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Nvidia CEO: Netbooks are Crappy, Low-Cost PCs

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 36 comments

For modern computing technology, you can’t really find many companies that are more committed to bringing the cutting edge to the consumer than Nvidia -- and perhaps for that reason, the graphics company isn’t entirely thrilled with the Intel Atom, at least not in its current implementations.

In fact, Nvidia is still trying to wrap its head around the whole netbook idea. “We’re all trying to figure out what a netbook is. From my perspective, anything that has an X86 processor and has Windows running on it is really a PC,” said Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang in an interview with Laptop. “If I were to ask a million people, What do you call something with a Microsoft operating system called Windows and X86 processor from Intel, I would think that 99.9999 percent of them, except for the Intel marketing person, would call it a PC.”

Huang doesn’t have flattering words for current netbooks, saying, “I think that so far, what a netbook is, is a low-cost PC that doesn’t work that well.

“The Atom platform is creating an installed base that doesn’t run modern applications. It doesn’tt run anything well from Electronic Arts, it doesn’t run anything well from Adobe, it doesn’t run anything well from Microsoft. ... So in a way, the Atom platform is creating an installed base of PCs that’s going to eventually hurt the PC software industry.”

That’s where Nvidia would like its Ion platform to come in, which utilizes the GeForce 9400M chipset to give the Atom a much needed helping hand. Huang says will be available later soon to make $399 “full experience” PCs possible.

Paired with the Ion, Nvidia’s tune on the Atom changes considerably. “The Atom processor is really terrific -- it’s small and low powered. Atom plus Ion is just a fabulous machine: It’s small, low powered, and full featured in every way,” adds Huang.

The Nvidia CEO further acknowledges that graphics power is the game changer, as he had positive things to say about AMD’s Neo: “Atom by itself with Intel integrated graphics would get crushed by the Neo platform. That’ss because AMD is one of the world’ss most advanced graphics companies. They bought ATI, who has wonderful technology. When you couple that with an AMD processor, it would destroy the Atom platform.”

Huang also describes VIA’s Nano processor as “fabulous,” and perhaps “architecturally one generation beyond Atom.” The problem, he says, is beyond the hardware: “The challenge in the complexity of the PC is the software outside of the processor. The amount of software and hardware outside of the CPU is so much, unless you have tier-one capabilities, you can’t build a tier-one-capable machine. That’s really VIA’s weakness. They don’t have the resources to build the GPU in the system to be competitive.”

Of course, that’s where Nvidia would step in and provide platform support with Ion -- but that’s something that won’t happen until the next generation, at which point Ion would support the faster Core 2 Duos and Celerons. And by then, who knows what the new strengths the Atom will gain.

Like the rest of you, we hope to get our hands on the Ion soon.

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  • 5 Hide
    ravenware , February 3, 2009 12:01 AM
    “I think that so far, what a netbook is, is a low-cost PC that doesn’t work that well.

    Sure seems that way. It's application performance is pretty pathetic compared to other low-cost chips. AMD has dual core chips for less than $50 that would annihilate the atom.
  • 7 Hide
    ahmshaegar , February 3, 2009 12:36 AM
    Well, gee, these netbooks are much more powerful than PCs I had a few years ago, and they can slip into a large pocket. It's gonna be a secondary or even tertiary PC, so why do you need all that power? For e-mail, internet, YouTube, it's more than enough. You can get Quake 3 running on these things. More than enough if it's your third PC (not that I personally understand the point of netbooks... I don't plan on getting one.)

    This spin reminds me of Sony and Microsoft saying how they don't think they compete with the Wii. That may be partially true, but the real truth is probably that Sony and Microsoft don't have a product in Nintendo's space, so they want to devalue that segment. Same thing going on here. Nvidia isn't covering the ultra-low-end portable market, so they want to make it look bad. Mark my words, the moment Nvidia figures out how to make a solution that ends up occupying the $200-$300 range, they're gonna change their tune. Fast.

    I don't really pay attention to press releases, of which this is one. Why ask Nvidia what they think about Nvidia products? You're not going to be any wiser for it.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 3, 2009 1:21 AM
    It seems to be the standard thing for CEOs and other company lines to do to complain about the netbook. It's almost like they're saying, "RAGGH! THESE DUMB PEOPLE! DON'T THEY GET THAT IT'S THEIR JOB TO GIVE US MONEY?! WHY DON'T THEY WANT BIGGER MORE EXPENSIVE THINGS!!"

    You wouldn't hear them complain in the slightest if netbooks had a starting price of $700.
  • Display all 36 comments.
  • 2 Hide
    jaragon13 , February 3, 2009 1:43 AM
    PsimitryIt seems to be the standard thing for CEOs and other company lines to do to complain about the netbook. It's almost like they're saying, "RAGGH! THESE DUMB PEOPLE! DON'T THEY GET THAT IT'S THEIR JOB TO GIVE US MONEY?! WHY DON'T THEY WANT BIGGER MORE EXPENSIVE THINGS!!"You wouldn't hear them complain in the slightest if netbooks had a starting price of $700.

