Intel Atom for netbooks pricier than desktop version

Price ranges from $29 for desktop chip to $44 for netbook version

TAIPEI — The popular Intel Atom microprocessors made for netbooks, or mini-laptops, costs 52% more per chip than the desktop version of the same processor.

The Atom N270, the mini-laptop version of the microprocessor, costs $44, compared with $29 for the Atom 230 — the desktop or "nettop" version of the chip — according to Intel Corp.'s latest price list.

Atom is Intel's smallest and lowest-power microprocessor, designed for a new category of computing devices that are low-cost and always connected to the Internet. The chips have found a home inside a number of devices, mainly the popular mini-laptop, or netbook, segment of the market, which includes Asustek Computer's popular Eee PC, the Wind mini-notebook from Micro-Star International (MSI), Acer's Aspire One and Giga-byte Technology's M912.

Netbooks have become popular because they're small and light, usually less than a kilogram (2.2 lb.), making them easy to carry around. They're also inexpensive, with most price tags under $500, and many of the newer ones can run for seven or eight hours if they have a six-cell battery.

The difference between the laptop Atom processor and the Atom 230 desktop version is heat. There is commonly more space inside a desktop PC to allow heat to dissipate, or for more cooling systems such as fans and heat sinks, so the Atom 230 can be made using less-expensive materials. For example, the 230 requires less-expensive packaging than the N270.

A few companies have made desktop PCs using the Atom, including a desktop version of MSI's Wind that runs full speed at only 35 watts of power, compared with 250 watts for a traditional PC. Asustek has also built the desktop Eee Box with an Atom microprocessor.

The chip has proved to be wildly popular.

During Intel's second-quarter investor's conference last week, company executives said the Atom has been such a strong seller that the company has had to revise up its production estimates every 40 days. Demand for the chips have not just been in netbooks, they said, but also in embedded devices and consumer electronics.

The closest rival to Atom on the market today is from Via Technologies Inc. The Taiwanese company revealed its latest Isaiah processors for low-cost laptops last month. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Mini-Note netbook uses a 1.2-GHz Via C-7M microprocessor.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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