Acer bets big on Linux-based ultraportable laptops

Using Intel's new Atom chip, Acer is chasing the emerging netbook computer market

Acer Inc. is looking to be part of what the company hopes will be a hot new market: the mini-laptop.

The company yesterday showed off its new Aspire one, a small-form-factor, ultraportable computer at the Computex trade show in Taiwan. The Aspire one is designed to use Intel's new Atom N270 chip, also unveiled Tuesday at Computex.

Acer's new computer, which comes with 512MB or 1GB of RAM, runs either the Linpus Linux Lite operating system or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP Home software. It also comes with built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.

"The fact that HP and Dell, the big names in the market, are interested really shows the potential of the market," said Jean Zhu, a spokeswoman for Acer. "We definitely expect the market to double this year."

Acer isn't alone in betting on the market for new ultraportable computers, also known as netbooks. Intel is giving its potential growth a lot of weight.

"We see a lot of demand for more affordable products," Chris Tulley, a spokesman for Intel, said earlier this week. Noting that the majority of households in emerging markets have no PCs, and that the majority of households in mature markets have one PC, he said, "We see an opportunity to have more devices per household and potentially one device per person."

Tulley added that the company expects netbook and "nettop" sales to outpace growth of traditional laptops and desktops.

A netbook or ultraportable laptop is a relatively inexpensive, small-form-factor laptop designed for basic applications like Web surfing, e-mail and writing. A nettop is similar, except it's in a desktop package. Both are designed to use less power than their traditional counterparts but aren't powerful enough for serious power users or gamers.

Acer's Aspire one laptop measures 9.8 by 6.7 by 1.4 inches. The screen is 8.9 inches measured diagonally, and the keyboard comes in at 89% of the full length of the computer. "We wanted to make sure our keyboard is comfortable enough for people to type," said Zhu. "We were very conscious that it's a good user experience."

Intel's Tulley said "many" companies like Acer are in the process of developing ultraportable devices based on the new Atom chips. Sean Maloney, an Intel executive vice president, showed off both nettops and netbooks based on the new chips at Computex on Tuesday.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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