    No,I think Huang's being honest and I wouldn't buy a netbook simply because all I can run on them is a web client and IRC...and still very slowly.Think about how many people will buy these for other people?
    Maybe if you actually read it,you wouldn't go defensive fanboy.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 3, 2009 2:42 AM
    What is with all the grammatical errors on this website? As an editor, this article makes me cringe when I see such simple mistakes.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , February 3, 2009 2:51 AM
    Netbooks, crappy? cheap?
    2 things I don't agree with!
    They're expensive (compared to notebooks) and they're not really crappy.
    The atom powered netbooks are made to run Win98,WinNT, Win2000 and WinXP as well as most linux systems perfectly!
    The atom is just enough computing power to run XP, IE7 and a flash-file inside it.

    Just the fact that people can boot their XP within the minute displays they're far from crappy; and they're style full!
    Upto 9" they're great netbooks, even to play dos-simulated games!
    (I played DosBox through the celeron all the time!)

    The Ion platform is probably better, yes; but apart from encryption the Via chips are worse than atom cpu's I think...
    They don't really support HT, neither are manufactured at 45nm,so their power consumption is higher, and performance lower.

    So what the guy says makes no sense!
    from power perspective, when the Ion platform is there to support competitive core2duo and celeron processors (as well as AMD processors), that will utilize only a few watts more but have near to double the performance, then I think the atom can be left behind.
    there's always an Atom 2 Core (4cores in Windows = 2 cores with HT).

    The focal point on these systems should less be performance, and more battery life, as well as cheap.

    The race started with the OLPC, for $200pp.
    Other $100 systems have been invented as well.
    Netbooks and mini notebooks had a time they costed nearly $700.
    I think any system costing less than $299 with 1GB RAM,processor,case,powersupply, and mobo included is a great purchase.
    Perhaps provide an internal connected 8GB USB drive with Linux installed on it, to save power on a HD.
  • -1 Hide
    Spikke , February 3, 2009 2:57 AM
    If I need something really mobile, I'll use my WiMo phone. If I need something powerfull, I'll use my desktop. If I need something intermediate, I'll use my laptop. I don't see the reason to need something between a laptop and a PDA/smart phone.
  • 0 Hide
    cl_spdhax1 , February 3, 2009 3:26 AM
    i bet one netbook can control all of russia missle silo.
  • 2 Hide
    miltoxbeyond , February 3, 2009 3:54 AM
    My netbook tried to take over my home with weapons of mass destruction... that's why I had to have it put down at the pound.
  • 1 Hide
    apache_lives , February 3, 2009 5:45 AM
    ravenwareSure seems that way. It's application performance is pretty pathetic compared to other low-cost chips. AMD has dual core chips for less than $50 that would annihilate the atom.

    Yeah but power consumption and heat are the major targets aswell not just cost! Although the chipset/platform kills that advantage... and nvidias solution - i no longer trust there products for now.
  • 0 Hide
    nihility , February 3, 2009 8:38 AM
    I was highly disapointed when intel decided not to make a dual core version of their mobile atom processor. Instead they only released it to the mini desktop version.
    In my opinion, the current atom is too weak and I won't buy one until a dual core version is available.
  • -2 Hide
    3lvis , February 3, 2009 10:10 AM
    I would have to agree to the premise of this article ....netbooks are crappy laptops. They leave out most of the benefits of a laptop computer and barely cover what most modern smart phones are doing now. If they wanted to make one right they would include a fast cellular connection, an ion GPU, and an SSD. Sadly, this would double their price.
  • -1 Hide
    Tedders , February 3, 2009 11:48 AM
    I don't have my netbook to run Adobe products and the such. That isn't what the thing is designed for so of course it won't run them well. I got the netbook because I didn't need and couldn't afford a larger laptop. $300 is perfectly fine for me with a machine that will run Windows 7 like a champ.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 3, 2009 12:10 PM
    Lots of uninformed people bashing on a netbook without really owning one.

    Netbooks are just that. To be used for simple activities like browsing, email, online videos, and maybe light gaming. Screen is not big enough anyway.
    All this while being very power efficient. I can watch 2 movies on a single charge and still have some extra for playing WC3. It is very portable, light, and stylish.
    The Atom processor is powerful enough to run Windows 7 with all bells and whistles, and not sluggishly either. Can run any app you throw at it. Dont expect blazing speed out of modifying a RAW photo though.

    The NVidia CEO sounds like he didnt get his foot on board on time and now is crying about it.
  • 0 Hide
    average joe , February 3, 2009 12:19 PM
    I've been looking at the Atom as a great replacement for my older WRAP platforms. I'm using them with PFsense as just a basic firewall. I've been working on migrating them to smoothwall with Dans Guardian on board.
    The WRAP systems just don't have the horsepower. Even traffic shaping bogs them down. So far I've had the best results using a 1 ghz P4 generation celeron. They seem to take all the work I can throw at them.
    I'm hoping the Atoms would do as well and let me use a much smaller package.
  • 0 Hide
    average joe , February 3, 2009 12:24 PM
    I'm not a net book person. In my opinion even a Pentium M laptop is a miserable experience. I suppose if you could strip down the OS and load it up on ram it would perform better. But I can't stand the frozen window effect you get when you need two this open at once. It can take minutes just to get IE open on even a 2 year old laptop. SSD's could do wonders to improve performance here.
  • 1 Hide
    mitch074 , February 3, 2009 12:49 PM
    A netbook is a small, no-frill PC; it's not for 3D gaming (not all games have to be 3D), it's not a portable DVD player (that's what portable DVD players are for), it's not for intensive office use; it's a small Web appliance that works with PC elements and can connect to pretty much anything.

