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Freescale Semiconductor will be showing off mini-laptops powered by a Freescale ARM Cortex A8-based chip at CES this week. The netbook on display at CES will be built by Pegatron and will likely be based on Freescale’s reference design, which features an i.Mx515 processor. No word on whether any OEMs have adopted the reference design yet, but Freescale estimates that the architecture could be used to create sub-$200 netbooks as early as this year.

The reference design features the .MX515 CPU, Ubuntu Linux, Adobe Flash Lite and Adobe Flash Player for mobile phones and devices. In other words, the system should be capable of running a web browser, some office software, and multimedia content including web-based Flash video.

The CPU can scale between 600MHz and 1GHz and the chipset includes pwoer management features that should help extend battery life.

ARM-based chips cannot run Windows XP or Vista, which means that these and other devices based on the new ARM chipset will likely be limited to running Linux, Windows CE, or other operating systems. But if you’re happy with Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and other open source alternatives to Windows applications, that might not be such a drawback. On the other hand, there’ve been some reports that netbook customers are more likely to return computers running Linux after discovering that the laptops don’t work the way they’re used to. And that could limit the appeal of any ARM-based netbooks released in 2009. On the other hand, a sub-$200 price tag might take the edge off a bit.

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6 replies on “Freescale-powered netbooks could hit $200 this year”

  1. Wouldn’t also Windows Mobile work on such devices? Sure, it’ll suck since it’s not designed for 9″ screens but until M$ decides to port win7 to the ARM architecture, that would be a hackish alternative, and even less legal than putting Mac OSX in x86 devices. Or what about Symbian? Dunno if they are interesed in ‘netbooks’. But until now, the better option would be ARM Linux distros, like Debian’s version for that architecture or Ubuntu’s one. Here is where free software becomes more reliable, a small change in hardware can result in too many changes on software, where free operating systems could implement it and publish the changes quickly, while propietary OSes modifications are locked at the vendor’s decission. That’s why I like free software.

  2. Could ya stop repeating that FUD about the higher return rate? ASUS reports no difference in return rates. Their Linux install works. That is the lesson here, ship a machine with a load of SUSE that doesn’t even support the webcam and yea, people will be bringing them back, get the preload right and they won’t.

    So if these ARM machines have a good working load, reasonable build quality and a really low price they should move nicely, especially in the current economic climate.

  3. Brad, I take issue with a couple of your points.

    1. “will likely be limited to running Linux.” We have seen Windows CE based netbooks already and heard rumors of Android netbooks.

    2. ” more likely to return computers running Linux” Xandros and Linpus are not top tier distros and they were not implemented well for netbooks. Suse is a top tier distro but it wasn’t implemented well either. If we get something like Ubuntu netbook remix installed by an OEM and all the hardware/software works properly I think the return numbers will drop considerably.

    1. Whoops, you’re completely right about the first point. I’ll update the
      post on that front. I blame this oversight on the fact that I’m still
      getting over a cold that hit me pretty hard this weekend.

      As for the more likely to return bit — I’m trying not to make any
      real value judgements on this one. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s
      true, but I do concede that the stats we’ve seen so far have been
      gathered in a somewhat less than scientific method.

  4. We might be able to say that in 2009 (2010…?): “Price Tag Rules”
    A sorry thing to hear on a tech-oriented site. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    My reasoning:
    In a serious, economic down-turn;
    Furniture, Clothing and Consumer Electronics take some of the biggest hits.

    The “Convenience Netbook” thread is still accumulating a respectable
    number of views – So maybe 2009 is the year of the “Cheap and Useful”.

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