IDF Spring 2007 – Day Two – E-Ink Laptop Displays

I take a look at some innovative work from Intel's Mobile Platform Solutions team.

In his opening presentation on the first day, CTO Justin Rattner explained how important research is to a company such as Intel in keeping it ahead of the game. A technology company the size of Intel will have many teams, based all around the world, spending time designing, creating and implementing ideas. Some, if not most of them, will never see the light of day as an actual product but it all helps to push technology forward and keep Intel on top.

An example that caught my eye was a thin and light laptop featuring a large window on the exterior of the lid. If your immediate thought is that this is just Windows Vista Sideshow, then actually you’re wrong – Intel came up with the idea about five years ago and this is actually its latest iteration. I’m currently using a Asus W5FE laptop that features the Windows Vista Sideshow screen and while I don’t want to give away too much before the actual review, what is fact is that a powered external LCD screen is a drain on the battery. The screen on the prototype Intel laptop actually uses E-Ink, the same technology that’s employed by Sony E-Book reader that for some reason hasn’t made it to the UK.

I spoke to engineer Bob Brennan of the Mobile Platform Solutions team that designed the prototype and he explained that using E-Ink for the external screen has a number of advantages. Firstly, the clever E-Ink only draws power when the display changes, and that power is many order of magnitude less than that of an LCD, so it has far less impact of overall battery life. The image also remains on screen, so you could say pull up a map and leave it on there and not have to worry about turning the screen off.

As you can see from the first picture above the external screen is actually located on a fabric skin that wraps round the notebook and connects via a port on the underside. Final designs would probably not work in this way though. Additionally the external screen is much larger than any sideshow display, which is inevitably limited by the power drain and cost. I did point out one major design flaw to Bob though – where would the manufacture put its logo?

Free from the external screen skin, the notebook is very thin and light and certainly looked sleek. It also features a Solid State disk, which are now, for a price, available in the market from vendors such as Sony and Fujitsu. This pretty much looks like a laptop of the note too distant future, though Bob informed me that the actual laptop we were holding was based on a last year’s Napa platform with the addition of Kedron, the Pre-N Wi-Fi part that makes up the new Santa Rosa platform – a curious mix. I was keen to open up the laptop and have a play but the battery was faulty and it would boot. Well, that’s prototypes for you.

Next to the notebook was another interesting design; a notebook with a screen that can be lifted up away from the keyboard so you can use your notebook more like a regular desktop. This seems like a very logical idea and would make working at a notebook for longer periods more tolerable The design of the prototype had been made by a local Chinese company but I would love to see it picked up by one of the mainstream manufacturers, of one of the more adventurous second tier OEMs looking for a diferentiator for their products.

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