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Staying Power

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Following my recent trip to China, courtesy of Intel I was left impressed with the company’s dedication to long term research and blue sky thinking, such as Terascale processing and E-Ink displays. However, I wasn't as convinced when it came to some of the products that it will be releasing in the short term.

At IDF Intel announced its Ultra Mobile Platform (UMP) 2007. Codenamed ‘McCaslin’, UMP consists of a new processor, codenamed ‘Stealey’, or now dubbed an A100 and A110 processor, combined with the 945GU Express chipset. The CPU is said to offer two to three times more staying power than the previous generation. It isn’t really new though – it’s essentially a Dothan Pentium M with some of Intel’s newer Deep Sleep technology, and making these machines last longer takes more than just improving the CPU. The display is the largest power drain and the move to LED backlights rather CCFL backlights should help. But will this be enough to extend battery life long enough to make them usable? The reports of the Samsung Q1 Ultra suggest about four hours of minimum use though we’ll have to wait for actual review units to confirm it.

As a concept UMPCs have yet to convince us at TrustedReviews and we think that the market as a whole feels the same way – they’ve hardly taken it by storm. They’re an awkward halfway house between connected PDA/smartphones and laptops, only lacking the compactness or battery life of a mobile but without the full power and ease of use of a laptop. Ultimately though, it’s battery-life that’s really the biggest failing right now. Having the power of a fully fledged Windows Vista running device, with serious storage and connectivity is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the thing conks out on you after barely three hours use.

The follow up to McCaslin, known as ‘Menlow’ and scheduled for 2008 looks more promising, as this is the first puppy designed with ultra mobile PCs in mind. The CPU in this is codenamed ‘Silverthorne’, and is based on Intel’s breakthrough 45nm technology, so it will be significantly less power hungry, while still being able to have an Aero enabled Windows Vista for breakfast.

Another big factor could be the use of solid state hard disks. Now I ruminated a couple of months ago on the how long it would be before the humble Compact Disc passed on – but it will be even more of a big deal when those power draining mechanical rotating spindles called hard disks are superseded. Of course, if you’ve got the money they are already here, such as this Samsung Q1 Solid State UMPC that Riyad reviewed in September 2006. While the raw performance from it was fantastic the problem was that it essentially doubles the cost of the unit over the non SSD version.

While the cost of high capacity memory cards has plummeted what we need to happen is for that price erosion to occur on the much larger capacities, 32GB, 64GB and much greater. I don’t believe that hard disks will be going anywhere for a long, long, time but when the price of flash comes down by several magnitudes and the capacities go up we’ll reach an inflection point where it’ll make sense to fit a Solid State drive. It’ll happen sooner with notebooks and UMPCs, which huge capacities aren’t required.

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