Early last year, Microsoft revealed its ultra mobile computing platform. Smaller than a laptop but larger than a PDA, Microsoft's Origami project set the playing field for others to follow. At the time, Origami was positioned as an Internet browsing device with rudimentary multimedia capabilities. Unfortunately, the Origami project never materialized in any sort of substantial offering, but then again Microsoft has a bit of a hit-or-miss history when it comes to developing hardware.
That never deterred Intel or AMD, two companies with long histories rooted in hardware development, from stepping in where Microsoft left off. Lest there be any doubt, neither company is just picking up Microsoft's pieces; they're going into the ultra-mobile playing field at full throttle.
Almost simultaneously, both AMD and Intel roadmaps indicated the industry would head towards devices that allow consumers to browse the Internet in a full featured manner, but not be constrained to traditional laptop weights.Intel invested heavily into this ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC) market. Earlier this year the company announced Silverthorne, a mobile processor that it showed off during Computex last week. Silverthorne and the future of mobile computing is so important to Intel that CEO Paul Otellini recently stated to German newspaper F.A.Z. (English), "The new chip, codenamed Silverthorne is as important as the original Pentium and the 8088 processor."
Silverthorne will be a 45nm processor with a die footprint size smaller than a U.S. nickel. Intel aims to grab up to roughly 20-percent of the mobile phone market with Silverthorne and indicated that Silverthorne can also be used in UMPC. Otellini promises the average price of a Silverthorne-based product will be $100 USD.AMD is right on Intel's heels with its ultra-mobile technology dubbed Bobcat. According to AMD executive vice president, Henri Richard, Bobcat is positioned for the UMPC market -- above a PDA platform but below a full-fledge notebook.
During his Computex address, Richard outlined the disparity between PDA and mobility processing. Cell phone and PDAs, which traditionally have power consumption figures labeled in milliwatts, are not powerful enough to run x86 applications. Likewise, Richard elaborates, x86 processors are just starting to break into single-digit wattage consumption envelopes while still being useful. However, Richard was clear on one thing: AMD will have an x86 sub-5W processor capable of substantial computing power for mobile devices.
Richard would not reveal a date for the Bobcat introduction, but hinted at a post-2008 announcement. Judging from recent AMD roadmaps, Bobcat appears like it will be one of the first fruits of AMD's Fusion project, combining a CPU and a GPU into one chip.
During another presentation, Intel vice president of the Mobile Platforms Group, Anand Chandreskhar detailed the Intel mobile Internet device platform, or MID. According to Chandreskhar, MIDs are a whole new class of devices and do not belong in the mobile phone or computer category -- though in reality MID sounds incredibly similar to the Microsoft Origami project. The company's list of Intel partners for MID development includes ASUS, Compal, HTC and Microsoft.
Intel demonstrated working MID prototypes at its Computex this year, indicating how close MID devices are to market. While Intel indicated that MIDs will use a highly customized "light" operating system, one MID on display ran a stripped down version of Windows Vista.
Intel representatives state that MID devices will be ready by 2010 to 2011 and will cost around $500. It is unclear whether or not MIDs will integrate mobile phone capabilities but Chandrasekhar indicated that users "will not be disappointed" when it comes to graphics capabilities. Most of today's top mobile phones cost around $500 and so it's a bit unclear where consumers decide between a MID, a mobile phone or both.