Report: Microsoft readies new maximum specs for Windows 7 netbooks

Microsoft is readying a set of maximum specs for Windows 7 netbooks --or, as Microsoft prefers to call them, "small notebooks" -- that will likely dictate which PCs will qualify for lower per-copy Windows 7 pricing.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Microsoft is readying a set of maximum specs for Windows 7 netbooks --or, as Microsoft prefers to call them, "small notebooks" -- that will likely dictate which PCs will qualify for lower per-copy Windows 7 pricing. The alleged Windows 7 netbook specs were published earlier this month on the TechARP technology enthusiast site. Microsoft established a similar set of specs for XP and Vista netbooks, a category the company had been referring to as ultra-low-cost PCs (ULPCs). The ones it is developing for Windows 7 are designed for netbooks that have smaller screens and single-core 2 GHz CPUs, TechARP said. (Just to be clear: Microsoft's Windows unit isn't confirming any of the information that TechARP is providing and updating regularly about Microsoft's alleged plans for Windows 7. But a lot of what the site is getting surely seems plausible -- and if I were guessing -- is coming directly from OEMs.) A quick refresher as to what Microsoft has said to date about Windows 7 on netbooks: * All Windows 7 SKUs will be able to run on netbooks. But the ones Microsoft expects most netbook makers to preload are Windows 7 Starter Edition and Windows 7 Home Premium. * Starter Edition will limit users to running three concurrent applications. Windows 7 Starter Edition, unlike XP Starter Edition, will be for sale to users in both developing and developed nations. * Microsoft has not shared publicly what it intends to charge PC makers per copy of Windows 7. But it is said to be charging them about $15 a copy for XP when they are preloading it on netbooks -- a price significantly lower than it charges PC makers per copy of XP or Vista preloaded on full-fledged laptops and PCs. When Microsoft unveiled its Windows 7 SKU line-up back in February, I asked how the company intended to determine pricing for Windows 7 running on netbooks vs. laptops/desktops. Would Microsoft charge PC makers less per copy for Home Premium than it charges to run the exact same Home Premium SKU on a full-fledged notebook or desktop system? Would Microsoft attempt to establish itself as the judge of what is a “netbook”? Microsoft officials had nothing more to say about my questions. But the new maximum spec list -- if it pans out -- may indicate how the Softies are planning to address these thorny questions. TechARP claims Microsoft is planning to focus its strategy around SKUs tailored for the netbook market. The site says that Microsoft will be offering netbook makers plain-old Windows 7 Starter; Windows 7 Starter for Small Notebook PC; and Windows 7 Home Basic For Small Notebook PCs (China only). (Microsoft officials said in February that Windows 7 Home Basic will be in developing nations only.) For Windows 7, "Microsoft has made several critical changes to the maximum hardware specifications allowed for Windows 7 Start / Home Basic editions, as well as the Windows XP and Windows Vista Small Notebook PC program," TechARP said. Among these changes are:

  • "(A) greatly simplified and universal CPU criterion designed for easy understanding and management
  • Removal of the graphics and touch limitations
  • Limiting screen size to a maximum of 10.2 inches (measured diagonally) as the defining boundary between a Small Notebook PC and a full-featured laptop"
Specifically, according to TechARP's information, Microsoft's maximum specs for machines it will consider to be netbooks/"small notebooks" will change in the following ways: Screen size: With XP and Vista, maximum allowable screen size was 12.1 inches; with Windows 7, it will be 10.2 inches Storage: Maximum limits for XP and Vista: 160 GB HDD or 32 GB SDD; with Windows 7, it will be 250 GB HDD or 64 GB SDD Graphics: With XP and Vista, netbooks/small notebooks was "less than or equal to DX9; with Windows 7, there will be no limitation CPUs: With XP and Vista, netbooks/small notebooks had to have "single core processors that do not exceed 1 GHz frequency, or Intel Atom (N270, N280, 230, Z500, Z510, Z515, Z520, Z530, Z540, Z550);  Intel Celeron 220; AMD (MV-40, 1050P, TF-20, Geode LX, Athlon 2650e, Sempron 210U); VIA (C7-M ULV, Nano U1700, U2250, U2300, U2400 or U2500). With Windows 7, the maximum will be "single core processors that do not exceed 2 GHz frequency, and have a CPU thermal design power that is less than or equal to 15 W, not including the graphics and chipset." Recent reports claim netbook demand is down -- which is a mixed blessing for PC makers and Microsoft, given that netbooks have been the only bright spot in an otherwise declining PC market. Whether that trend will continue through the Windows 7 launch this year will be interesting to see. I know I'm still planning on making my first Windows 7 machine a netbook.
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