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ARM processors to rival Intel's Atom

LaptopHeard the ‘revolutionary times' headline before? Probably. But as far as personal computing on the move goes, it's spot on.

Since the early 80s, the PC has dominated our interaction with computers. Fast-forward to 2009 and we have mobile phones that are smart enough to browse the web and do our daily sums, and netbooks that offer the same functionality but with a slightly larger screen and touch-type keyboards. They're also charmingly cheap.

So, how about a convergence between smartphone and netbook? That's not so far-fetched these days - particularly if the 'smartbook' adopts the latest ARM processors. ARM chips are practically ubiquitous in mobile handsets already, not to mention satnavs, games consoles, digital cameras and TVs. Next, the ARM will reach up to power netbooks, too.

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The advantages are plain to see. Set against the x86-type CPUs we find in today's PCs, an ARM processor sips little power. Cool-running with great fuel economy, mobiles have a lifespan that's measured in days, rather than the hours we use for laptops.

This month PC Advisor was shown a Pegatron netbook prototype, and there was little difference between this and the MSI Winds and Asus Eee PCs doing the rounds, except for the ARM Freescale processor beating at the Pegatron's heart. With just two cells to its battery, it promises 8 hrs of life. Give it the same battery as today's netbooks, and we're looking at 24-hr computing. Most pertinent to the convergence question, it runs on the same ARM Cortex A-8 platform as the new Palm Pre and the Apple iPhone 3GS.

Microsoft isn't invited to the ARM party, since Windows requires x86 processors. So the Wintel alliance is showing signs of breaking up. Instead, Linux and Unix will command the next generation of ARM smartbooks.

Google Android, Chrome, webOS, Ubuntu and others will provide much needed diversification in operating systems (OSes) and user interfaces for our always-on companions. Facing a panoply of OSes, viruses and malware will have a harder time - there'll be more than one bullseye to aim at.

Rumours abound of an Apple smartbook, perhaps set for release in September. Chances are it'll be a 10in-screen tablet, touchscreen-only model, and quite possibly based on an ARM CPU. After all, Apple has already proven that a slimmed-down, finger-friendly OS X can run on the world's coolest smartphone.

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