The Intel Atom CPU may be designed to provide decent performance at a low price, while using less power than similar chips. But it turns out the “low price” part of that equation is a bit muddy. Network World reports that the desktop version of the Atom, the N230, costs $29, while the N270 laptop version costs $44. While both are pretty cheap by CPU standards, you’re paying a premium to get pretty much the same performance out of the laptop version.

What makes the laptop chip more than 30% more expensive than the desktop chip? Heat. There’s more room in a desktop, even a tiny desktop like the Eee Box than in most laptops. And that means you have more room for fans and other cooling systems to keep the computer from overheating. So you can build cheaper parts into the processor. The inside of a laptop, on the other hand, is a pretty crowded place. So the Atom N270 would overheat if Intel didn’t include some slighlty pricier components to help keep things cool.

In the grand scheme of things, a $15 price difference might not seem like a big deal. But when laptop makers are selling mini-notebooks for as cheap as $300, every dollar counts. The New York Times has an article this morning suggesting that many PC manufacturers are less than pleased that the netbook market segment is doing so well. On the one hand, tens of millions of tiny laptops are expected to sell this year. On the other hand, since the prices are low, so are the profit margins.

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