High-Tech Low-Cost Displays Enable a New Class of Inexpensive Notebook PCs


by Ken Werner

A hot emerging product category is cheap notebook PCs. Market research firm IDC predicts the Netbook/Nettop market could be worth US$3 billion by 2012, but Intel CEO Paul Otellini has predicted the market will be much larger.

Because the display industry is not known for ignoring popular new applications, display makers are enthusiastically gearing up to produce more of the 7-, 8.9-, and 10-in. displays favored by manufacturers of these new systems.

Taiwan's Asustek Computer has an early success in this category with its Eee PC, which consists of a 7-in. LCD, 802.11b/g WiFi, 10/100 LAN interfaces, 512 MB of memory, a 4-GB flash drive, built-in Webcam, 40 built-in applications, and Linux OS. In early June, this 2-lb. package was selling for $399 at J&R Electronics in New York.

But that's just the beginning. Micro-Star International was expected to use Computex Taipei, held during the first of week of June, for the official launch of its 10-in. Wind Series of notebooks, and Acer was planning to launch a low-cost 8.9-in. Aspire PC in Europe for Û299 (US$470) early this summer. Asustek looked at all this activity and decided to accelerate its plans to launch a 10.2-in. version of the Eee PC. The Eee PC 1000 was launched at Computex, as was an 8.9-in. version called the Eee PC 901. All of these systems use Intel's new Atom N230 CPU. Industry sources said Asustek is preparing lower-priced versions of its current models.

An Asustek spokesperson said in June that the Eee PC 1000 would be available in Taiwan later in the month for the equivalent of US$560, with introduction in other markets to quickly follow. The company plans to ship 5 million Eee PCs this year, with the 8.9-in. version accounting for 50% of all shipments.

Intel is promoting its new low-power ATOM processors at Computex and projects a big market for ultra-low-cost PCs that can fit in a pocket and for Netbooks – PCs selling for about US$250. Intel announced the availability of two Atom processors, the Atom N270 processor and the Atom 230 chip. The company also described two new chip sets – the 945GSE for Netbooks and the 945GC for Nettops – that feature integrated graphics and support for numerous I/O ports. There are already shortages of ATOM CPUs, so Asustek may launch a 10-in. NPC later this year that uses an Intel Celeron M, company sources say.

The netbook category is new and very much in flux, with makers defining and redefining product sub-categories and product features as they go. Asustek, for instance, is planning to launch a 9-in. Eee PC with a larger keyboard. Acer's 8.9-in. "Aspire One" for the European market offers a choice of an 8-GB solid-state drive (SSD) or an 80-GB hard drive and will ship with either Linpus Linux Lite or Windows XP. It will initially ship with Wi-Fi support, but Acer will offer WiMax and Gen 3 options later in the year.

We are just at the beginning of this new product category, and the interaction between its evolving products and the displays, processors, and architectures that will enable them. We look forward to following their evolution.

Ken Werner is a Senior Analyst at Insight Media (Norwalk, Connecticut) and the Principal of Nutmeg Consultants (Norwalk, Connecticut). This "Business of Displays" column was adapted from his "Display Daily" that appeared on-line on June 5, 2008. For more information, see www.displaydaily.com or contact Ken directly at kwerner@insightmedia.info.