Rumour: ARM-based netbooks later this year

Written by Ben Hardwidge

March 16, 2009 // 9:17 a.m.

Tags: #arm #asus #freescale #imx515 #msi #negroponte #netbooks #nicholas #olpc #pegatron #qualcomm #snapdragon #windows

Starting life as the brain of Acorn’s Archimedes school computers in the late 1980s, the ARM processor architecture has since become a ubiquitous element in a plethora of mobile devices from the iPod through the Nintendo DS to various PDAs. However, while it’s been a long time since the architecture formed the basis of a computer, the word is that some ARM-based netbooks will be launched at the Computex show in Taiwan in June.

DigiTimes claims to have spoken to sources at netbook manufacturers who said that Pegatron Technology plans to produce a netbook based on Freescale's ARM-based i.MX515 CPU, while Wistron reportedly has a netbook based on Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon platform in the works.

As well as this, the site reports that both MSI and Asus have confirmed that they’re “evaluating the possibility of launching Qualcomm CPU-based netbooks.” The site also says that netbooks using Nvidia’s ARM-based Tegra platform will also appear at a later date. Freecom launched its i.MX515 CPU in January, and specifically targeted it at the netbook market with a reference netbook design for OEMs based on Ubuntu Linux.

The news comes soon after the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project said that it was also looking at using an ARM CPU in the next-generation XO-2 OLPC machine. The current OLPC XO-1 machine uses an AMD Geode x86 CPU, but PC World reported that the OLPC team was "almost" committed to moving over to an ARM-based CPU in the XO-2.

However, there are potential barriers when it comes to software support as the OLPC project currently supports dual-boot Windows and Linux systems, as well as Linux-only laptops. According to PC World, the OLPC project’s chairman, Nicholas Negroponte said that "Like many, we are urging Microsoft to make Windows - not Windows Mobile - available on the ARM. This is a complex question for them."

The site also points out that the XO-2 won’t be released for another 18 months, and quotes Negroponte as saying that "a lot can change with regard to Microsoft and ARM" in that time. The reason for the change is reportedly the potential for much lower power consumption when using ARM CPUs. However, even if Microsoft was to code an ARM-compatible version of Windows for netbooks, you would still then have the barrier of getting third-party x86 software working on the new OS.

Could ARM-based netbooks running Linux be a successful business venture, and should Microsoft code an ARM-compatible version of Windows? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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