    I have one; it runs a Linux-based distribution. It runs Quake if I want to frag. It runs OOo if I want to "be productive". It runs several PDF viewers if I want to read stuff on-screen (and most models have very good quality screens). It runs Firefox if I want to browse the Intarweb. It has terrific Wi-fi, Bluetooth and 3G capabilities in that regard.

    And it fits in a large pocket without costing more than I earn in a month.

    - it can kill time with whatever small games you fancy, like a phone or that huge workstation you use to play Minesweeper (except that the small keyboard may allow you to play pinball better);
    - it can open and edit any office document (that includes CAD, POO, or ray-tracing scenes if such is your line of work) you throw at it, if for whatever reason you forgot your 4kg laptop but have your document on a USB key, something your phone certainly can't do;
    - it can playback movies like DivX files or backed up DVDs, if you don't feel like lugging around your portable DVD player, something that your phone can't do satisfactorily (a netbook's screen is bigger);
    - if for any reason it craps out, you don't HAVE to bring it to the shop for a fix, as standard PC tools will do just fine (interestingly, due to the abundance o Linux-based netbooks, I've found netbook BIOSes and hardware interfaces to comply with standards and specs better than any costly, beefier laptop - apart from Lenovo ones maybe - which makes fixing them a snap).

    That current netbooks are still using not-exactly-appropriate hardware is one thing, that Nvidia and AMD (certainly AMD) are better positioned than Intel (or Via) to solve:
    - Intel graphics are lousy, the Atom is no winner, and the chipset sucks. However, you can run Linux without trouble on Intel hardware, all drivers are free;
    - Nvidia doesn't manufacture i386-compatible chips, but could make good chipsets and terrific graphics. Graphics drivers aren't free though (but high quality and well supported)
    - Via graphics are currently worse than Intel's, but their chipsets and x86 chips are much better; they're in the process of writing a new driver, with hardware video decoding and 3D support
    - AMD is like Nvidia chipset+graphics-wise, but on top of that they have very good x86 chips, and since they free their GPU documentation almost as fast as they create new chips, they don't have much to fear from Intel support-wise.

    In fact, the most surprising thing I've found in this article is high, ringing praise to Ati/AMD from Nvidia's CEO!
  • 1 Hide
    FrustratedRhino , February 3, 2009 12:58 PM
    The Best place I have found to use a netbook is computer recovery. As a System Admin I can store all my troubleshooting tools on my netbook, and then use it to virus scan thumb drives and external hard drives, and store "how tos" and manuals for motherboards/etc. This way I can have all my information in one place and it does not need to be powerful.

    Also offwork I use it to write ideas I have for short stories (another application that doesn't need "power") and other random notes. While someone did ask what does this do that a notebook or PDA/smartphone can't? not much but the point is for people that dont have a notebook or a smartphone or for people that arent teenagers and dont want to type on a computer onloy using their thumbs and want something portable that I can use some of my regular apps.

    While it is not a "everyone needs this" market, the fact it CAN'T run some software makes it perfect for business as employees will be less likely to run non company approved software.
  • 0 Hide
    woodyl , February 3, 2009 1:19 PM
    jaragon13No,I think Huang's being honest and I wouldn't buy a netbook simply because all I can run on them is a web client and IRC...and still very slowly.Think about how many people will buy these for other people?Maybe if you actually read it,you wouldn't go defensive fanboy.

    Maybe you've never actually used a netbook. I use one every day and I haven't found anything app that I want to run that has a problem. Video can sometimes be slow, but that happens on any wireless connection I ever use anyway. I run financial software, browsers, spreadsheets, audio, video, etc., on my MSI Wind every day. I also get about 4 hours battery life with virtually no noise or heat output. And it weighs 3 pounds and is great on road trips. I don't use it because it's cheap (although it is). I use it because it does everything I want to do in a small form factor with superior battery life.

    If you want to run video games or edit video, use a desktop. For most things, a netbook is fine.
  • -1 Hide
    tayb , February 3, 2009 2:21 PM
    For the life of me I can't figure out what in the world people see in these netbooks that makes them want to purchase one. Is it how small and cute they are? I don't know. It certainly isn't because of the usability because after spending a day with one the only thing I could think about was throwing it against the wall and going back to my REAL laptop.

    They are slow, underpowered, have poor battery life, a teeny tiny screen, won't run most productivity software, the keyboard is pathetically cramped, and the hard drive space is way too low.
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