NVIDIA Tegra Powers Sexy New Netbooks, Provides Days of Battery Life
Gallery 1: hands-on, Gallery 2: designs

At Computex, NVIDIA is launching its new Netbook solution based on its handheld Tegra processor. The “computer” itself fits in the size of a DIMM memory module and the basic idea is simple and elegant: use powerful handheld technology to drive a Netbook experience. The result: ultra-thin form factors and an uber-long battery life expressed in days, rather than hours. Highlights:

  • Uber small computer platform
  • Utra-low power
  • Runs on Windows CE (Android is on the horizon)
  • Full support for Adobe Flash
  • HD movie playback

Did we say “days of battery life” earlier? Yes, NVIDIA claims that its Tegra platform can play an audio file continuously for 600 hours (25 days!) assuming that the display is turned off. Other smartphone-based platforms like Snap Dragon from Qualcomm would last only 60 hours, NVIDIA says. Expect designs to come if all sizes (we’ve heard about a 13.3” model). What does it mean in the real world? Imagine things like real Instant-ON computers, just like you would get from a phone. That would work because the computer is never actually off. It consumes so little power that you can leave it in standby mode for a very long time. The whole computer system consumes 1W (cpu, graphics, motherboard), which is really small compared to even Netbooks.

Of course, most of you would not expect to experience the same level of performance than you would from more familiar computers. It’s partly true. From what we’ve seen, application can load slower and overall, the early prototype seemed slower than a Netbook, but in some ways, the Tegra platform is faster than Netbooks. The graphics sub-system is capable of playing 720p and 1080p movies at full speed (we’ve seen the demo last year at GDC), a feat that only another NVIDIA powered Netbook can do. Most importantly, this graphics muscle is used to accelerate Adobe Flash, which is a critical component of a good web experience.

Unfortunately, it runs Windows CE, which is arguably no one’s first choice. Because you cannot install Windows apps, NVIDIA presents Tegra and Windows CE as a web-apps friendly platform. Android and Android market might alleviate this situation later, but that’s far away (Android does not support high-resolutions like 1280×720).The prototype that I have seen runs Firefox with full Adobe Flash support. I have not had time to test some apps, but at the moment, I will assume that this version of Firefox can handle it.

As we said, Windows CE does not run Windows XP/Vista apps. If you rely on many desktop apps, this will be a serious issue. And that’s really where the ride gets bumpy for this platform. NVIDIA is betting that the “low-power” value will outweigh the inconvenience of not having a “first choice” OS like Windows XP or OS X (Linux Netbooks have staggering customer return rate).

To help overcome this, the price will be very low: We are talking about the $199 range here. Plus, it is expected that wireless carriers will subsidy such Netbooks because they would be exclusively used to access their network. Don’t be surprised if you see free or very low-price offerings when the computers hit volume production. Still, it is not certain that users will bite.

We will see how this will behave in the real world, where the display consumes many times the power than Tegra. How long will the battery life really be when tested in the field? Is the speed good enough? Is the experience good enough? Can we live with Windows CE?

This will come soon enough. For now, let’s think of how boot-times, and carrying a power brick, could be over and how thin these new laptops are.

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