Freescale and ARM promise $200 netbooks

Freescale has unveiled an ARM-based, Ubuntu-toting netbook reference design, claiming it will bring cheap internet devices to the younger, more widget-centric generation.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor
Chipset manufacturer Freescale on Monday unveiled an ARM-based blueprint for cheap, low-cost subnotebooks.

At the heart of the reference design is the i.MX515 processor, which uses ARM's Cortex-A8 chipset architecture. The design also incorporates a new power management integrated circuit from Freescale, as well as Adobe Flash Lite and the netbook version of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution.

According to Freescale, this combination makes it possible for manufacturers to build netbooks with retail prices under $200 (£137) and battery lives of eight hours.

The i.MX515 processor can scale in performance from 600MHz to 1GHz, and can support both DDR2 and mobile DDR1 memory types. It also offers both OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores, to support 2D and 3D graphics.

Monday's announcement brought to fruition a prediction made by ARM executives in October 2008, when the British chip-architecture company told ZDNet UK that netbooks using Cortex technology would soon be announced.

Thierry Cammal, Freescale's vice president of global consumer wireless marketing, said on Monday that manufacturers would be likely to launch netbooks using the Freescale design in the second half of this year.

Cammal predicted a "co-existence" of Intel-based and ARM-based netbooks in the future.

"Intel is a very strong player and will continue to play, especially in the netbook and mobile internet device [MID] market," Cammal told ZDNet UK, suggesting Intel's architecture was better suited than ARM's to running Windows. "There will be the traditional users, business guys who are using Windows and all their applications through Windows, and they will continue to use Windows, but we will bring some different product categories to the consumer."

Freescale has done group studies on the way people use the internet, Cammal said, and those studies suggested younger users were more keen on an "always-on, widget approach" than on using Windows.

"We believe our power-efficient solution, combined with Linux, plus some special application widget-based software, will enable a new kind of utilization of the internet," Cammal said. "New players want a simple utilization of the Internet."

Cammal also claimed Freescale's "cost-competitive" chipset would, together with Ubuntu, cost manufacturers around $20 (£14) to put into netbooks, whereas Intel's Atom combined with Windows XP cost more than $60 (£41). "We are enabling a cheap type of device that could offer new ways to utilize the Internet," he said.

Freescale, which used to be Motorola's semiconductor wing, is in the process of selling off its business making modem chipsets for traditional handsets, Cammal said. The profusion of connectivity types (HSDPA, LTE and so on) requires too costly an investment and is likely to lead to industry consolidation, he said. The company will now redirect its experience into the netbook and MID markets.

"All the experience we have developed around the application software for handsets is directly reusable into netbooks and MIDs," Cammal said. He added that the same i.MX515 processor would be used in MIDs - an announcement he predicted would occur soon.

Editorial standards