

      [i]Could be worse, some ZDNET bloggers actually WANT Windows 7 Starter on a netbook. Crippled OS on a crippled, small computer ... hey, knock yourself out![/i]
      Wintel BSOD
  • RE: Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft

    Microsoft will get another conviction for illegal behavior if
    they continue to restrict the capacity of netbooks through
    pricing.

    It is clear now that the pricing of computers will continue
    to fall, and fall through the $200 level for computers with
    capacity to run HD video and other "demanding"
    applications. Artificial capacity restraints can not hold. If
    Intel and Microsoft resist, they will be in trouble. Apple
    may even have more problems.
    gertruded
  • legal action is needed

    [i]Intel was selling Atom a la carte for $45, but offering OEMs both the processor and chipset for only $25, presumably to discourage its customers from using Ion[/i].
    If this is not monopolistic behavior, than nothing is.
    Linux Geek
    • Exactly

      The EC said that InHell must only give discounts for bulk purchasers - not for ones that agree to buy only their product.
      Roger Ramjet
  • Why does M$ get to dictate

    where their OS can be loaded? There should be NO RESTRICTIONS! Want XP? Here's the price. That's it.
    Roger Ramjet
    • You guys aren't too bright...

      MS is trying to offer lower pricing to keep the
      cost of netbooks down and their profits up,
      thats what a business is supposed to do. They
      don't want a vendor creating a dual core, 8gb,
      19" machine and calling it a netbook just to
      save a few bucks on xp. If they didn't have a
      standard as to what a 'netbook' is than anyone
      could build a computer at home and call it a
      'netbook'. They have every right to (and
      should) regulate their pricing tiers.

      Intel on the other hand is really screwing up,
      I hope the EU fines the hell out of em for the
      crap they are pulling. Just glad companies
      like Lenovo would rather produce a little
      higher quality machine rather than save a few
      bucks on a chipset.
      robt2
      • Why should they dictate...

        ... a hardware standard for netbooks? Seems to me it should be the other way around.

        Oh that's right, that exclusionary bullying of OEMs that M$ is so famous for.

        [i]If they didn't have a standard as to what a 'netbook' is than anyone could build a computer at home and call it a 'netbook'. They have every right to (and should) regulate their pricing tiers.[/i]
        Wintel BSOD
  • What use is 768 pixels?

    These screens are still too small to work on easily.
    peter_erskine
  • RE: Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft

    If they allowed access to their GPU while still using
    an external GPU this would be excellent for increased
    floating point calculations. However I think this will
    be short lived since multi-core is ramping up to
    massive levels through the next decade and larabee
    shows little of increased floating point processing
    capabilities. I think its about time a standard for
    GPUs emerge that would allow standard opcode for use
    as an FPU, of course extra propriatory opcodes would
    be expected, like the amd 3dnow and intel mmx, but at
    least you could utilize the FPU portion across many
    chipsets without having to reprogram. There is SO much
    under utilized power in GPUs.
    shadfurman
  • RE: Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft push back

    Just tell what 768 pixels means in terms of heighth of the screen - in INCHES. I loved the Acer 8.9" but returned it quickly - just too small a screen for aging eyes (great keyboard for typing though) - but I need to be able to SEE text on the screen.
    jmmailin
  • RE: Lenovo IdeaPad S12 pushes netbooks in new directions; Intel, Microsoft push back

    I would suggest everyone to go with Lenovo Idea Pad S12 Netbook because The graphical portion of the Idea Pad is "made in" Intel. Do not expect to play anything other than minesweeper or Track mania at lower resolution. The Lenovo Idea Pad S12 netbook is raising the bar for higher levels of netbook computing with choices of the Intel Atom processor with Intel integrated graphics or the Intel Atom processor with NVIDIA ION graphics. Also, for the first time on a netbook with NVIDIA?s ION graphics platform, users will be able to enjoy brilliant 1080p high definition video with silky smooth playback. Read this article for more details http://www.techarena.in/review/9854-lenovo-ideapad-s12-netbook.htm
    tech_simran