SAN FRANCISCOQualcomm Inc. and other vendors are using ARM-based processors to try to muscle their way into the netbook market, where Intel's Atom dominates. How quickly and to what degree these devices will be able to capture netbook market share is an open question, one that centers largely on consumer demand for the familiar user experience offered by Windows XP.
Windows XP requires x86 processors. Linux, used as an alternative, lacks the ease-of-use and PC features some users expect.
As a result, Atom will continue to dominate the netbook sector for the next few years, according to Mario Morales, vice president of global semiconductor research at International Data Corp. (IDC). Morales predicted ARM-based netbooks with processors from Qualcomm, Freescale, Texas Instruments and others will ship this year but command no more than 10-20 percent of the market for the next few years.
"You don't want to burn Intel," he said. "If I am an AsusTek, I need to get processors for my other product lines from them."
Qualcomm's Snapdragon, first introduced in 2006, is a platform which combines a processor core, digital signal processing and 3G connectivity and promises low power consumption for day-long battery life.
According to Qualcomm, 15 manufacturers are currently developing more than 30 Snapdragon-based products, some of which are expected to be in stores later this year.
Some of these products are smartphones, such as the Toshiba TG01 announced last month. Other Snapdragon-based products currently in development include netbooks, according to Qualcomm. The list of companies developing Snapdragon-based products includes netbooks OEMs and ODMs like Acer, Asus, Compal, Quanta Computer and Foxconn International Holdings.
According to Luis Pineda, senior vice president of marketing for Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies group, netbook manufacturers see Snapdragon as a compelling alternative to Atom. Pineda cited Snapdragon's power efficiencywhich he said eliminates the need for heat sinks and internal fans in a netbookand promise of 3G connectivity.
"A netbook is no good if you can't connect to the Internet and have to look for a WiFi hotspot," Pineda said.