Promising smartbooks with Nvidia Tegra2
Quite strangely, I find myself waiting for CES 2010. Not that I am a big fan of electronics shows (or planning to attend) but this CES is special since several notable companies seem to be making important product announcements at it.
One of these companies is Nvidia which is announcing the second generation of its Tegra system-on-chip (SOC) processors. Moreover, it very much seems that the product announcement will be coupled with actual end-product announcements from a set of companies.
Why is Tegra 2 so interesting?
It is interesting because it will help creating a new product category, most often referred as smartbooks. These are practically netbooks with very good battery life, integrated 3G connectivity and a very appealing price tag (sub $250). Tegra 2 processors are based on ARM’s Cortex A9 core design and are coupled with nVidia’s own graphics technology.
According to nVidia, smartbooks based on Tegra 2 should be able to play 3 Full HD (1080p) video streams in parallel, without major framedrops. This means that the machine can play a 1080p video and run some power-hungry application (e.g. a Bittorrent download) in parallel. I assume that performance wise, the dual Cortex A9 core of the Tegra 2 coupled with 1 Gb of RAM will be enough to run average netbook software snappily (OpenOffice, Skype, Firefox, chat-client). All of this without a noisy fan (ARM based systems usually don’t need active cooling) and with 8-16 hours of battery runtime.
For me, such a machine would constitute the ideal web-browser + video player + ebook-reader + bittorrent home computer. Ideally in the tablet factor. My current favourite is the Notion Ink tablet (although this company seems to have the least chance to actually deliver.)
Generally, the Tegra 2 will spur some competition in the Atom dominated netbook space. Originally, netbooks were promised as the affordable computing for everyone (started by OLPC). Unfortunately, netbooks are still not really affordable. Their price isn’t going down but rather stagnate or rise slightly. This means that there is no competition, which is likely due to Intel’s domination of the market segment (by its Atom processors).
Tegra 2 and the other new ARM based solutions (Snapdragon, Armada, OMAP) may be the long awaited competitors which result in really affordable computers for the general public.