$199 Netbooks Without Intel Inside

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. However, Freescale Semiconductor's upcoming i.MX515 processor, based on the ARM chip architecture, should defy that belief, offering 1GHz speeds for under $200.

The company plans to showcase the new silicon this week at CES, hoping to wow consumers with its low-power, gigahertz performance.  Freescale, once a chipmaking arm of Motorola, doesn't consider its latest product as an attempt to compete with Intel. Rather, the company wants to remain on the lower-priced spectrum while offering admirable speed for consumers.

“We see a huge opportunity in the netbook market as consumers demand more cost-effective and higher performing solutions,” said Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of Freescale’s Networking and Multimedia Group. “Our solution for netbooks will enable OEMs to develop compelling products that feature cell phone-like battery life at extremely aggressive price points. We believe the combination of the i.MX515 processor and related enablement solutions will dramatically accelerate the evolution of this exciting new space.”

With the help of Pegatron (a wholly owned Asus subsidiary), the company already has a reference design netbook ready for display at CES. The device will not only sport the i.MX515 processor, but feature Canonical’s Ubuntu operating system, a new power management IC from Freescale, the SGTL5000 ultra low-power audio codec and Adobe Flash Lite software, Adobe’s Flash Player for mobile phones and devices. The demo unit also features an 8.9 inch display and a battery capable of sustaining eight hours of life between charges.

The company manufactured the i.MX515 processor using 65-nm process technology, provides up to 2100 Dhrystone MIPS and can scale in performance from 600MHz to 1GHz. The processor uses no cooling fans or heat sinks, relying on "advanced power management features" such as dedicated, hardware-based acceleration block. Freescale will also incorporate low-cost printed circuit boards and a memory interface supporting both DDR2 and mobile DDR1.

"The i.MX515 is one of the only processors to offer both OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores, thereby enabling 2D and 3D graphics as well as Flash and SVG for enhanced user experiences," says the company. "Video created for the Adobe Player is one of the leading video formats on the Internet today. Working with Adobe, Freescale plans to enable the Adobe software to run on the processor’s dedicated OpenVG graphics block, thereby extending battery life and enabling netbook web browsing experiences as rich and responsive as those on traditional PCs."

The netbook's summary page also lists a few interesting features, including analog HD720p component TV output, a multi-format HD 720p video decoder and a D1 video encoder hardware engine. Freescale plans to begin mass production sometime in Q2 2009, with a commercial release slated for the 2009 holiday shopping season. With the $200 pricetag, this netbook is definitely worth a peek when it appears at the end of the year.

More from CES 2009

  • JonnyDough
    Can someone define just exactly what the hell a "1ghz speed" looks like? Just because something is 1ghz does not mean it's fast at all. First of all, these are ARM processors. Secondly, ARCHITECTURE makes a difference. A 1ghz P3 is not faster than .5ghz Core2Duo.
  • Shadow703793
    ^Correct. Also it's an ARM for crying out loud. No x86 for you.

    As for the PS3 reference the PS3 Cell is faster at floating point than most (if not all) CPUs.
  • mman74
    If this processor can play RMVB / Div X files then I am sold. I was thinking of getting the new Archos PMP with web apaibilities, but I would be niave if I thought the internet capabilities could compare to a Netbook. At 200 bucks - hell yes!
  • JonnyDough
    I also get the feeling that these will never support Windows. Why? Because they're based on ARM, which basically means Linux. That's the only way these will: 1. Be price competitive, and 2. "Offer admirable speed for consumers" The reason that Freescale is jumping on board the netbook craze is because people are actually buying portable PCs that don't have Windows installed on them. They're getting in on the latest craze, and why shouldn't they? If we could get rid of Windows, or become more open source we'd have more competition and it would lead to better products. This is exactly why we SHOULD be buying non-Windows based PCs with non-Intel chips. At last, the PC revolution. Mac however, is not really part of any of that. OSX INCORPORATES Windows, and they've always used platforms based on Intel processors.
  • Tindytim
    Shadow703793^Correct. Also it's an ARM for crying out loud. No x86 for you.As for the PS3 reference the PS3 Cell is faster at floating point than most (if not all) CPUs.You read to quickly, he said P3, as in Pentium 3. I had to re-read that as well before realizing what he said.
  • Ti Already has a very similar processor out, OMAP3, but it only runs @ 600mhz, it can do 1200mips. The power consumption is very low, much lower than the atom CPU, but then again I saw a atom benchmark of ~3900 MIPS.

    We all know how much disgust there is with the current power hungry chipset that intel bundles with the atom cpu. On the OMAP3, the total power consumption of their demo board was ~2w, which is as much power as the atom cpu uses alone.

    Also the omap3 integrates a opengl GPU on the die.

    The OMAP3 can also handle 720p decoding

    If the freescale can do what the OMAP3 can already do but increase the MIPS then it will be a great product.

    The only problem with using ARM based products for linux, is that ARM based products typically do not have high speed peripherial interfaces that we are all accustomed to with x86 platforms; PCI, PCMCIA, IDE, SATA, etc..

    I am a really big fan of the synergies that ARM and linux bring to each other. Linux abandons the windows codebase, and ARM will never support the windows codebase anyways. Linux is less resource intensive and a high powered ARM can run linux decently. There are hardly any addons peripherials for ARM based computers so linux's lack of driver support should not me much of the sore thumb.

    ARM has just made huge leaps with the introduction of its cortex core, this is the beginning. If Linux can get it's act together and be easy enough to use as windows, I have no doubt that ARM will take a huge chunk of market share away from Intel/AMD/Via.
  • To the original commentor:

    Agreed, clock speeds mean nothing. Look at how crappy Atom is clock for clock, I bet Atom is on par with a 1.6ghz PIII, because a 1.2ghz Athlon64 stomps it into the ground for only a slight increase in power consumption ref: Toms Hardware.
  • gwolfman
    almost as cheap as the OLPC PCs and it's way better. lol
  • gwolfman
    Shadow703793^Correct. Also it's an ARM for crying out loud. No x86 for you.As for the PS3 reference the PS3 Cell is faster at floating point than most (if not all) CPUs.lol -> P3 = PS3 too funny (as mentioned above, P3 != PS3)
  • not tomention that the ARM has no hyperthreading like the Atom processor, and the memory bus speed (what made the atom so fluent on XP) is very low!
    It's surprising that they offer DDR2 memory; it would be more surprising if it supported 533Mhz of DDR2 memory.
    65nm is pretty ok, though 45nm and perhaps 30nm design would have saved lots of batterylife.
    I guess it could compete with the OLPC XO or something.., and seems like a nice deice for hackers to play around, and software designers....