Game-changing Atom-Ion combos on near horizon

April 17, 2009 by Dave Haynes

There has been a buzz for almost a year now about the Intel Atom CPU and its ability to offer a small form-factor PC at an affordable price – but the ones that have come out to date have had mixed reviews about their real capabilities versus the marketing hype.

The issue, to date, has been around the onboard Intel graphics’ ability to drive HD video and Flash. NOT QUITE enough power, I’ve been told, though I have had chats with companies that quite like the little Dell Studio Hybrid and the really little Asus EEE, when twealked right.

Now comes word via Engadget of what I think would be the first mass-manufactured Atom machine that has Nvidia’s Ion graphics on it, making for a cheap, teeny PC capable of 1080P HD, for something like $300. The first one said to be coming, soon, is from Acer – a NetTop box called the AspireRevo. It would measure just 7 by 7 by 1.2 inches, meaning it could easily be popped in behind a big screen or pretty much anywhere else.

Though some smaller, specialty companies have been making and marketing small form factor PCs for a while now, Aopen has been able to capture a big chunk of the PC action in digital signage the last 2-3 years because they packaged up their Mac Mini clone as an industrial “digital engine.” It has been a workhorse, but the problem is simply that at $700 or more it is too expensive for a lot of network operators. I know some companies charge more than $1,000 for it once they slapped on their “handling and imaging” fees.

The game changes — potentially — if these new units coming onstream and costing half that $700 prove to actually deliver what’s promised, and if they can run merrily on Linux that price goes down even more (though you’ll have more support costs). Cut PC costs in half and that’s a very big deal to companies rolling out in the hundreds or 1,000s.

Now keep in mind these are consumer grade units and there is much to be argued for in going with something purpose-designed for this industry and particularly for some of the harsher environments, like greasy fast food places. But even adding a 50 per cent premium for a more industrial unit still makes larger rollouts a lot more workable on spreadsheets.  

The other game changer about this may well be with those companies who base a lot of their revenues on hardware margins from their own specially-tuned boxes. Often, though certainly not always, those boxes are wildly overpriced. That’s going to be an ever tougher sell as network operators do their research and start reading and hearing about these things.

I’ll believe the hype when I see it work in the real world … and for months, not 15 minutes at a booth. But if these units really do deliver, it might green-light some rollouts held up ’til now by too-high hardware costs. 

Photo from Engadget 

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