Dell's Use of TI Processor Is No Threat to Intel, Windows

The Dell Z600 represents a creative use of a Texas Instruments' ARM-based OMAP processor in a notebook ' typically the domain of AMD and Intel X86 microprocessors ' but is little threat to the Wintel status quo, says iSuppli.

The Dell Latitude Z600, which went on sale Sept. 29, offers a feature sure to please users, and that may get it talked about, but that overall isn't a game-changer, asserts an Oct. 1 report from researcher iSuppli.
The Z600 features Latitude-On, which offers quick access to Web-based e-mail, contacts, calendars and other Internet content and services, without booting up the notebook. Need to check a flight time, or grab an address from an email, before dashing out the door? Latitude-On lets users quickly dip into a powered-down laptop.
With the September introduction of the thin-and-light ProBook 5310m, Hewlett-Packard offered something similar. HP's QuickLook3 feature offers users a 10-second window to read or answer e-mails, and QuickWeb offers 20 seconds of Internet use. The difference is that Dell's Latitude-On is the work of a Texas Instruments' (TI) ARM-based OMAP application processor, versus the Windows-friendly X86 microprocessors from AMD and Intel that are used by HP.
Dell calls the feature a "system on a system." To a Dell laptop with a Windows OS and Intel X86 processor, a second system, based on the TI OMAP3430 chip and running a slim Linux OS, is added. Latitude-On, then, bypasses the slower-booting Windows and relies on the quicker Linux instead.
"While at first glance Latitude-On appears to represent an encroachment of the ARM microprocessor and Linux operating system into the Wintel-dominated PC world, the reality is quite different," Matthew Wilkins, a principal analyst with iSuppli, said in a statement.
"Yes, Dell is making use of a TI OMAP processor-based system in these laptops, but it is only being employed for a very narrow purpose: providing a very lightweight conduit to certain types of information. It does not in any way displace the key functions of the Intel- and Microsoft-based laptop platform."
TI's OMAP processors are typically used in cell phones and mobile Internet devices (MIDs), and the line dominates the standalone applications processors market, with 24 percent of the global revenue share in the second quarter, according to iSuppli. The OMAP 3430 in particular is reportedly intended for smartphones.
The chips have little traction in the PC world since "there is no version of Microsoft Windows that has been compiled to run natively on the microprocessor architecture," states iSuppli. They also use a different set of operating procedures, and consequently aren't able to run the operating systems and applications designated for X86 chips.
"Dell's solution certainly represents an attempt by the PC market to fight back against the kind of access that smartphones [such as the iPhone and some BlackBerry devices] provide," said Wilkins in the statement.
"Dell clearly has sought and received significant customer feedback to implement such a rapid-on and limited-environment system. However, before drawing any conclusion on the success of this approach, iSuppli will wait and see how the system performs with customers. It also will be interesting to see what the reaction will be from Intel and Microsoft."
An ARM-centric Windows PC is unlikely any time soon, states the report. "However, an ARM-centric Linux PC certainly is possible and could be an intriguing option for users looking for alternatives to Wintel in personal computing."