ARM hints at Cortex-based netbooks

October 24, 2008 // 9:01 a.m.

Tags: #arm #atom #cortex #cortex-a8 #cortex-a9 #intel #netbook #processor

If you're in the market for one of those 'netbooks' that everyone keeps talking about but fancy something a little different, ARM might have just the thing: systems based around its latest Cortex chip.

According to CNet, the UK-based processor maker is looking to branch the Cortex A8 and A9 range of reduced instruction set chips out from their current homes in smartphones and PDAs and into the burgeoning netbook market.

According to Rob Coombs, director of mobile solutions at ARM, customers are already finding the Cortex A8 chips – the next-generation replacement for the near-ubiquitous ARM11 chip that powers almost every smartphone on the market today – are able to hit “gigahertz speeds,” making them feasible as an energy-efficient drop-in replacement for a Linux-based netbook. These performance gains over current chips are only going to improve when the Cortex A9 hits the market in 2010 and introduces multi-core processing to the RISC marketplace.

The stumbling block the company might have when producing a netbook platform is the lack of support from Windows: aside from certain server releases, there has never been a mainstream desktop Windows OS that supports the ARM instruction sets – instead relying on the CISC-based x86 set common to modern desktop processors. While both Linux and Mac OS X support ARM processors natively, anyone wanting Windows on the Cortex-based netbooks would be stuck with Windows CE or its successor Windows Mobile.

While there haven't been any official announcements of ARM based netbooks – Coombs refuses to even hit at who the company might be licensing its technology to right now – the company has suggested that we can expect to hear something in the next few months.

Tempted by a multi-core gigahertz-speed ARM-based netbook, or does Intel already have the market sewn up with the popular energy-efficient Atom range? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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