2009 was probably one of the most exciting years in mobile
computing in the past decade. We are not talking about actual products, but rather innovative concepts aimed at average no nonsense consumers, not niche markets. Intel brought us its Consumer Ultra Low
Voltage platform or CULV, AMD tried to bring us its Neo platform, while
a bunch of other vendors tried and failed to deliver cheap no thrills
smartbooks. In fact, they failed miserably, but we will get to that
I won't even try to be objective and I won't even elaborate why CULV is the best mobile computing platform to show up this year. It just is. So there you have it, CULV thin-and-light notebooks are the new black.
As you can see, I completely left out Intel's Atom in the introduction. I did so for a good reason, mainly because it did not change one bit since its introduction in mid-2008. Well, truth be told several vendors offered ION netbooks, but that was Nvidia's idea, not Intel's. Moreover, ION netbooks are quite pricey, and although we're always in favour of better graphics, most consumers just don't need it and aren't willing to pay the premium.
Throughout 2009 Intel kept insisting on ludicrous Atom restrictions, i.e. 10-inch screens, 1GB of memory and 160GB hard drives. Netbook prices stayed relatively high, despite the lack of innovation. Of course, Intel had a good reason for clipping the wings of Atom-based netbooks. It did not want them to cannibalize the CULV market. Sadly, upcoming Pineviews won't make much of a difference either. They are still slow and they won't come too cheap either, but at least vendors will offer thinner, lighter and completely silent netbooks thanks to the new platform. This is why we're going to rate Atom second, in spite of its massive market success and growth.
AMD on the other hand offered a similar concept to Intel's CULV, but sadly it failed to score many design wins. AMD's Neo isn't a bad platform. Well, it isn't an entirely bad platform. It delivers solid performance at superior prices than CULVs and it's nearly as cheap as an Atom. The company refreshed the platform a couple of months back, adding a new 780 series chipset with Radeon HD 3200 graphics, which are superior to anything Intel has to offer. However, the biggest drawback of AMD's platform was and still is high power consumption and unimpressive endurance, which is critical in ultraportables.
Mind you, AMD has a chance to make things a bit better in 2010. If it does, it will stand a fighting chance against Intel in the low end, as it could offer superior graphics at very low prices. We're hoping more vendors will embrace AMD's platforms in 2010. Sadly, there aren't many design wins on the horizon. In spite of that, I'm willing to give AMD's Neo third place, as it shows promise. Anyway, since they aren't marketing and selling their own platform properly, at least someone should.
Smartbooks are without a doubt the biggest, fattest disappointment of the year. Why? Well, try buying one - there just aren't any around. After months and months of announcements, concepts promises of cheap telco plans and subsidies, they failed to materialize. For all intents and purposes, they are still FUDware.
2009 did not see much action in the mainstream notebook market, it was all about ultraportables and netbooks, so we won't waste too many words on mainstream products. Basically, they got as far as they could on 45nm chips and we'll have to wait for new 32nm parts in early Q1 to see any significant progress in this market segment. Intel's most powerful 45nm parts feature thermonuclear TDPs of 45W, so there's not much room for further performance increases. Speaking of which, quad-core notebooks are still quite rare and pricey beasts. Fortunately, all this will change in 2010 with new Intel 32nm parts with integrated graphics.