12 inch Netbooks are coming. Dell (DELL) has the Inspiron Mini 12, Samsung will unveil its 12 inch netbook model to the U.S. shortly, and more are coming. And Intel (INTC) isn’t happy about this at all.
In fact, the whole Netbook market may be making them nervous. Despite the fact that they power most of these devices with their new Atom chip that handles some PC chores well and uses a lot less power (so batteries are smaller and last longer). Intel sees Netbooks as devices for people who can’t afford normal laptops, or as second devices. But it’s clear that a lot of people are buying them instead of normal dual core machines, despite their very serious limitations.
That means that for the most part, every Netbook sold is one less Dual Core that Intel can sell at a higher price and higher margin. Which explains exactly why the company has been publicly criticizing the performance of the machines. “If you’ve ever used a Netbook and used a 10-inch screen size–it’s fine for an hour. It’s not something you’re going to use day in and day out,” said Intel VP Stu Pann at an event last year.
Intel also wants to keep Netbooks at 10 inches or less. Some PC companies we’ve spoken with say that Intel doesn’t want Atom chips in devices bigger than 10 inches, and puts incredible pressure on them to keep Netbooks at 10 inches or less. Dell’s Inspiron uses an Atom chip anyway, but Samsung is using Via’s competitive (and less expensive) chip, the Nano.
We asked Intel if they forbid manufacturers to build Netbooks with larger than 10 inch screens, which is what those manufacturers are telling us (Dell notwithstanding). Their answer: “Intel defines a netbook as a 10″ or smaller screen size. We recommend that OEMs and netbook manufacturers use that guideline as well in order to get the best user experience.”
That’s a nice statement but it’s complete rubbish. There is no performance loss with a 12 inch screen vs. a smaller screen (other than power usage). A 12 inch Netbook is just as fast or as slow as a 10 inch one. The only difference is that the user is even less likely to buy a low end laptop with a dual core.
Netbooks are clearly here to stay, and the new models with larger screens and larger keyboards solve two of the three problems I have with them (the last issue is Vista and XP, which runs poorly on these devices, but people are fixing that problem, too).