Intel Dual-Core Atom Chips Aim to Refresh Netbook Space

The dual-core Intel Atom N550 processor has begun shipping in more than a dozen netbooks. With its newest low-power Atom chip, Intel hopes to keep the netbook market strong - and tablet sales at bay.

Intel's newest Atom processors are arriving in stores, powering a dozen netbooks from manufacturers that include Acer, Asus, Fujitsu, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Samsung, MSI and Toshiba.

The dual-core Atom N550 processors, announced Aug. 23, reportedly employ the same compact form factor as the single-core Atom N450, but offer a more responsive experience, along with support for DDR3 (double-data rate) memory and a strong battery life.

While the N450 features a cache of 512KB and a bus speed of 1.66GHz, the cache on the N550 is 1MB and the speed is 1.5GHz. The Atom processors are appropriate for a variety of form factors, according to Intel, including smartphones, handhelds, tablets and entry-level PCs, in addition to netbooks.

"Acer strives to continually improve on our customers' total mobile experience, whether it is increased responsiveness or extended Internet interactivity through longer battery life," David Lee, associate vice president of Acer's Mobile Computing Business Unit, said in a statement regarding the new processors. "We are pleased to select dual-core Intel Atom processors for Acer netbooks, helping to empower netbook users to achieve even more-both at work and at leisure."

The netbook market has already proved to be a strong space for the Atom processors, and Intel expect the market to continue to grow. "Having shipped about 70 million Intel Atom chips for netbooks since our launch of the category in 2008, there is obviously a great market for these devices around the world," Erik Reid, Intel's director of marketing for mobile platforms, said in an Aug. 23 statement.

Analysts likewise expect netbook sales to continue trending upward, though at a slower pace than manufacturers have so far enjoyed. In a July 22 report, ABI Research forecast shipments of netbooks to reach 60 million units by year's end and to more than double during 2013. By contrast, between 2008 and 2009, netbooks sales increased by 103 percent.

With time, the mobile tablet space-newly rejuvenated by Apple, with the April 3 launch of the iPad-is expected to cause netbook sales to soften. In a July 26 report, research firm Canalys said it expects the new tablet market to overtake netbook sales by 2012.

"To capture share moving forward, PC makers will have to take the netbook to the next level or go after new customer segments with their own pads," wrote Canalys principal analyst Chris Jones.

PC maker Dell, which recently launched its Android-running Streak tablet, reportedly also sees the market moving in favor of tablets at the cost of netbooks. On Aug. 23, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dell will likely launch the Streak in China, India and several other Asia countries in early 2011. The report cited Steve Felice, Dell's president of consumer and small and medium businesses, as believing that consumers prefer a mainstream notebook to a netbook, and so when choosing between lower-cost netbooks or tablets, Dell would prefer to push the latter.

"There are still a lot of netbooks being sold, but I think they're going to continue to decline in terms of total mix versus what they did the last couple of years," Felice told China Real Time.

With the release of its more powerful dual-core Atom processors, Intel is looking to stem the flow of such sentiments and boost the capabilities that consumers can expect from netbooks.

The dual-core Atom-powered netbooks are now arriving in stores and will be available through the end of the year.