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Freescale Rolls out NetBook Reference Design at CES

Freescale Rolls out NetBook Reference Design at CES

From CES: Freescale Semiconductor said yesterday it is rolling out a processor-based solution that could slash as much as $100 from the price of so-called "netbooks."

Based on the company's new i.MX515 processor, the new solution includes three hardware blocks for video playback and graphics, along with the CPU. Freescale engineers said they based the processor on ARM Cortex-A8 core technology because it enabled them to minimize "netbook" costs and power consumption.

"We believe that the right price point for a netbook is about $199, which is about $100 lower than where it's been," said Glen Burchers, director of global marketing for the Consumer Segment at Freescale Semiconductor. "The Cortex-A8 helps us get to that price point."

Netbooks are handheld devices that provide Internet access, but are smaller than laptop computers. They are typically targeted at 10- to 25-year-old users who spend significant amounts of time online. Up until now, market prices for netbooks have hovered around the $300 to $350 mark.

Freescale's new comprehensive reference design is an offshoot of its 2008 acquisition of SigmaTel, a company that specialized in audio signal processors and controller chips. Using SigmaTel's experience in consumer markets and building on the the ARM core, Freescale was able to create the single-chip i.MX515 processor solution, while adding power management and an operating system, and sell the whole package for less than $20. Freescale says its effort contrasts sharply with that of earlier netbook chipsets, which have typically incorporated three chips and have costs upwards of $60.

"That $40-delta is enough to result in a $100 bill-of-materials reduction, when you add the margins back in," Burchers said.

Burchers said the use of the new solution will also significantly cut power consumption. While playing back 720p high-definition video, he said, the i.MX515 will consume just 0.25W. As a result of the power consumption improvements, the new solution will provide "all-day" battery life. In contrast, previous chip sets have reportedly allowed 2 - 2.5 hours of operation using four lithium-ion batteries.

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Freescale will team with Pegatron Corp. to demonstrate a netbook using the new technology. The two companies will also show a netbook reference design that features the i.MX515 processor, Canonical's Ubuntu operating system, a new power management IC from Freescale, an ultra-low audio codec and Adobe Flash Lite software. 

Freescale engineers said the solution's Internet performance will not suffer as a result of its departure from Intel X86 architecture, which has long been the accepted architecture of the Internet.

"The Applie iPhone has done a really good job of showing people that they don't need X86 to run the Internet," Burchers said. "There is virtually no distinction between our browsing performance and that of the Intel-based systems."     

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