What's next for the low-power laptop?
The netbook flood that followed was awash with attractively affordable PCs, prized as much for their sub-£300 prices as their portability. But below the value surface, the scene was really just getting set for PCs that were more luggable, affordable and web-ready than the paradigm of rattling deskbound Windows PCs. Or chunky laptops with three-hour battery lives.
We’re now almost spoiled for choice with mobile computing options. Launched in the same year as the netbook was the first mass-appeal internet smartphone, the iPhone, alongside lighter laptops that could last half a working day at a stretch.
Powering the netbooks was Intel’s Atom processor, efficient by the standards of the day’s best PC chips, but barely powerful enough to run a desktop operating system.
It’s taken only four years, but underdog AMD has finally stepped up with a processor family that deserves to oust the Atom. Shame, then, that HMS Netbook has already sailed off, now the tablets have berthed. For most of the duties for which a netbook was coveted, the iPad can now do them better, longer and more comfortably. But for those that need a desktop OS on a 10in laptop, the netbook – or simply, ‘small laptop’, as it will soon be known again – will find a home.
AMD’s new processor marries a half-decent graphics engine to an Atom-esque low-power CPU (the firm calls it an ‘Accelerated Processing Unit’). The result has much promise for larger mobile devices that must run an x86 operating system.
Meanwhile Intel’s new tri-transistor tech promises more efficient PC processors too, although they’ll have some way to go to beat the ascendant ARM architecture that’s ruling the mobile roost.
One way to return zippiness to a low-power PC is to use a leaner operating system. And right now, I can’t think of a better cost-free way to step outside the Windows monoculture than with Ubuntu Linux, even if it does now come with a controversial Unity interface. Read our Ubuntu Linux 11.04 Natty Narwhal review.