New Intel Atom chips spell more trouble for pricier PCs

The smaller, lighter chips should boost multimedia, leaving even fewer reasons to pass up a netbook

Here's a rhetorical question: How are netbooks any less attractive to consumers when Intel improves the Atom chips inside them?

That's a question Intel will have to answer with the launch of its new Atom chip for netbooks, the Atom N450. It's 60 percent smaller and 20 percent lighter than existing Atom processors, and it should be faster for two reasons: It has a 1.66GHz clock speed — same as the Atom N280, but faster than the 1.6GHz Atom N270 you can still find everywhere — and both the graphics and memory controller are integrated into the CPU.

What that means in plain English is that netbooks will run multimedia smoother — 720p video shouldn't be a problem, and Intel is validating third-party technology that would enable 1080p video as well — and handle tasks more efficiently. It seems to me that Intel is addressing some of the disappointment consumers have felt when their netbooks don't perform as expected.

The desirability of netbooks over pricier notebooks is a problem Intel has been wrestling with as the market for these mini-notebooks continues to blossom. The chip giant likes to put down its hot little product, encouraging small screens and meagre specs in hope that more expensive processors won't be cannibalised.

Intel appears to be holding on to that mentality somewhat with the N450.

"These are not meant for hooking a Blu-ray player to it," Anil Nanduri, director of netbook marketing at Intel, told PC World. He insisted that the netbooks are still meant for Internet use, not HD movies or graphically demanding computer games.

But if Atom can handle HD video better than before, that should be good enough for a lot of users, especially the college-aged crowd that griped the most about netbook performance, but loved the portability.

And if you absolutely must have gaming in a netbook, there's always Nvidia's Ion platform. Between that and the Atom N450, Intel's got a lot to fret about.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)

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