Is Atom ready for the bigs?

July 8, 2009 by Dave Haynes

I keep seeing press releases like this popping up in Google Alerts, announcing new Intel Atom-based micro PCs and boards that are perfect for, among many things, digital signage.

Safely hidden away in the turret of my mountaintop compound near the windswept shores of Lake Ontario (OK, a spare bedroom in suburban Toronto), I don’t have a bench to test gear, nor would I know what the hell I was doing in assessing whether any or all of these new, low-cost x86 platforms are actually capable of doing as billed.

But I suspect a lot of companies are, for three simple reasons:

1 – Form factor – Aopen gets a TON of business in this space because it has a small PC that CAN push out 720P video and smooth Flash. But by today’s standards the Aopen DE box is expensive, and even more so because a lot of vendors slap on$200-$300 of inflated margins

2 – Fanless – There are people who oppose fanless on an x86 platform no matter what, but if a PC is going into a rough environment like a fast food chain with deep fryers and food prep, something with a fan won’t last. All that crap in the air will gum up the fan

3 – Price – I know guys who are looking at Atom-based units and thinking they can get it all together for $200 or so, before OS … or with OS if they have Linux capabilities

The bench-testing I have seen when I was doing business development work indicated the early versions of the Atom were NOT quite there, in terms of being able to push out smooth 720P video and Flash. Almost, but not quite. But a few months can make a big difference, and there are newer versions coming on stream from Intel that promise better graphics.

So, I’d be really interested in comments and insights from gadget guys who have been testing these kinds of units, and hearing whether or not the new versions are ready for the bigs.

Hardware costs have dropped dramatically over the last few years, but even shaving $100 off unit prices is a big deal when a company is banging out hundreds of locations. 

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